UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul.
Books and Mortar -- and a Whole Lot More
The $60 million Irving K. Barber Learning Centre takes shape
By Erica Smishek
Her title reads University Librarian, but Catherine Quinlan
could be mistaken for a kind of super project manager / contractor
Outside her Main Library window, a construction crew combines
concrete and metal for what will become the north wing of
the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. Inside her book-lined
office, architectural and schematic designs illustrate how
the historic Main Library will be transformed into a leading-edge
education and research facility that will act as a portal
to information resources, services and technology for users
at UBC, across the province and beyond.
“Libraries have been affected by technology for thousands
of years,” says Quinlan.
“Libraries have always been about helping people find
information. We concentrate not only on getting you the information
you need, but also teaching you how to find it and how to
evaluate it -- how to be a critical consumer of information.
You can’t assume that just because you found the information
on the Internet that it is credible. You have to be able to
evaluate the information provided as well as the source that
is providing that information.”
As managing director for the $60-million Learning Centre,
Quinlan’s responsibilities are massive. After first
envisioning an interdisciplinary and technologically sophisticated
building that will provide 15 years of growth space for UBC
Library’s print collection, she now works with the committee
steering the project through development.
Irving K. Barber is as committed as Quinlan to the development
of the Centre and its programs. A UBC alumnus and founding
chairman of Slocan Forest Products who donated $20 million
for the Learning Centre, he was the first to envision a facility
accessible to all British Columbians, whether they visit in
person, by phone or electronically, as well as to learners
Together, they have studied best practices at other North
American institutions and visited 16 communities across B.C.
to exchange ideas that will shape the facility’s programming
and services. A draft operational plan is anticipated early
this fall for review.
And let’s not forget the fine details. Following a
recent visit to the just-opened Seattle Public Library, where
library planners are already planning changes to the facility,
Quinlan’s current concern is the tables that must be
purchased for the Learning Centre. She wants to ensure they
are flexible as well as capable of concealing the wires and
conduit connected to computers that will sit on them.
When complete, the Learning Centre will be the first facility
in Canada to integrate information resources and services
and interdisciplinary learning support facilities under one
The Centre will house smart classrooms, a wireless environment,
open space that can be configured as computer labs, seminar
rooms, distance learning support activities and some of UBC’s
interdisciplinary learning programs such as Arts One and Science
One. It will boast a laptop loan program for UBC and community
users, Canada’ first automated storage and retrieval
system to support the library’s print collection, and
a fireproof and climate-controlled vault for the library’s
rare books, archives and special collections.
Quinlan and her team have made steady progress since the
facility was first announced in October 2002 with Barber’s
gift, a $10 million contribution from the B.C. government
and $30 million from UBC. While the bricks and mortar for
the Learning Centre will take two more years to finish, innovative
programs and services are already being offered.
“We can do things now -- things that are not dependent
on a physical building being accessible,” says Simon
Neame, co-ordinator of programs and services for the Learning
Five live webcasts, including the recent special UBC honorary
degree ceremony for three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, have
enabled people around the province to watch various events
And now, through eHelp, a virtual reference pilot project,
people can ask experts for help without leaving their computers.
eHelp allows you to chat with an information specialist online,
receive and send documents, co-browse databases and websites,
and receive transcripts of your reference session directly
to your email -- all from the comfort of home, lab, office
or neighbourhood Internet café.
“We’re looking for activities and programs that
mesh with our mandate,” says Neame. “It’s
a very open slate.”
While they have started with programs and services for which
they knew there was an interest, what will remain and what
will be added in months and years ahead depends on what people,
both on campus and throughout the province, will need.
“There is remarkable consistency in what we’re
hearing from people so far,” says Quinlan. “People
want access to more information resources, continuing education
opportunities, professional development programs brought to
them through the Learning Centre, business information for
small business, and up-to-date topical and dependable information.”
Quinlan says the Learning Centre has broadened UBC Library’s
thinking about what it can do not only as a university library
but also as the province’s library.
“There is a shift in libraries everywhere,” says
Neame. “This is giving us an opportunity to jump way
ahead, to be out there and be a facility whose initiatives
will have an impact on people here and across B.C.
“We want the Learning Centre to be a gateway for people
online and for people who walk in. It should be a destination
for the campus as well as the province, both virtually and
in the physical sense.”
For more information see The
Irving K. Barber Learning Centre Chronicle of Events