Jillian Tomm
As a doctoral student in the School of Information Studies, Jillian Tomm, BMus’97, MLIS’02, PhD’13, spent many hours examining the private library of Emeritus Philosophy Professor Raymond Klibansky.

A new chapter for the McGill Library

Sometimes it can be hard to get a read on the digital age. Case in point: despite a revolution in online access to materials ranging from individual e-books to databases with years’ worth of the digitized and electronic journals that are used daily by students and university researchers, academic libraries are seeing the number of people walking through their doors skyrocket.

“Whether they are undergraduate students, graduate students or faculty – whether they are chemists or physicians or lawyers in training or undergraduate English majors or German majors – they are all ours. The Library serves them all,” says Professor Colleen Cook, McGill’s Trenholme Dean of Libraries.

Since 2007, visits to the Library’s 13 branches have jumped from 2.5 million to roughly 7 million annually – and private giving has helped improve all aspects of the library experience for those visitors. Many still come for the books, the demise of which has perhaps been greatly exaggerated. Others comb through Library databases and e-resources, or study great performances in audio and video collections. And every day, students flock to the growing number of study spaces – be they Smartboard-equipped group study rooms or 24-hour spaces that accommodate different schedules and routines. Today, there are opportunities for collaborative work throughout McGill’s extensive library system in places like the Cyberthèque in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library or at the Macdonald Library and Learning Centre.

“The Library is no longer just a place to take out books,” affirms Science undergraduate Kira Gossack-Keenan, a member of McGill’s Senate Committee on Libraries. “It is a study space, a spot to meet for group projects and get help, as well as just to hang out. The feedback I get from students is that they love having the Libraries available to them, especially when they are allowed 24-hour access.”

The McGill Library has been well-served by philanthropy. The Joan and Clifford Hatch Family Foundation has a bond with McGill that dates back many years to when the Hatches founded the McGill Parents Association and Parents Fund. Lately, the Foundation’s support has allowed the Library to build on its special collections in Shakespeare, an important area of study at McGill, purchasing printed works, databases, films and audio recordings.

And they’re not the only ones. The Harold Mackler and Nellie Rader Mackler McGill Library Fund, established by Dr. Richard Mackler in honour of his parents, supports the Library’s general collection in the Humanities and Social Sciences, particularly the acquisition of French, Italian and German literature.

But it isn’t enough to own these materials, says Dean Cook. McGill’s collections are “internationally important” – and so the Library has a duty to make them available through digitization. “Studies indicate that 25% of our collections are really unique materials that really need to be put into the public domain. Philanthropic dollars have allowed us to pull our weight in what is really a global exercise in trying to get this kind of material out there,” she says.

Private giving has meant some important additions to the Library’s rare books collections as well. The Raymond Klibansky Collection in the Rare Books division preserves the nearly 7,000-volume personal library of the celebrated McGill philosophy professor. Klibansky’s wife, Dr. Ethel Groffier, DCL’72, who taught in the Faculty of Law for 25 years, has also supported the cataloguing and preservation of the collection, which dates back to the 15th century, and created an endowed fund to bring researchers to McGill to use it.

For Law student Stephanie Bachelet, who also volunteers with the Senate Committee on Libraries, the Library is a haven for studying and working on assignments. “My favourite study spot is at the group tables on the fourth floor of the Nahum Gelber Law Library,” she says. “I love the quiet atmosphere and the natural sunlight.”