UBC expands Koerner library offices, displaces graduate student study space

UBC administration is taking over to half of the Koerner Library’s fifth floor to create more office space, cancelling the creation of a planned graduate student study space — at least for the near future.

The space will be used for the office of the VP Research and Innovation, which currently has offices in the old administrative building. The top two floors of the library are already currently in use for the office of the President as well as the office of the Provost and VP Academic.

According to Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri, the changes were presented to the library executive staff on March 20, followed by two presentations to staff on March 21 and 22.

Previously, the area was marked for the expansion of the Research Commons, a student space that offers workshops and one-on-one research consultations. The commons currently runs on the second floor, but the library had drafted plans to expand it to additional floors.

“The Research Commons is a series of services,” said Melody Burton, deputy university librarian. “We have librarians with lots of expertise ... and those librarians are available now but they’re just kind of hidden.”

In addition to more general working space, the expansion of the space was meant to provide graduate students with a thesis defence room, which Burton said will serve as a “mock space” to prepare, and a graduate reading room. But while the project is still going ahead, it will have to work around the half of the fifth floor that is left to the library, removing the graduate student reading room from the design.

The library had already started the first stages of the project, with book moving starting almost a year ago in May 2017.

This isn’t the first time UBC administration has taken part of the library. In 2012, the sixth floor was renovated to create office space, displacing books to lower levels.

“People were initially disappointed to hear about it but not surprised altogether because it’s happened before,” Burton said. “It’s caused us to rethink all elements of the project a little more carefully.”

Jennifer Abel, a graduate student who has worked in the Research Commons, is pushing back against the administration’s sudden decision, saying dedicated graduate student space is integral to student community.

“In my experience in the research commons the biggest things we’ve been providing aren’t the technical skills … it’s the building [of] the community of grad students across campus,” she said.

Burton said she has heard similar concerns about graduate students finding community, but added that the library is currently looking for “another space” to replace the graduate student space.

“If we are successful, and I have every reason to believe that we will be in finding a graduate student reading room,” she said. “We’re moving ahead and that's the good part of the story”.

In a statement to The Ubyssey, Szeri said his office hopes to find a suitable space for the displaced reading room within Koerner, writing that “Our commitment to the graduate research commons remains strong, and we are working with the library to locate space elsewhere within the building.”

The Research Commons is set to open in 2019.

This article has been edited to clarify that meetings with library staff were to present the decision made by the Provost.