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Notes from Elliott Shore’s Listening Tour: Ontario, Canada

McMaster U Library staff with Elliott Shore, photo by John Fink

ARL executive director Elliott Shore has embarked on a “listening tour” of ARL member libraries. This is the sixth in a series of informal reports from his visits.

Last month my listening tour of ARL libraries took me to University of Toronto, York University, and McMaster University, where I met with Larry Alford, Cynthia Archer, and Vivian Lewis (a former ARL RLLF fellow) and their respective staffs.

At Toronto, I was deeply impressed by the Fisher Rare Book Library and by the size and prominence of the main library building itself. I spoke with the staff from the main campus as well as staff from the allied libraries at remote locations. I had an especially interesting conversation with the people from the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) and their Scholars Portal—the two directors, Kathy Scardellato of OCUL and Alan Darnell of Scholars Portal, were eloquent in their remarks. Darnell suggested an exciting idea to show real-time usage of all ARL libraries in visual form on the ARL website using statistics derived from the OCLC product EZproxy—a way to make visible the use of libraries as they are now constituted. We also talked about the role ARL could play in bringing together a summit of people and organizations—such as Scholars Portal, HathiTrust, Google Scholar, and Elsevier—to get a handle on the largest, most costly issues in licensing content. (All of the three Ontario libraries I visited benefit from their engagement together in licensing through OCUL.)

The staff at York were very engaged, thinking carefully about the library in the digital age. An example of this is a service scheduled to launch this September, SPARK (Student Papers and Academic Research Kit), the Virtual Learning Commons, which is an online resource to support students as they complete written research assignments. SPARK is being developed collaboratively by the York University Libraries, Learning Skills Services, and Writing Department.

My visit at McMaster was relatively short, but I have been there several times before for service on a visiting committee, for a conference, and for the CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. It was good to see old friends. I gave a talk and visited the Lyons New Media Centre—with its cool video wall that displays a rotation of images, video, animations, and other media projects submitted by McMaster students.

At all three libraries, the issue of the budget problems at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) arose, with staff members at each library concerned in thoughtful and supportive ways. I was able to share with each of the staffs what I have been hearing from the other ARL libraries that I have visited in the last five months, while building a list of further insights and suggestions.  

Since I visited Canada, I have been largely on the road. First I went to China, where I spent time at the Shanghai Public Library and at Zhejiang University, the home of CADAL, the China Academic Digital Associative Library, on my way to giving a keynote address at the JULAC’s (Joint University Librarians Advisory Committee) Academic Librarian 3 Conference. Then I returned to DC to serve as co-dean of the Leading Change Institute. My next stop is Ohio, then to Chicago for the ALA conference.

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