Thursday, September 10, 2009

Letter regarding University of Toronto Libraries' new fees

[Addressed to my MPP, David Zimmer, as well as other members of the Ontario Parliament, as listed below.]

Dear Mr. Zimmer,

I am writing to you as my MPP, regarding the University of Toronto Libraries' recent decision to charge fees to external borrowers.

By way of background, the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) includes 21 post-secondary libraries, including the University of Toronto and my university, York. The OCUL manages a number of resource-sharing programs between its members. These include inter-library loan, document delivery, and coordinated purchasing. They also include direct borrowing. For most member libraries, a library card held at one library can be used to obtain a library card at another, with borrowing privileges transferring over directly. So, a graduate student at Ryerson University could obtain a McMaster University library card and borrow as if he or she were a McMaster graduate student.

The University of Toronto Libraries have always been something of a special case. Undergraduates at other universities did not have direct borrowing privileges at U of T libraries. Graduate students and faculty were limited to U of T's undergraduate lending policies (two-week loans with only two renewals). And, if borrowing by inter-library loan, University of Toronto-held books were considered a last resort, in that they would only be delivered if the resource could not be obtained from another OCUL member.

Recently, the University of Toronto Libraries has decided to make itself even more of a special case. The new policy can, in part, be read here:

The gist is this: direct borrowers are, as of October 1, being charged for direct borrowing privileges, at a rate of $200 per year. And, although the webpage does not mention this, visitors will also be charged a $20 weekly fee in order to simply browse the stacks at Robarts Library.

Thus, the University of Toronto Libraries has, with little notice, cut off access to one of the richest academic libraries in Canada. Graduate students and faculty members at York, Ryerson, McMaster, Guelph, and many other universities and colleges in the area rely on the University of Toronto library collections in order to conduct their research and prepare for classes. And the justification seems to be that, because the library is on U of T campus, U of T can determine, entirely on its own, who is permitted to access the resources and how much they must pay for the privilege. Worse, it is my understanding that this decision was not made by U of T Libraries' staff, but directly by Cheryl Misak, Vice-President and Provost.

It is not acceptable for U of T to take it upon itself to levy an arbitrary and excessive fee for a research library that is meant to serve the needs of students, faculty and researchers throughout the province. I trust that you will do your utmost to engage with the relevant members of Parliament and the academic community in order to have this fee removed and the previous level of borrowing privileges restored.


Adam Rawlings

CC: The Hon John Milloy, Minister for Training, Colleges and Universities.
Gilles Bisson, Critic, Research and Innovation
Rosario Marchese, Critic, Training, Colleges and Universities
Jim Wilson, Critic, Colleges and Universities, Research and Innovation
Tim Hudak, Leader, Official Opposition
Andrea Horwath, Leader, New Democratic Party of Ontario