From Library to Learning Commons

Built in 1987, the Yukon College Library opened in 1988. It’s a place of constant change and with a budget for renovations in the area of $2.27 million, the College has chosen a new path for the Library: it will become a multipurpose learning space with a northern Indigenous focus.

“We have to evolve and have been forever – it’s a very exciting time,” says Rob Sutherland, who is the former manager of the Yukon College Library at the Ayamdigut Campus in Whitehorse. He’s been around from the beginning, having joined the college when it was located in Riverdale.

“I think it’s time for this to happen,” Sutherland says. “The means of access has changed radically. Everything is converting to digital, just like in our society… Providing data in different formats can be a big advantage.”

Faculty, students and members of the public gathered to bid farewell to the old library at a function on April 7th. Library staff are excited about the transition.

“This has never been a job. It has always been a vocation, a labour of love,” says Jane Haydock, acquisitions and serials technician at the Yukon College Library in Whitehorse. Haydock went to the college when it was in Riverdale and took University of British Columbia courses that were taught out of trailers on the grounds.

“I worked in the library from the old card catalogue days,” Haydock says. “The biggest change has been data bases. We used to have two rows of periodicals and massive indexes – referencing academic papers would take longer than writing the papers.”

One of the biggest changes planned for the space is that the College is converting it from the classic library setting into what they’re calling a learning commons. According to a Yukon College Concept Report from November 2015, “A learning commons promotes not only different types of learning and group work, but also is designed as an interdisciplinary meeting point.”

The report also states that, “Its function is to bring together staff, students and faculty, from across the college. These types of spaces are becoming the heart of campuses, supporting social connections, collaborative projects along with event areas for campus and community activities.”

Haydock notes that it will be a very new kind of work environment.

“With the learning commons the whole notion of library has changed,” she says. “It will be a one-stop-shop for staff and students and a central place for the college community.”

She’s looking forward to the new space opening in September.

“It will be a bit of a mosh pit. There will be double the staff including IT people.”

She feels up to the challenge, though and prides herself on the staff’s ability to multitask and find solutions to problems. “If we don’t know the answer we’ll find out.”

As part of the project, many books will be converted to digital as the library reduces its reliance on hard copy to accommodate demand for more study space from the Student Union and other groups. The College Library is reducing physical stock of books by about 40 per cent.

Haydock sees the transition from hard copy to digital as an opportunity to grow the collection. “We’re moving into ebooks for our unique degree packages [in areas such as First Nations Governance, Arctic Research and Climate Change].”

Despite the trend towards digital, she says that people are still attached to hard copy. “The youngest of the young still want to take out books. That aspect isn’t going to be lost.”

Fabiana Naves immigrated to the Yukon from Brazil on a student visa and is now executive assistant at the Yukon College President’s office. Naves was also the first Yukon College candidate for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Queen contest and became the 2010 Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous First Princess.

One of her first jobs in the Yukon was at the Library. The College is one of the only places where people in the Yukon on student visas can work. The job was a big leg up for her.

“I arrived here and didn’t know anybody, so through the library I got to meet others in the same situation and develop a community,” Naves says. “I also got to meet and foster relationships with Canadians.” Naves is excited about the new learning commons. “I’m looking forward to accessing more journals and way more material,” she says.

The new learning commons will feature more study space and less physical books, says Michael Vernon, communications coordinator, college and external relations at Yukon College. The learning commons will feature a “variety of spaces, open and closed, quiet and collaborative,” says Vernon.

Breakout spaces and meeting rooms will allow users to customize their time based on their goals.

“The space will support new and different learning technologies including a screening space that will fit between 40 and 50 people,” he says.

There will be a second level mezzanine higher up in the space near the skylight with stairs leading up to it.

Vernon says more resources will be available digitally going forward.

“Increased online resources will benefit distance learners, such as members of Yukon communities who aren’t in Whitehorse,” Vernon says. “There will still be books, though. And you can expect more plugins for laptops and less computer terminals.”

Rob Sutherland sees this step as a continuation of the collaboration that has been taking place in the library since the beginning. His best memories of the library come from the broad range of students and coworkers that he has worked with.

“People have come from around the world to work with us, which is great because we can exchange ideas,” he says.

Regular access to books and the learning commons space will become a reality in the new academic year. In the meantime there will be some limited access to a few library services through the Centre for Northern Innovation and Mining building.

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