On March 15, University of Toronto Libraries, in collaboration with the Family Care Office, opened a family study space at Robarts Library, the first of its kind in Canada.

Designed for current students, faculty members, visiting scholars, and staff at U of T with their children aged 12 years and under, the space is intended to foster equity, diversity, and inclusivity by addressing the unique needs of student parents.

Students with family obligations are often “not what we think of as a traditional student,” said Francesca Dobbin, Director of U of T’s Family Programs and Services. “They’re usually students who… many times, aside from their student responsibilities, are holding down some part-time jobs so they really have to juggle their time carefully to make sure they meet their academic requirements. And they don’t always have the after-hour resources and care to be able to run into the library after their child care day has ended at 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening.”

At the University of Toronto, based on a 2016 report, 18 per cent of doctoral students have one or more children, while 11 per cent of professional master’s students and five per cent of research master’s students do. Roughly half of doctoral students said that family obligations presented an obstacle to their studies, while 44.3 per cent of research master’s students and 49.3 per cent of professional master’s students said the same. Dobbin said that no data was collected for undergraduate student parents using the Family Care Office.

Dobbin explained that student parents often find it difficult to fully benefit from a postsecondary education due to time constraints and reduced ability to participate in clubs or activities. The Family Study Space is intended to build a sense of community by fostering cooperation among students using the space.

The room, located on the ninth floor of Robarts at room 9-002, has a capacity of up to 20 adults and children. Availability is on a first-come, first-serve basis to those who obtain a free access fob through the Robarts Library carrel office.

In addition, the room includes a variety of toys and seating for children, as well as equipment for students such as carrels with computers or space for laptops, a screen for presentations or collaborative work, and a main table.

Dobbin said that in her experience, universities that take on similar projects typically have a higher proportion of mature students, such as college transfer students feeding into universities or veterans who have returned to school later in life.

While McGill University has offered kits with child-focused activities to student parents at libraries, Dobbin said that the Family Study Space was selected to more comprehensively address the needs of student parents.

A team including Communications and User Services Librarian Jesse Carliner, User Services Librarian Kyla Everall, Operations and Building Services, and the Family Care Office worked in conjunction to assess an ideal space and determine necessary design elements.

Dobbin and Carliner said that they had received number of positive messages and tweets from student parents grateful for the space. As of March 28, 55 students or staff had registered for the space.

“We hope this will start a trend of more family inclusive spaces and services at universities throughout Canada,” said Carliner.