Robarts opens Canada’s first academic library family study space

Room designed to address unique needs of students and staff with children aged 12 and under

Robarts opens Canada’s first academic library family study space

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.

Addressing the challenges of being a parent and full-time student

Re: “Students with children feel “invisible” at U of T”

Addressing the challenges of being a parent and full-time student

It is disheartening to know that anyone feels invisible in a community that usually thrives on inclusion and networking through various campus events and clubs. Personally, I hadn’t realized that there were students on campus who were struggling with raising children while studying at university. Finding a viable solution that can fix the issue is a priority in order to help students who are trying to handle being both full-time parents and full-time students.

Childcare services are already overburdened at the university. While this problem is being sorted out, one solution might be to offer parents additional structural support through the accessibility services provided at each U of T campus, in order to make it easier to take time off and care for children. The statement found on the Accessibility Services web page claims that “It is the University of Toronto’s goal to create a community that is inclusive…and treats all members…in an equitable manner.” Although having a disability and having a child to care for are fundamentally different circumstances, the stressors experienced by people in both situations might be similar. For example, students in both these positions might struggle to juggle essays and assignments with childcare or personal health responsibilities.

In Ontario, a maximum of 63 weeks of parental leave is granted to individuals who have children. But university terms continue on whether you have to care for a child or not. The only options new parents have are to try and balance childcare responsibilities with schoolwork, or to postpone their educations altogether. With this in mind, students with children should be given more support from the university so that they aren’t forced to put their degrees on hold.

Areej Rodrigo is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying English and Theatre and Performance Studies.