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.

The doom and gloom of Robarts Library

Efficient and impersonal — the U of T experience in a nutshell

The doom and gloom of Robarts Library

Tired, stooped, and seemingly unimpressed by it all, the towering Robarts Library dutifully watches over the intersection of St. George Street and Harbord Street. Its brutalist design and the contrasting stream of fresh-faced scholars pouring out of it make guests feel as if they’ve stumbled into a sad, strange, Soviet Hogwarts.

The library puts a spell on you: its gloomy character seems to seep right into you, whether you’re just slipping by or trudging through. Pedestrians passing by the cold, hard concrete tend to drop their gaze, grind their teeth, and dash away. Upstairs, between ancient bookshelves and dark, dingy corners, students hunch over desks and silently labour away — mirroring their equally dull surroundings.

Serving 60,595 UTSG students, storing millions of books, and soaring 14 storeys high, Robarts embodies U of T: big, efficient, and impersonal. Slowly, Robarts attacks your mood, your energy, your productivity.

Yet ‘Robarts syndrome’ isn’t an isolated phenomenon. There are pages upon pages of research that show how physical space and architecture affect our mental state.

‘Boring’ architecture has been shown to imbue feelings of fear and sadness. In one study, when participants quickened their pace while passing by dull-looking buildings, their mood levels took a dive.

Inside Robarts, its effects become even more pronounced. The combination of high ceilings and blue walls, which Robarts has, have been shown to boost creativity, but otherwise Robarts has a gloomy library interior severely lacking in natural light.

Dr. Alan Lewis, an architecture lecturer at Manchester University, has said that “visible light… helps to stimulate the body’s production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which can reduce the symptoms of depression.” Visible light also “helps the human body to regulate the production of the hormone melatonin, which in turn helps to regulate our body clock, affecting sleep patterns and digestion.”

Sarah Goldhagen, an architecture critic, has also reported that when workers are exposed to natural light, they become 25 per cent more productive. Therefore, proximity to windows and what you can see through them matters to how productive your studying is.

In 1984, Roger Ulrich and his colleagues discovered that when hospital patients had a view of nature through their bedside window, they recovered an average of one day quicker, had fewer ‘post-surgical complications,’ and required fewer painkillers when compared to patients with a view of a brick wall.

While the context of busy students studying in Robarts is quite different from that of a hospital, most Robarts dwellers are subjected to an uninspiring panorama of bookshelves, the backs of necks, or just brick. The views from Robarts’ higher floors are breathtaking: skyscrapers and busy streets, dotted with tiny trees and pockets of green — but due to limited spaces in those areas, they’re hogged by a privileged few.

Taken together, these factors make up one bizarre, intimidating, yet awe-inspiring building. By understanding how ‘Robarts syndrome’ affects your mood, energy, and productivity, you can sidestep its pitfalls and try to lead a healthier, happier academic career.

A roundup of construction on campus

Understanding what is being built where and for when

A roundup of construction on campus

Construction is underway all across the University of Toronto’s St. George campus. Many of the universities old buildings are being renovated, while new buildings are going up. Here is a summary of all the major construction projects taking place on campus.

1. Robarts Library

130 St. George Street

Expected Completion: Spring 2019

According to U of T Magazine, Robarts Library sees as many as 18,000 visitors per day. Despite its massive size, U of T’s marquee library does not house enough study carrells to keep up with the demand.

The Robarts Common will be a five-storey glass structure connected to the main library, adding about 1,200 additional study spaces, bringing the total number of spaces to roughly 6,000.

This is the second phase of the Robarts revitalization project; the first phase took place between 2008 and 2012. During that time, study spaces were improved and infrastructure was added to support mobile computing and connectivity. The second phase seeks to be both practical in its implications for students and also sustainable. The addition is set to be awarded a silver rating according to the standards set by the Leadership in Energy

and Environmental Design.

2. Ramsay Wright Laboratories

25 Harbord Street

Expected Completion: Unknown

Ramsay Wright Laboratories has been undergoing a series of renovations. The date for when that can be expected is unknown, but in 2014, The Varsity reported that renovations would be completed by April 2017, although they are still underway.

A 2014 report on the renovations explained that the renovations are largely based on creating functioning laboratories that have longevity. Various science-based programs are being forced to move equipment between the labs in the Earth Sciences Centre and Ramsay Wright, and the renovations seek to remedy these issues.

3. Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship

55 St. George Street

Expected Completion: 2018

Through transparency and collaboration, the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering has involved the campus in the construction of its new home. The process of creating the Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship began in 2008. Select building elements that used to stand at the site were demolished in 2015, and the official groundbreaking took place on June 24, 2015. Construction of the CEIE is slated to be completed in 2018.

Some of the CEIE’s highlighted features include space devoted to student clubs, multidisciplinary research hubs, a dedicated alumni meeting space, eight design studios, and new prototyping and fabrication facilities. It boasts a brand new auditorium, the Lee & Margaret Lau Auditorium, which is set to be “a 500-seat interactive space meant to optimize audience engagement.” Each of the spaces has a unique and innovative design.

4. One Spadina

1 Spadina Crescent

Expected Completion: Fall 2017

The new Daniels Building has been featured in The New York Times and was one of the main attractions of this year’s Doors Open event. The project has been under close watch due not only to the location but also due to the promise surrounding it. The Daniels Faculty’s website says that the building, when completed, will be “a world-leading venue for studying, conducting research, and advocating for architecture, landscape, and sustainable urbanization.”

During Daniels Orientation and with the start of classes, the building has already begun hosting students.

The story of the ‘One Dollar Poem Guy’

We’ve all passed by Shawn DeSouza-Coelho at some point, but who is the budget poet, really?

The story of the ‘One Dollar Poem Guy’

An interesting addition to the northeast corner of St. George and Harbord has recently set up shop, and it’s not a food truck. Nestled between the neatly lined trees and the red mailbox sits a poet. Taking a brief break from scribbling in his journal, Shawn DeSouza-Coelho quietly observes the campus’ activity throughout the day. For a loonie, he’ll write you a poem about anything. All proceeds go to the Daily Bread Food Bank. He is the ‘One Dollar Poem Guy.’

The One Dollar Poem Guy at Robarts. Lisa Power/THE VARSITY

The One Dollar Poem Guy at Robarts. Lisa Power/THE VARSITY

But DeSouza-Coelho is so much more than that: poet, actor, entertainer, writer, and above all, artist. When he’s not at his poetry stand, he works as a magician specializing in mind reading. He has written the novel MetaMagic: An Introduction and has another book on the way.

In April, DeSouza-Coelho will be hosting a TEDx Talk before gearing up to travel around southern Ontario with a theatre production. Originally from Toronto, he attended the University of Waterloo for his undergrad. Initially, he was to complete his graduate studies at U of T but instead opted to return to his alma mater. Now, he finds himself back at U of T and situated at the epicentre of the campus and offering words of inspiration during exam season.

The poetry stand

“I’ve been doing it since May of last year… I started off doing it on campus at Waterloo while I was doing my Master’s there. And from there I decided to take it to Toronto… I started at Robarts [in the] beginning of February… and one of the reasons I decided to do that was because I was trying to figure out a place in Toronto where there was still a lot of foot traffic in the winter… I’ve read about it in a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg… in that book she talks about practicing letting go of writing… basically the idea behind the poetry stand is that you write a little blurb and then you give it out to the world and then let it go… Because normally when we write something we hold onto it… our internal sense or our editor sort of goes into overdrive and we… don’t want to put it out into the world because we don’t think it’s finished… but it’ll never be finished.”

What DeSouza-Coelho writes about

“I initially started doing the stand to practice my prose but then 95 per cent of people started asking for poetry. So I quickly kind of fell into writing poetry… sometimes they’ll suggest things and sometimes I ask them if they want to suggest some thing…. it’s really just a matter of whatever hits me on the spot… I have a general idea of what I want my poems to be; a general image of what I think poetry should do and… it really amounts to taking or creating a space and then filling it with language, right? That’s what I try to do with all my poems… I try to create a space. Doesn’t matter what space it is. It could be on the patio at Starbucks. It could be on the moon, it could be on Pluto, wherever… it’s just about the practice of getting something out there or getting something on the page… when I did it at Waterloo I did it at a place called The Davis Centre. And that whole building is designed to look like a microchip. A lot of people got the juxtaposition of a person writing poetry inside of this technological vestige at the University of Waterloo.”

This interview has been condensed for clarity.   

Robarts undergoes first expansion in 42 years

Construction on Robarts Common to begin in March 2016

Robarts undergoes first expansion in 42 years

The second phase of the Robarts renovations and expansion project is scheduled to begin this March. The project, which consists of the construction of an additional five storeys of study space, is expected to be completed by the spring of 2018.

The library currently attracts around 18,000 visitors a day, twice the number recorded in 1980, making a renovation long overdue. This is the 42 year-old library’s first extension.

The first phase of the construction took place from 2008 to 2012 and consisted of the renovation of the John P. Robarts Research Library. 

New special collection areas were created, such as the Data, Map and GIS Centre and the Media Commons. The study space was refurbished and expanded, and the electronic infrastructure updated.

According to Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of news & media relations at U of T, the project will create an additional 1,222 study spaces, increasing the library’s capacity to 6,027 seats. Prior to the 2008 renovations, the seat count was 2,600.  The expansion will amount to an additional 56,000 square feet over five storeys.

The majority of the funding for the project comes from Drs. Russell and Katherine Morrison, who provided funding for Morrison Hall, the addition to the Gerstein Science Information Centre, and the Morrison Pavilion. Other financial support has come from public funding from the province, libraries, and individual donors.  The university has been raising funds for the revitalization since 2008.

Blackburn- Evans said that the renovation will create minimal disruption to students, with much of the construction-taking place on the side the building facing Huron Street; no study spaces will be closed during renovations, she said.

The Robarts Common will include an open square that will allow students to study outside in the warmer months. The square will feature seating amongst the cherry trees.

The common is designed with sustainability in mind, and will include a green roof, rainfall recycling systems, and low-emissions building materials. These aspects of the design will earn a silver rating according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

A mix of quiet study areas and areas for group work will also be created. Thirty-two meeting rooms will be added, many complete with display screens and loudspeakers.

The addition is helmed by Diamond Schmitt Architects who intend to integrate the original Brutalist architectural style. Wood accents and wraparound glass will be included in an attempt to give the library more warmth and light. The glass walls will be equipped with light-sensing motorized blinds.

The expansion project is one of several initiatives central to the campaign goal of $65 million to refurbish the Gerstein Science Information Centre as well and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

Robarts cherry blossoms to temporarily relocate

Removal accommodates construction project

Robarts cherry blossoms to temporarily relocate

In preparation for the Robarts Common construction project, the beloved cherry blossom trees behind the library will be leaving their home temporarily. PAO Horticultural, a nursery located in Hornby, Ontario will relocate and replant the 32 trees that surround the library. This project began on November 12.

The trees were a gift from the Consulate-General of Japan in Toronto, planted on October 12, 2005. The gift was part of the Sakura Project, an initiative to strengthen diplomatic ties between Canada and Japan that spanned from 2000 to 2012. Within that time, 3,082 trees were planted in 58 locations across Ontario,paid for with about $83,000 from public and private donations. Both UTSG and UTSC were gifted with the cherry trees.

Jesse Carliner, acting communications librarian, said that the temporary removal of the trees is intended to sustain a long-term preservation. “Currently, the trees are crowded and competing for light and nutrients,” he explained. “In order to ensure their health and longevity so that future generations may enjoy them, the trees will be spaced farther apart when they are replanted.”

According to Carliner, the trees will return to Robarts by 2018 once the landscape project has been completed. He did confirm that the number of trees planted at Robarts after the construction work will stay the same.

The construction occurring at Robarts is the second phase of an expansion project that has been in the works for years, although the details have changed and been reworked throughout the years. The $74 million project aims to alter Robarts’ looming, brutalist facade. The first phase focused on improving the quality of study spaces and implementing new infrastructure.

The upcoming construction project will include an additional 1,222 study spaces to accommodate the growing student body, bringing the total number of study spaces to 6,027.

The face of Robarts will soon become the Robarts Common, a five-storey glass pavilion facing Huron Street. The project, headed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, is expected to be completed during the 2017–2018 academic year.

“With the cherry blossoms unavailable for the upcoming spring, Robarts will be missing what is seen as an “annual U of T tradition,” said Carliner.

This is a sentiment echoed by Sarah Fellows, a first-year English student, who feels that taking the trees away amounts to taking away a part of Robarts. Fellows expressed that the trees acted as a great de-stresser and a great option for those who wanted to study outside.

Darren Cheng, a fourth-year neuroscience student, said that he has faith in the administration’s goals for the construction. He articulated that so long as the additions are designed with the students’ well-being in mind, he is okay with them. Cheng expressed a hope that the additons will improve the space.

“Photographs of the Robarts Library cherry trees in bloom are a social media phenomenon,” remarked Carliner. “I can’t think of many study or work breaks better than taking a walk or sitting on a bench underneath the cherry blossoms. Beyond U of T, the cherry blossoms also bring a lot of joy to the greater Toronto community.”