Welcome to Trent: you can’t use the library

Speaking at the library’s opening ceremony, Thomas J. Bata told the audience that:

Education is a process of discrimination, and I hope that the students of Trent University will learn to discriminate wisely and well.

Invoking this older use of the word, students will soon have to “discriminate wisely and well” in choosing their study spaces. Students are being given a hall pass from Bata Library in September, in the form of an unwanted but necessary year long renovation project. Head Librarian Robert Clarke is “not worried at all” about the loss of Bata impacting students’ ability to study. He states that they have “identified the 550 seats short of what was in Bata, and now have “900 in total” available for student use. Grad students worry about access to Ebooks and undergrads worry about their campus turning into a winterized version of Mad Maxx. Losing public space presents an opportunity to examine what it means to have free areas, and live the experience of those who don’t have access to public space. In losing public areas we must also ponder the accessibility of some private areas, and, in this instance, other spaces to learn.

June 24th 1964, Trent’s joint committee on Architecture recommended Ron Thom to oversee the university’s design. The vision behind Bata Library was centered around creating areas of congregation for young academics to think big, whilst representing Thom’s belief that “a building has to make love to a site”. Indeed, the building is both gentle and firm enough to satisfy its site. Thom wanted the library to have a compact “footprint”, so designed it as one cube within a second, which is rotated 90 degrees. The rotated cubes jut out over the Otonabee, giving the library more floor space whilst creating distinct architecture and unjustifiably good views for a library.

Since its inception, there have been renovations but none on this scale. In 1989 a computer center and new seminar room were built, whilst the early 90s saw 5700 square feet reclaimed, in addition to more computer space and creating a Native Studies Resource Area. There was also a hiatus whilst asbestos was removed.

As might be obvious, renovations have always focused on maximizing space, but also keeping pace with the times and adding areas for specific knowledge. The new renovations do this but on a much grander scale.

The university is renovating the library to the tune of $18 million: $8.1 from provincial and federal government funding and the rest made up from contributions. The cleverly named project Bata: Library of the Future seeks to build on Trent’s collaborative learning culture and will explore “new technological infrastructure”. In billing the renovation in this fashion, the university gives the impression that this is both an effort to return to Trent’s foundational beliefs and to evolve.

Features of said Library of the Future can be found at https://www.trentu.ca/batatransformation/, but in the meantime here are our three favourites, in no particular order:

  • Trent will be creating three research centres, all of which are helpfully self-explanatory: Trent Centre for Aging and Society; Indigenous Environmental Studies Research Centre; Canadian Environmental Modelling Centre
  • Two new visualisation labs will enable people to create more sophisticated visualisation tools for teaching research, including the use of virtual reality and 3D printing
  • The renovations will promote environmental sustainability, with a green wall being built, for instance.

These tangible benefits in a year’s time are all great, but the construction throws up some immediate concerns right now. As the university notes, they have been able to retain 50% of its print collection, so, of course, that means there will be 50% less books as the library needs to make more room. The changes also mean that archives and study spaces are apart from each other for this coming year. What used to be a Shoppers on the corner of Charlotte and Aylmer is housing books and archives, whilst the yet-to-be finished student centre is expected to take on a lot of the burden. Additional study space has been allocated across campus. Understandably, many students are worried about the temporarily lost space and definitely lost resources.

Kristen Nicole recalls her experience at Bata “we had so many group projects that my entire program would camp out in the library for 13 hour days and switch tables as we switched to the next group project.” 4th year student Gillian Whitfield says “I love going to Bata, because 99.9% of the time it’s super quiet and I’m surrounded by like-minded people who need to get their work done.”

The value of having a public space dedicated to study is indispensable to both students who are just arriving or have been here for years. Despite the administration’s best efforts, it is hard to quantify what is lost in the process of creative destruction required to revitalize Bata Library. Indeed, it is not just Trent students who have something to lose with the loss of Bata. Trent alumnus Will Pearson laments “Losing the library space for a year will inhibit my ability to do independent research…I’m concerned about my access to the library’s collection”. According to Pearson, although alumni have “full access to Bata’s print collection, they can access very little of its Ebook collection.”

For some, it is not just the lack of access to public space that they lament, but a lack of access to knowledge as well.

Peterborough has a healthy surplus of space located in its downtown core (see “Downtown Destinations” on website) with cafes, bars, and when the weather permits, parks and patios galore. Terry Guiel sees potential stating that “anything that increases interaction with downtown and Trent is a positive thing.” Peterborough’s downtown core can be a viable place for students who are looking to avoid designated study areas outlined by the administration.

One of this paper’s co-editors would freely admit that he found reading and studying at The Only on Hunter Street far more instructive than the library or a seminar room. Studying in bars and cafes takes you out into the world where the ideas you study are being practiced, with people to ask you about your course and the inspiring nudge of ‘good vibes’.

Of course, although downtown businesses are open to the public, they are not free. It costs money to sit in a cafe, and, whereas Bata was rife with Tupperware, understandably one can’t really take your own food into a cafe. To park yourself downtown you will incur some costs that wouldn’t have troubled you last year: the cost of regularly studying downtown will soon add up. At least the wifi is free though.

Bata takes its name from Thomas J. Bata. He was a Czechoslovakian shoemaker who came to Canada in the 1930s. He settled in Peterborough and was involved with Trent from the start, keen to revitalize an ailing Peterborough and for students to be engaged with the place.

Peterborough is ailing again and, in a skewed kind of way, closing the library for a year re-invokes one part of Bata’s vision. More students will be downtown, studying and spending their money: some of them might even come up with a few ventures to kick-start Peterborough’s economy.

The library’s developments will be extremely beneficial to those that get to use them (sorry final years) but students must first face up to a year out of the library. Having been kicked out of the library, it is worth bearing in mind the following words, from a 1993 letter to the editor: