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Librarians as Information Providers and Facilitators: The Irving K.Barber Learning Centre as a Model… Singh, Sandra Jun 2, 2010

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P a g e 1 o f 8 L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s : T h e I r v i n g K . B a r b e r L e a r n i n g C e n t r e a s a M o d e l f o r t h e E x p a n s i o n o f t h e R o l e o f A c a d e m i c L i b r a r i e s i n U n i v e r s i t y - C o m m u n i t y E n g a g e m e n t .  S a n d r a S i n g h , B . A . , M . L . I . S . D i r e c t o r , I r v i n g K . B a r b e r L e a r n i n g C e n t r e  Like many of the world’s great public universities, The University of British Columbia has a long history of connecting with its local communities – individual faculty members, the industry-liaison office, co-op programs, the Continuing Studies department, and the Community Service Learning department are just a few of the places where the university has connected with community. The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre was conceived over 10 years ago as not only a reconfiguration of the old Main Library, but as an outward-looking Learning Centre that would also serve the people of British Columbia. At 250,000 sq ft, with its new entrance facing outward toward the province rather than inward toward campus, it was the largest symbol of the University’s commitment to community engagement. But what did that really mean, to be a Learning Centre for the province of British Columbia? And how could it do that from a campus that is nearly inaccessible to or at best inconvenient for even people living in the Metro Vancouver area, much less someone 2,500 km away in northwestern BC? Since the signing of the Centre’s Charter (http:// in 2004, The Learning Centre undertook its commitment to community engagement with sincerity and passion. Over the years, the Learning Centre’s approach to community engagement has evolved from fairly traditional academic outreach based on the idea that the university has wisdom and knowledge to impart, to a an approach that acknowledges the expertise and contributions of community and seeks to be motivated by community needs and priorities. The Learning Centre has provided the fairly traditional UBC Library with a way to contribute to the University’s maturing community engagement commitment through extension of services and expertise, as well as with the opportunity to consider how the library and its librarians can position their attributes and deploy their skills in new ways that evolve not only the role of the academic library in support of university-community engagement, but also how universities themselves engage with communities.  B A C K G R O U N D  Like most Canadian provinces, British Columbia’s (BC’s) economy has been resource-dominated for most of its history, with significant endeavours in forestry and mining.  Throughout the latter half of the 19 th  century and the 20 th  century, small resource industry based towns developed across the province, spinning off industry-oriented periphery service sectors, as well as other community supports and services. British Columbia’s rural and remote towns were and continue to be unique and compelling communities, some as far as 2,600 km from the business centre of Metro Vancouver. 1   The last few decades have seen significant shifts in BC’s resource sector: employment in resource-based industries declined dramatically, while employment in the service and information sectors saw increases, the latter primarily in the southern urban centres. Many rural and remote communities across BC have had to adjust quickly to these changes, diversifying their local economies to ensure community stability and viability. At an individual level, people and families have had to make difficult choices – re-skill in order to change sectors, leave the community entirely for new work elsewhere, or look for an entrepreneurial option. For many resource-based communities, the transition has been painful and difficult, with some towns struggling to see a future after industry downsizing or relocation.  It is within this dramatically changing environment that Irving K. Barber returned to his alma mater. Mr. Barber graduated from The University of British Columbia (UBC) in 1950 with a forestry degree. The day after graduation,  1 British Columbia is approximately 945,000 km2 with a population of 4.455 million. To understand the scale and remoteness of rural British Columbia, imagine taking the population of Ireland, placing half of it in one metropolitan area in one small corner, then spreading the remaining 2 million or so across an area the size of Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, and Portugal combined – in a sprinkling of about 160 communities, more than half of which have less than 5,000 people. 550,000 of British Columbians live in very small, unincorporated areas. L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 2 o f 8 he left Vancouver for a small coastal town where he immediately put his education to work in one of BC’s largest forestry companies. Over the following decades, Mr. Barber worked across the province, living in and caring for the small rural and remote communities whose work and commitment fuelled BC’s economy. As he looked forward to his retirement, Mr. Barber wished to dedicate some of his wealth in support of the British Columbia that fuelled his success. His first step brought him to UBC.  Upon his return to UBC, Mr. Barber brought four things: a deep respect for the communities and people of rural and remote BC; the understanding that the resource sector was changing and that these changes would dramatically impact communities; a strong conviction that post-secondary education lays the foundation for a resilient and successful person and province; and $20 million dollars.  At that time, the UBC Library – having just rebuilt its Humanities and Social Sciences Library – was looking to the old Main Library. Originally built in the 1930s with newer but aging wings, the Main Library embodied many of the stereotypes of the traditional academic library – a few inspiring study areas surrounded by floors of packed bookshelves. The UBC Library wanted to evolve its historic Main Library into a Learning Centre, enfolding in its vision diverse Campus departments and services in support of teaching and learning.  Mr. Barber, when asked to consider this reconstruction as a beneficiary of his gift, agreed with one condition: the Learning Centre could not just be a Learning Centre for UBC or even the Metro Vancouver area. It had to be a Learning Centre for the entire province.  UBC agreed and, with Mr. Barber’s support, secured a matching grant for the learning centre from the Provincial government. Facility planning began. Concurrently, the Library began to consider what being a provincial learning centre based out of both Vancouver and within the context of a university library could and would mean. To help better understand what role it might play, in 2004, Mr. Barber and the University Librarian set off across the province, visiting communities to hear what the Learning Centre could do to support them.  Many comments were shared, with wishes ranging from access to UBC collections to digitization support, from information support for professionals working in isolated communities, to access to UBC programs and lectures.  E A R L Y C O M M U N I T Y E N G A G E M E N T  Over the following years, the Learning Centre team’s attention necessarily turned to the building project and its completion. With multiple stakeholders, diverse spaces, and 250,000 sq ft to plan and build, all while keeping the Library open for business, the team’s attention was understandably focused on pressing facility issues.  At the same time, however, the Learning Centre’s community engagement commitment was not reliant on the presence of a physical building and some important early endeavours were established. These initial community engagement activities were programs determined by staff and set up to meet specific needs identified by communities in the 2004 visits. As first steps into community engagement for an academic library, these programs were primarily extensions of the Library’s traditional strengths and interests.  C o l l e c t i o n s : As a support for the research endeavours of faculty and students, the UBC Library’s collection was and is viewed as one of its primary assets and is viewed by people and institutions across the province as the richest research collection in BC. Community engagement in the area of collections access and development were a natural fit.   The BC History Digitization Program, established in 2006, offered matching grants totalling $200,000 to community organizations or institutions that wanted to digitize materials of unique local historical value. This program was seen to support digitization capacity building in rural and remote communities, as well as to help create access to primary materials collections that academics and historians could not normally easily access.  L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 3 o f 8  The Inter-Library Loan (ILL) Subsidy, committed to in 2006, offsets the costs associated with providing ILL of UBC Library materials to libraries across the province, making UBC Library’s collection more accessible to students and researchers working and studying at other BC post- secondary institutions.  S t a f f E x p e r t i s e : Like all academic libraries, UBC Library’s other valuable asset is its staff and their expertise in secondary research and information and digital literacy. Extension of staff expertise to support external communities became another early approach of the Centre.   The Small Business Accelerator sought to take the secondary market research guides created by the business librarians for use by their MBA students, remove all the resources licensed for UBC use only, and present them for rural and remote public libraries and colleges to use to support their student and community members.   The Physiotherapy Outreach Program hired a librarian to provide resource support to and training in information and research skills to physiotherapists across the province.  Each of these endeavours represented the Library’s extension of its own resources or interests in support of BC communities.  In addition to these relatively traditional areas, the Learning Centre started to explore the role it could play, in partnership with other campus units, in providing web-based access to general interest extra-curricular programming such as dialogues and lecture series. At this point, in partnership with The UBC Bookstore, the Learning Centre also initiated original programming, such as an emerging author and discussions series.  As the facility planning progressed, the commitment to community digitization continued and deepened through the establishment of a loose multi-sector endeavour to explore a provincial strategy for digitization; the ILL subsidy was maintained; programming and webcasting scaled back to focus primarily on the emerging authors series and occasional events; the business guides program struggled to find the right footing; and the physiotherapy-outreach position, a lauded success, was taken over by the provincial professional association.  In 2008, the Learning Centre at last opened in its entirety, a team of staff was in place, and onsite attention turned to facility management and leadership. With this new milestone came a new approach to Learning Centre’s community engagement, one that sought to expand beyond the traditional roles and services of academic libraries and to move past traditional outreach approaches.  M O V I N G F R O M L I B R A R Y S E R V I C E B A S E D O U T R E A C H T O C O M M U N I T Y - L E D E X C H A N G E Over the last two years, the Learning Centre’s approach to community engagement has evolved from primarily an outreach approach, in which the University shares its resources and expertise with communities, to one of exchange, in which the Learning Centre pursues opportunities that offer mutual benefit and learning. This approach shifts the dynamics of the relationship from one in which the academy sees itself as holding all expertise to one that recognizes the expertise and contributions of community and how these can, in return, enrich the academy.  With this new approach in mind, IKBLC established its first Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee was intentionally populated with people working in diverse sectors of BC’s communities: Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K- 12) and post-secondary education, business support services, public libraries, community development, and economic development. As well, the Advisory Committee expanded to include diverse stakeholders from across the UBC campus: teaching and learning units, associate deans (students and curriculum), Continuing Studies, Student Development, and Alumni Affairs.  L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 4 o f 8 Over its first year, the Advisory Committee assisted the Learning Centre in understanding where efforts should be focused. These areas emerged through discussions about community issues and priorities in combination with consideration of where UBC might have congruent interests.  The Committee agreed that The Learning Centre should focus on rural and remote communities, but asked the team to also explore aboriginal community engagement opportunities. As the majority of BC’s aboriginal population lives in urban areas, this is one area where The Learning Centre might also see some urban connections. Within this community context, the Committee prioritized the following areas for engagement:  1. C o m m u n i t y d i g i t i z a t i o n :  Continue to support community-based digitization of unique BC historical materials.  2. L o c a l e c o n o m i c d e v e l o p m e n t : Continue to explore opportunities where UBC can add value to local economic development activities.  3. R e s e a r c h c o n t e x t u a l i z a t i o n a n d a p p l i c a t i o n : Explore ways for academic research to be translated for local community context and support its application/mobilization.  4. K - 1 2 e n g a g e m e n t : Explore ways that UBC could play a role in mitigating the impacts of rural isolation on students in middle and high schools.  5. A c c e s s i n i t i a t i v e s : Continue the revitalization of the webcasting program, which started in early 2009, and provide access to UBC resources and dialogue events. These initiatives are considered outreach initiatives, rather than exchange, and are focused primarily on providing access to UBC resources to as wide an audience as possible.  Because UBC is located in the southwestern-most corner of the province, The Learning Centre often looks to technology as a potential tool in any endeavour. However, at this point, there are still many regions in BC with inadequate broadband access, so alternate methods must be considered for such areas.  At the same time, The Learning Centre recognizes that UBC’s goal of graduating empathetic and thoughtful global citizens can only really be achieved if the University helps students truly understand the diverse and often challenging situations people around the world face, including those living in rural and remote Canadian communities. For this reason, The Learning Centre also looks for opportunities to support in-person connections between students, faculties, and BC communities.  P R O G R A M D E V E L O P M E N T P R O C E S S : C O M M U N I T Y - L E D E X C H A N G E  I d e a G e n e r a t i o n After having identified its areas of engagement, the service development process starts with the acknowledgement that each community – whether a geographic community or a community of interest – already has well- established community and educational institutions, agencies, or organizations. The Learning Centre generally first connects with representatives of these community stakeholders to explore their priorities and interests. Once The Learning Centre has a sense of what the community is trying to achieve or to what it aspires, conversation turns to how universities might contribute to such activities or aspirations.  Returning to UBC with these ideas and interests, The Learning Centre then tries to find places in the university that might be interested in engagement: schools, faculties, learning support departments, or others. Learning Centre staff members meet with potential UBC partners to discuss what was heard in the community and to explore potential mutual interests.  L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 5 o f 8 Once potential UBC partners have been identified, The Learning Centre reconnects with the community liaisons and either calls a meeting between the UBC and community representatives to explore potential activities or works to facilitate a solution.  Occasionally, a community or UBC representative may express interest in pursuing an idea or initiative that The Learning Centre believes holds promise for wider implementation. In such cases, a Learning Centre team member will investigate what other community or UBC representatives think about such an initiative by contacting people across the province and campus. This is also an ideal point for engaging the Advisory Committee. If the idea resonates with the wider consultation group, then The Learning Centre tries to bring together a team of community and university stakeholders to flesh out the idea.  D e m o n s t r a t i o n a n d P i l o t P r o j e c t s When working on a provincial scale, the prospect of consistently creating programs that immediately resonate and connect with the hundreds of communities across the province is daunting and unrealistic. The only such endeavours that may realistically succeed are traditional outreach- or access-based programs that seek to impart or share the University’s knowledge or expertise. Programs based on community exchange are generally relationship-based and necessarily require a more focused and time-consuming approach.  In order to move community exchange based program ideas to implementation expeditiously, The Learning Centre engages in pilot or demonstration programs. Through a pilot, the team explores how an idea can be implemented with a few communities – usually three and no more than four. After evaluation of the program and its implementation and sustainability, The Learning Centre would then try to expand a successful program to more communities to understand more about how the program can reasonably be sustained.  U B C - B a s e d I n i t i a t i v e s S u p p o r t Occasionally, through exploration of potential partners at UBC, The Learning Centre will encounter a program or Faculty member whose work clearly meets the interests or needs of a community. In such cases, The Learning Centre may offer some modest financial support to expand the reach of the program or to assist it in moving to the next stage of application.  P U T T I N G I T A L L T O G E T H E R : M O V I N G F R O M P R O C E S S A N D I D E A S I N T O R E A L I T Y  C o m m u n i t y e x c h a n g e i n i t i a t i v e s In looking for opportunities for meaningful and mutually beneficial community exchange, The Learning Centre seeks opportunities that allow for community service learning and student engagement; research mobilization and community-based research; and/or knowledge/expertise exchange. The following initiatives are a sample of the programs in various stages of consideration, discussion, and implementation.   The Learning Centre is now exploring with potential UBC and community partners the possibility of an initiative to integrate indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing into K-12 science curriculum.  The Learning Centre is currently expanding a rural Community Service Learning pilot program, in which it worked with UBC and community partners to connect business school students with rural entrepreneurs and non-profits. During the pilot phase, the program saw 74 business students working on 22 projects in 4 rural/remote communities.  The Learning Centre is in discussions around a pilot to learn how UBC’s reading week community service learning program could be expanded from Metro Vancouver schools out to rural and remote schools.  The Learning Centre has partnered with various community partners to conduct a demonstration project that explores the unique challenges and issues in digitizing First Nations heritage information. The learnings of the three demonstration communities will be collocated into a descriptive toolkit for use by other BC First Nations communities.  L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 6 o f 8 A c c e s s i n i t i a t i v e s   The Learning Centre has expanded its webcasting commitment and more UBC dialogues and lectures will be made accessible to the public.  The Learning recognizes that other BC post-secondary institutions also offer intriguing and relevant lectures and dialogues and is exploring how it may work with other provincial partners to provide better access to these dialogues for British Columbians.  The Small Business Accelerator program seeks to support small businesses in doing secondary market research. After having overcome a few initiation challenges, primarily related to process, the site will soft launch in the summer of 2010 and the Community Business Librarian will travel around the province, training public librarians and other small business support providers in how to use library and free resources to conduct this research.  The Learning Centre is in the very early stages of a conversation regarding potentially experimenting with a “Scientists in the Schools” program for First Nations band run schools.  The activities above represent a sample of the range of discussions that have arisen out of Learning Centre connections. Some of these ideas may go no further than a discussion, others will spark pilot or demonstration programs, while still others will grow into committed ongoing programs.  L I B R A R I E S A N D L I B R A R I A N S I N A N E W C O N T E X T The programs that have evolved out of The Learning Centre’s community-led process have resulted in a different type of initiative than those in which The Learning Centre initially engaged – in part because the community is prioritizing their needs themselves and have a say in how those needs are met, and also because The Learning Centre does not restrict itself to only thinking in terms of library-related services. The new programs and services leverage the activities of diverse UBC academic and service units, not just the Library. Why then is the Library an appropriate place for this type of activity?  The Learning Centre, in many ways, has evolved into a Centre that facilitates connections between communities and their organizations and UBC units, when there are shared or common interests. This may seem a far step from the role the academic library has traditionally played on campus, one that focuses internally on the building of diverse research and teaching collections, providing research support to students and faculties, and offering secondary research and information literacy instruction.  However, the facilitative/community engagement role into which The Learning Centre has grown builds on the strengths and attributes of academic libraries and librarians. Librarians have long served as information facilitators, seeking to understand their users’ underlying information needs and connecting those needs with diverse information resources. Within this service context, librarians would view students and faculty as their clients and print or electronic published information and data as their collections. The Learning Centre’s role is not dissimilar, but it both shifts this view, as well as expands it outward beyond the university. Within the context of community engagement, The Learning Centre looks at the external community as its clients and the entire university and all of its expertise, programs, and services as its collection or resource base. The connections the Centre makes between community interests and resources and UBC interests and resources are not at all dissimilar to those made by traditional academic librarians between researchers and information and, in fact, similar analytical and assessment processes take place in creating the match.  It is arguable that the best places to make these kinds of connections out to communities are through the faculties, where the research expertise of the university lies. There are, however, a few compelling benefits to placing this community-facilitation role within academic libraries. Aside from the similarity between traditional information facilitation and The Learning Centre’s interest facilitation as discussed already, the Library is also a horizontal unit of the university. That is, the library works across all faculties and departments and is neutral, with no vested disciplinary, research, or programmatic interests, so it can think broadly about potential university connections. When the Learning Centre visits a community, its representatives do not bear the mantle of the Faculty of Arts or L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 7 o f 8 Science, the Office of Research Services, or even Continuing Studies. By doing so, the Learning Centre keeps an open mind about potential areas of interaction and people in the community can easily come to understand that the Learning Centre has no investment in the outcome other than it meets community needs and has some benefit for UBC.  Likewise, as a horizontal unit of the university, the academic library has diverse contacts. From student development services, to academic units, to research services, the library touches down in almost every academic or programmatic area of the university at some point. This networking allows the library to understand where on campus resources and interests might be connected. As Thomas Benton notes in T h e C h r o n i c l e o f H i g h e r E d u c a t i o n  (2010), “It's not that many of today's librarians routinely dress in sunglasses and black leather (though some do). It's that, more than any other class of professionals in higher education, librarians possess a comprehensive understanding of the scholarly ecosystem. They know what's going on across the disciplines, among professors and administrators as well as students.”  Many universities may prefer to create a whole new office of community engagement, hiring community developers or other staff to fulfil the role of community interest facilitation instead of utilizing its librarians in such a way. Certainly, there are strengths in that approach. A few arguments for allowing the library to expand into this area are that it leverages the existing skills and experiences of librarians, providing growth opportunities for existing employees who may be interested in a change, but currently have limited options outside of the library, primarily due to the perceptions of the profession and its potential usefulness in the academy. As well, universities can be quite remote and intimidating for people; librarians, on the other hand, are often seen as approachable and safe – almost every community has a library and so librarians are familiar. Finally, embedded in the profession of librarianship is a service ethic and empathy that sees librarians working in service of others rather than in service of their own individual interests. This latter ethic reinforces the Library’s ability to look broadly across the University for potential connections.  C H A L L E N G E S W I T H T H I S N E W A P P R O A C H  As with any approach or model, there are challenges. Within the library context, some librarians may not be interested in this new area of work or even may see this as detracting from the “real” work of the academic library. As well, libraries – like other campus units – are often challenged with resourcing.  The Learning Centre has dealt with and continues to navigate through these challenges. The Learning Centre manages its own budget, separately from the UBC Library budget. When searching for partners in the Library, the Learning Centre now connects with librarians across the system who have expressed interest in community engagement. To help others understand why community engagement is critical for publicly-funded post-secondary institutions and why it is important for the academic library to also engage with this mandate rather than only focus on internal clients and services, the Learning Centre will develop some messages and engage in internal discussions with staff.  As well, libraries and librarians in this role must also be aware that when they indicate an affiliation with the Library, that people in communities will automatically think of library services. Having the name “Learning Centre” has been very helpful in the area of community engagement because people have few preconceptions of what a Learning Centre is or does.  Within the broader context of the university, a challenge with the community-led approach is the sometimes hubris of the University. Many people and units across universities understand the value of lay expertise or lived experience and  how it can contribute to understanding and learning. At the same time, there are many people at universities who believe that universities will solve the problems of the modern world and see little or no value in community-based solutions – they believe academics have all the answers and the best ways of finding them. Likewise, there are people in the academy who see no value in community engagement or feel that it is too time- consuming or irrelevant for their career path. The challenge for The Learning Centre is to connect with the faculty or faculty member’s interests and to try to come to a solution that seems achievable. L i b r a r i a n s a s I n f o r m a t i o n P r o v i d e r s a n d F a c i l i t a t o r s P a g e 8 o f 8  C O N C U S I O N The Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s community engagement commitment was initiated by its benefactor – Mr. Irving K. Barber – who saw that it was critical that The Learning Centre work actively and transparently to support BC’s diverse communities. Since then, The Learning Centre has evolved rapidly from early community outreach steps, through experimentation and exploration with community engagement, to where it currently stands as an interest facilitator between diverse communities and the resources of the province’s largest public university. Although many people initially questioned “Why a library?,” as we move forward along our path, it becomes clearer that the attributes and placement of the library within the academy and the skills and experiences of librarians are uniquely suited to community-university interest exploration and facilitation.                R E F E R E N C E Benton, T. H.  (2010, May 20). Marian the Cybrarian. T h e C h r o n i c l e o f H i g h e r E d u c a t i o n Retrieved May 24, 2010, from 


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