NORTHWEST Community College students have told its administrators they do not want its library moved into a longhouse-style building on the edge of campus.
In a petition signed by 150 people, students say that the structure, originally built as a gathering place for aboriginal students, is not a suitable location.
“Relocating and downsizing the library into that space would not only reduce the library amenities, which impedes student academic success, but it also pushes aboriginal students out of their only dedicated space on campus,” said Madeline Keller-MacLeod, an organizer with the Northwest Community College Students’ Union.
“We will not be letting it go until we hear that the college is not considering this as a viable option,” she said.
Moving the library from its current location in the basement of the main college building on campus is just one of several possibilities being considered by the college as it prepares for a planned extensive renovation of its trades building. The college’s intent is to keep offering trades programs during renovations, but that would mean relocating at least some programs and classes elsewhere.
At the same time, the college has been searching for a way to more fully utilize the longhouse building.
Completed in 2010 and originally meant as a gathering place for aboriginal students and services, its use has limited compared to what was expected.
Students began hearing of the college’s idea to move the library to the longhouse earlier this year and began collecting petition signatures in March.
“We had quite overwhelming support right off the bat,” said Keller-MacLeod. “We actually had at least two students who were approached to sign the petition and immediately came to the students union office to collect their own pages and collect signatures themselves.”
The petition calls on the college to maintain its commitment to its aboriginal community by not taking over the longhouse, to maintain a collection of printed materials on subjects related to studies, to maintain the library’s current individual quiet study space and group study space and maintain the library’s current computer lab capacity.
“We know that we lost quite a few books last year and the plan that the college presented, if the library is moved into the longhouse, includes much more drastic reductions of printed materials, including books,” said Keller-MacLeod. “Students really spoke up that having printed materials is important to their academic success.”
The college has responded to worries about its relocation plans by hosting a series of meetings, the first of which took place with students April 5.
But the students’ union was not given the opportunity by college president Ken Burt to speak to the issues raised in its petition, said Keller-MacLeod.
“We were planning to introduce the issues that the petition dealt with… we asked to do so but the president said no,” said Keller-MacLeod. “The petition was clearly dealing with issues that were at the heart of the consultation,” she said. “I am certainly disappointed that he didn’t allow us to at least introduce what the issues were to the rest of the room and really show the support we had gathered in opposing this plan.”
More than 60 students attended the meeting and although the students’ union did not speak, Burt did accept its petition.
Speaking later, college official Heather Bastin said the session was meant to hear student concerns and for the college to share about future plans.
“Because we only had one hour with the students we wanted to get right into the consultation process. We’ve received the petition and continue to hear the voices it represents,” Bastin said.
Other issues raised during the session were frustration with cuts in library hours made last year, a lack of quiet study space, the need for a plan about the use of the longhouse and that facility’s inaccessibility, lack of gym access on campus, and lack of cooking space for dorm students.
Bastin said the college presented a few short-term goals and a ten-year vision. Two of the long-term plans are to replace residential buildings one-by-one, finances permitting, and to eventually build a central campus building to house student services like the library and recreation facilities, Bastin said.
The college now plans to meet with First Nations representatives and its employees and faculty regarding the use of the longhouse. It is also planning a community meeting.