Heat Soccer player Jordan Lam reads on the floor of the UBCO Library. Photo by Lynnette Oon
Heat Soccer player Jordan Lam reads on the floor of the UBCO Library. Photo by Lynnette Oon

The library referendum explained, from the proposal to the results to the politics in between

Story by Alexandra Barberis     Photos by Lynnette Oon     Images by Sarah James

We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen it. You enter the purgatory that is the UBCO library and you spot it—the single empty seat (not one with a computer in front of it—don’t kid yourself). The one that’s quietly tucked into the back of the expansive space. You stand there amongst the other 8300 students, wondering how it is that the entire student population is in the library RIGHT NOW.

Regardless, you reshuffle your awkward stack of textbooks and get ready. At first glance it seems that you have the direct path to your target. There are a few obstacles, but nothing compared to last weeks round of Hunger Games when you needed a computer to finish your lab report. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you sense similar desperately predatory movements that mirror yours. It’s on.

You start walking as fast as possible while trying to keep a calm appearance, but you can’t hide the panic in your step. You debate if the social disapproval you would receive for leaping for the last spot would be worth the actual seat itself. Finally, a few steps away from the chair you start to smile, start to imagine yourself sinking into that chair and all the homework you will get don—BAM! Seat jacked. Some little troll of a human has just snagged the last seat in the entire fucking library and you were less than a foot away. You want to change this? I hope you voted in the UBCO Library Referendum.

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What’s the Proposal?

UBCSUO President Rocky Kim begun a campaign, #BuildUBC, in order to raise awareness for the referendum that took place on October 29th and 30th, 2014. The referendum reads as follows: “Do you support the UBCSUO establishing a student society fee of $70.00 per academic year payable in the amount of $35.00 for each of term one and term two of the winter session for the purpose of supporting the construction of a new Learning Centre/Library space to be centrally located on campus?” The exact details of the library are yet to be disclosed. According to Rocky Kim, the details are directly hinged upon the approval or disapproval of the referendum question.

“If we pass this referendum, it’s in the horizon. A building will get erected no matter what.” said Kim. “If we don’t pass this fee, timeline’s indefinite, there’s no clue, nothing might happen. That’s a serious concern for me.”

The goal for the UBCSUO is to build a 40,000 square foot library as an expansion of the currently standing library. Upon approval of the referendum, the Students’ Union is considering building on the green space located behind the library and the bus loop. What’s it going to cost? Well that depends. The projected cost of the 40,000 square foot structure ranges between $24 and $30 million dollars.

Photos by Lynnette Oon
Photos by Lynnette Oon

Where's the money coming from?

1/3 of the projected cost of the project will come from the university, 1/3 from university donors, and 1/3 from the student population. To some, this might seem contradictory to Kim’s statements in his election campaign where he claims that he does not want the library to be a student-funded structure.

“I don’t want the students to have to pay for the whole entire building. I don’t want the student to have to pay for any part of the building to be quite frank with you, but I’m being a realist. Giving the current political climate, given the universities current problems with finances, there’s deferred maintenance at every university in BC if you haven’t noticed. Our campus is doing alright, we don’t have as much as some of the other universities, but there’s definitely budgetary concerns.” said Kim.

The Province of British Columbia has slashed post-secondary support over the past 10 years from 70% to the current 30%, causing the process through which universities acquire funding to change. Further stress is placed upon tuition and student fees to recoup for budgetary cuts. One example is the recently announced increase in international student tuition fees. The financial landscape of the university is in flux, causing students to pay for things they may not have had to in the past, like the expansion of the library.

There’s a hard cap on student’s monetary contributions to the project set at $10 million dollars. If all goes according to plan, in order to reach the $10 million dollars, students will be paying for this library referendum for 18 years.

“I was very adamant that there be a hard cap on student contribution so that students cannot be indefinitely collected from, it’s a very hard cap.” said Kim. “It’s built into the question so that we will never contribute more than that.”

Students who qualify for a reduction of fees through financial hardship will not have to pay this fee.

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#Morelibrary

Much of the expansion takes root in the #MORELibrary campaign that began in the fall of 2013. The survey received over 400 responses regarding what it is students wanted to see in the library. The topic with the largest response rate? Study space. Based on the recommendations from #MORELibrary, Library staff significantly reduced login times on library computers, added additional study room and new tables for group work available on the main floor, more working electrical outlets for the new tables and study carrels, new whiteboards, and 128 seats added, including new study carrels and group tables. Alas, these recommendations and alternations were not enough to satisfy the growing population at UBCO. In partnership with the UBCSUO, the library began the road to referendum.

“We’re the busiest library in the whole UBC system - busier than Koerner, busier than Barber.” said Heather Berringer, Chief Librarian of the UBCO Library “People are saying they want to be here, but to have students say that it’s important to have this kind of space out loud in statements makes a big difference.”

*All numbers from #Morelibrary
*All numbers from #Morelibrary

#BuildUBCO campaign

Beginning on October 21st, 2014, the UBCSUO began it’s #BuildUBC campaign for the upcoming referendum. Members of the UBCSUO were set up outside the library encouraging students to write why it was they wanted an upgraded library on large #BuildUBC posters.

Students generally made statements of support towards the referendum. One student supporting more space, wrote, “because I’m sick of studying in my car”. Another student followed the sentiment of the lack of space by writing, “because the EME is too crowded”. One student decided to emphasize the point by claiming lost time: “because I’d rather spend 30 minutes studying than spending 30 minutes looking for a place to study”.

Photo by Lynnette Oon
Photo by Lynnette Oon

Student Opinion

It’s been clear since the conception of the #MORELibrary campaign that students saw a need to increase the amount of study space on campus. That need was unquestionable. The question that caused the most disagreement was WHO was going to pay for it. Should students be responsible to fund a library? Should the institution shell out and pay out of it’s own pocket? Or should the university lobby alumni and external donors to foot the bill? The 2014 Referendum question sets the parameters of this problem, asking students to fund 1/3 of the estimated cost. The Phoenix took to the streets to ask student opinions before the vote, and the result was overwhelmingly undecided.

“Yes, we should get more library space.” said Megan Perra. “70 dollars is less than 7 hours of work on BC’s minimum wage, it’s 15 lattes, 14 high balls, or one tank of gas [depending on your vehicle].”

“If you’re in third or fourth year – are we really going to see this library structure?” said Melissa Hinderle. “Even the kids in first year? Why should we do it?”

“It’s always crowded, and there is always a line up to wait for computers and printers.” said Kim Lee. “$70/year doesn’t seem like a lot, but student fees won’t decrease any time soon. I’m worried that we are going to have to start paying more for everything.”

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The results

You voted, and the results came in on October 30th 2014 at 8:20PM. The student population voted in favour of the proposed fee of $70 dollars per academic year to be used towards the expansion of the existing library. In order to pass the referendum, 455 votes were needed to reach quorum.

According to Rocky Kim, that target was reached within 5 hours of the opening voting on October 29th 2014. The total voter turnout reached 758 voters, 645 voting yes (85.09%) and 113 voting no (14.91%).

“I’m really, incredibly touched that the students care enough about the library to want to contribute to it financially.” said Berringer. “I think that’s a huge show of faith to a potential donor. That’s a real statement to someone who has the money to name a building. It says we are students - and we know students are on limited budgets and really sensitive to that - and so for students to say we care enough about the library to make this gesture and say we’re willing to contribute to it says a lot to the university”.

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What's next?

The next move for the university is to collect the remaining amount of the funding from external donors and the university.

“We are committed to seeking other sources of funding, and by contributing financially our students are sending a powerful signal to potential donors and other contributors that more learning space is needed.” said Deborah Buszard, UBC Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Okanagan campus.

“The financial contribution of the students towards the library reaffirms the UBCSUO’s position that this is in fact a necessity,” says Kim. “It is my hope that our contribution will trigger additional sources of funding to follow in our example and join us in building UBC Okanagan for the better…I’ve extended the offer to the UBC office and the alumni office, I’d be more than willing to work with the university to approach donors.”

Kim speculates that the building has a projected 3-5 year horizon for completion, and construction will begin in 2015.

To the students rolling out of bed Friday morning after a long College Thursday, motivated enough to pull their textbooks out from the mountain of beer cans – here’s to making the struggle to study less real. You’ll only battle the hangover, not for the seat in the library.

Special thanks to the UBCO Heat men's soccer team for starring in our crowded-library photoshoot. You can read about their impressive season here.