The McLaughlin Library has a newly renovated study space. Photo by Susan Bubak

Students asked, the library responded.

It doesn’t always work quite that simply, but U of G’s McLaughlin Library has undergone renovations this past summer to create a space that better meets the requirements of today’s students. According to Amanda Etches-Johnson, head, discovery and access, the library staff went through an 18-month process to evaluate the user services on the main floor and invited comments from students on changes they’d like to see.

Now, when students walk through the front door, they’ll see an Ask Us desk right away. “That will be the place you stop at to get your questions answered, or to be referred to a research help appointment or consultation,” says Etches-Johnson.

It’s a new model for those needing research help, she adds. “Before, brief and in-depth questions were answered at a single desk, which was pretty inefficient and resulted in a lot of waiting around. The new model will allow us to be more efficient with quick questions and give the in-depth questions the time and space they need.” That change, she adds, came from student feedback as well. The library’s website also has many tools and services that students (and others) can access.

The Ask Us desk and the book return are located near the library's main entrance.

With the consolidation of service desks, the prime space near the windows of the main floor will now be opened up for student use. Etches-Johnson says there will be 135 additional seats and 60 new electrical outlets, as well as soft seating, creating an appealing and open area for students to study and collaborate. Three new self-checkout machines will also be added to the foyer, making it easier to check out materials, and an accessible washroom is being built on the first floor.

Another change: the physical shelves that had displayed “new resources” have been removed. You can now find out about new books and other resources at

The library has worked hard to increase accessibility for those with disabilities, and Etches-Johnson points out that CNIB staff was consulted on how to improve wayfinding. “They confirmed that some of the decisions we’ve made, like locating the Ask Us desk right inside the main doors, were good ones. And they gave us great advice on how to improve navigation for people with no or low vision.” As a result, screens will be added to help guide people around open spaces, as well as a new tactile strip on the floor that leads to Accessibility Services.

But that’s just the first floor. Head up to the third floor and discover the results of a collaborative effort between the library and the College of Physical and Engineering Science. Explains Gerarda Darlington, associate dean (academic) of the college: “We’ve had a Mathematics and Statistics Learning Centre on the third floor of the library for about 10 years, and it had existed in other locations previously. It’s been hugely successful – there’s rarely an available seat.”

Building on the success of the Mathematics and Statistics Learning Centre, two more rooms were added a year ago: one for students taking first-year chemistry courses and one for students taking first-year physics. These, too, have been very popular. The rooms are used for other important programs during the evening hours.

Students had just two requests: more space and more power.

Now the Mathematics and Statistics Learning Centre is being made over to have glass walls, more seating (increasing the total to 72), and desks with power outlets. Teaching assistants will be available in the room during the day to provide support for students in 14 different first- and second-year mathematics and statistics courses. The Chemistry Learning Centre is also being expanded, and will now have seating for about 40 students, up from the previous capacity of 24.

“Designing these rooms with transparent glass walls means we can take advantage of the natural light,” says Darlington.

That natural light is also a boon to the students working in the central area between these rooms. Formerly an area set up with carrels and designated only for quiet study, it now has powered tables and desks and seating where students can work quietly or have discussions and do collaborative work. “This mix of quiet and collaborative work spaces and greater support for technology supports the way students work and learn today,” says Darlington.