U of T to charge outside academics $200 for library use

TORONTO (CUP) – Ryan Weston couldn’t believe he could be charged up to $200 to use resources at the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto (U of T). As a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, he had often traveled to the U of T to use its superior library resources. But now, thanks to a new library usage fee to be implemented on Oct. 1 for all non-U of T students, that door is closed.

“At first I was sure it couldn’t really be true,” says Weston, who is currently working towards his PhD in religious studies.

“The fee seemed to appear out of the blue, and as a result it added stress to the already fraught September process of trying to budget out a year on a graduate student income.”

The barrier will also interfere with Weston’s studies, who has been a frequent U of T library user since moving to downtown Toronto.

“The new fee means that I will be hampered in my research as I wait for delivery of books to my home university, even though the lending library is within walking distance of my house,” he says.

The University of Toronto calls the fee a way of recouping the costs of loaning tens of thousands of books to non-students every year, but those same students feel the fee is unjustified.

“Almost 80,000 volumes were borrowed from people elsewhere last year,” says U of T provost Cheryl Misak. “We spend $23 million on new acquisitions every year. We can’t afford to shoulder the entirety.”

Weston, however, doesn’t feel like he should be forced to shoulder the burden either. He took to Facebook to express his frustration and found he was not alone. Within a week of the fee’s announcement, he had created a group on the social-networking site calling for the removal of the fee.

“It seemed like an easy way to connect with others who are being affected by the fee and to collectively draw attention to the issue, using it as a space to share information and strategize, while giving some sense of the number of people the new fees will affect,” he says.

Weston feels the fee will create barriers to education and fears it could create a snowball effect within the province.

“[U of T is] establishing an unwelcome precedent by charging such a fee, and are establishing – rather than breaking down – barriers to the broader scholarly community,” he says. “If universities follow the lead of U of T then the cost of accessing the collection in person becomes completely unmanageable.”

Opposition to the fee has been growing since the announcement, with criticism coming from academics all over the province. The Graduate Students’ Union at U of T even drafted a letter to such effect addressed to university president David Naylor.

The letter calls for the immediate removal of the fee, stating: “The users of the university’s educational resources are not the cause of the budgetary challenges facing it. This funding shortfall cannot be solved through unconscionable user fees, which are contrary to the principles of universal access to public services and affordable public education.”

Nathan Cecckin, York University Graduate Students’ Association president, is also hard at work gathering support for the opposition.

“There’s significant support among faculty here [at York]. Their research is affected, and their own students will have difficulty getting the resources they need,” Cecckin says.

“Our main emphasis is to really reach out to other unions on campuses to resist these changes,” he says. “These user fees represent an unnecessary burden to graduate students.”

Universities like Wilfrid Laurier, Queen’s – in Kingston, Ont. – and the University of Ottawa have joined York in expressing their disappointment.

But, regardless of any protest, the fee won’t be going anywhere.

“We have quite a glorious library here at U of T, ranked third [in North America] behind Harvard and Yale,” Misak says. “We are committed to maintaining this research resource for the country, … but it’s really not fair for our students to pay for that.”

“I can’t see how it can be anything but permanent,” she added. “I wish there was a better way, but it appears we have no choice but to do this.”