Ernie Ingles: Stringency and Innovation, 1990–
Ernest (“Ernie”) B. Ingles was born in Calgary in 1948, and educated at the Universities of Calgary and British Columbia. Before joining the University of Alberta as Chief Librarian and Director of Libraries in 1990, he headed the University of Calgary’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (1974–1978), was founding Executive Director of the Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions in Ottawa (1978–1984), and University Librarian of the University of Regina (1984–1990).
On March 1, 1990, faculty members and students staged a “Save the Library” rally on campus to protest a decision by the University Administration not to increase funding to the Library book budget for the following year, which meant a de facto cut thanks to inflation. A proposal to cut library hours also elicited a storm of protest, so Ingles, the new Chief Librarian, arrived in May 1990 to find his work cut out for him. Ongoing fiscal stringency even worsened three years later, when a change in the leadership of the governing party led the Provincial Government to make balanced budgets and retirement of the Province’s outstanding debt its paramount objective. The University’s operating budget was cut sharply over a three-year period, with support units such as the Library bearing a heavier tax—a total of 22 percent—than that imposed on the teaching faculties and departments. Mercifully, the Library’s book budget, already hammered by skyrocketing costs of books and journals, was sheltered from these cuts.
Drastic measures were called for, and the Library implemented three in short order. First, a freeze was placed on all hiring, including replacements; second, twelve librarians accepted the University’s offer of early retirement buy-out packages; and, third, in 1995 the bulk of monograph cataloguing was contracted to an outside agency at a significant cost saving. This last measure allowed the Library to avoid any staff layoffs. It also won the Library the Quality and Productivity Award of the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, one of several such awards for innovation received by the Library in recent years.
Despite sharp reduction in the rate of the Library’s accessions, by the late 1980s the need for more space had once again become critical. In 1991, a committee was formed to study all options, and reported in favour of constructing an off-campus, high-density, climate-controlled storage facility. Successful operation of such a facility, however, depended upon obtaining a new library computer system, with fully integrated, online catalogue, circulation, acquisitions, and serials management modules. The cost of the new computer system and the storage facility was estimated at $5 million. When the Provincial Government proved unwilling to provide money, University Administration addressed the pressing need by dipping into its capital reserve funds. In 1992, a new automated system was ordered from the DRA Corporation, and architect Kees Prins of Maltby and Prins was commissioned to design the new Book and Record Depository (BARD), to be installed in a renovated warehouse in Edmonton’s east end. Major construction of BARD began in July 1993, and the following February the facility was opened, on time and $200,000 under budget. With 44,000 square feet and shelving soaring 20 feet high, BARD boasted an estimated capacity of 4,000,000 books, as well as housing the University’s Archives. Transfer of lower-use titles to BARD led to recovery of more than 1,000 study spaces in campus libraries. In 2005, after more than a decade of service, and with full capacity in sight, preliminary planning began for a successor to BARD.
Generous funding for new construction at the University’s French-language, affiliate college was provided by the Federal Government; a new library was the centrepiece of the project. The Bibliothèque Saint-Jean opened its doors in 1996. Although obtaining capital funding was always challenging, over the next decade major renovations were undertaken in the Rutherford, Cameron, Scott, Weir, and Coutts libraries, designed to increase efficiency of operation and maximize the number of computer workstations for library users.
Over the years since Ingles arrived, financial stringency has prompted several academic departments to close their departmental libraries and transfer the collections to the University Library. These ‘orphaned’ collections include those devoted to circumpolar studies, data, film studies, geography, geology, maps, music, and political science. Budget cutting by the Provincial Government also yielded some other ‘orphan’ collections, most notably the Department of Transportation and Utilities’ collection and the entire contents of the Government of Alberta Libraries’ Central Periodicals Depository. Finally, amalgamation of Augustana University College with the University in 2004 brought another satellite library within the orbit of the University Library. In 2007, ground was broken for a new library building at Augustana Campus.
Because not even the largest library can be wholly self-sufficient, the University Library has focused considerable energy and effort upon building library partnerships and consortia to facilitate sharing of access to books and other information resources. In 1994, the NEOS consortium was formed to provide cost-efficient access through the University ’s new automated system, and facilitate the sharing of resources. It has grown to include 18 member institutions with 49 branches across the northern half of the Province. The University Library also played a leading role in obtaining Provincial Government funding to create The Alberta Library (TAL), a consortium of 43 public, university, college, technical institute, and special libraries, united to promote universal, barrier-free access to information for all Albertans. Under the umbrella sponsorship of TAL, the University spearheaded the campaign to establish the Lois Hole Campus Alberta Digital Library (LHCADL), embracing 35 post-secondary educational institutions, including six on First Nations reserves. Funded by a $30 million grant from the Provincial Government, this initiative is designed to provide affordable access to licensed, online information resources. Other projects in which the University Library has played a key role include Alberta’s Health Knowledge Network (HKN), established to provide clinical practitioners and researchers across the Province with timely, online access to information resources, thus continuing and updating a service provided by the University Library since 1928 and the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), a non-profit corporation, funded by 64 universities and matching grants from Provincial governments that provides licensed access to electronic journals and information databases.
Although its purpose and centrality to teaching and research remain fundamentally unchanged, today's University of Alberta Library bears scant resemblance to its earliest incarnations. During its first century as an institution it has weathered adversity, and witnessed many changes in the University and the world at large, but throughout those 100 years, the commitment and dedication of its staff to service and innovation have remained constant.