Entre nous with Guylaine Beaudry

The McGill Reporter sat down with the new Trenholme Dean of Libraries to discuss the Fiat Lux project and what else lies ahead for McGill’s libraries.
Guylaine Beaudry began her first term as McGill’s Trenholme Dean of Libraries on Sept. 1, 2022. Owen Egan 

When Guylaine Beaudry reported for her first day as McGill’s new Trenholme Dean of Libraries on September 1, she vividly remembered the first time, some 25 years ago, when she set foot in the Dean’s offices on the main floor of the McLennan Library Building.

Beaudry was a young librarian, fresh out of school having just completed her Master of Library and Information Science at the Université de Montréal. She was doing a project about e-theses, and Frances Groen, who was McGill’s Dean of Libraries, asked her to come in.

“We talked about the project and at the end, she looked at me and she asked—and this was the first time I was asked this question by a person in a leadership position—‘How can I help you to make this happen?’ That was a really important moment for me. I have an enormous respect for Frances, so when I came back into this office this month, it was very moving for me.”

Beaudry comes to McGill from Concordia, where she held many leadership positions over the last 13 years, including University Librarian and Vice-Provost of Digital Strategy. Before that, she was the Director of the Digital Publishing Centre at the Université de Montréal. The McGill Reporter sat down with Dean Beaudry on Friday, September 16, two weeks into her new role.

When you and your McGill predecessor, Dean Colleen Cook, held a Dean’s Corner meeting for library staff at the end of August, you mentioned your personal connections to McGill. Can you elaborate about those?

I’ve been a McGill library user since I was in CÉGEP at Marianopolis. I was in a dual program, and my music classes were at McGill’s School of Music. I was part of the University’s choir and participated in other activities on campus. And when I did my undergrad and my Master’s degrees at Université de Montréal, I used McGill’s services often. The same can be said for when I did my PhD at the École pratique des hautes études in Paris. I did my PhD on the history of the book. McGill’s collection in this area is very strong. It was not unusual to find books at McGill that were not available in other libraries in Montreal, including books written in French and published in France.

And my sister is a McGill alumna, and my nephew and godson is starting his last year at McGill. So you know, it’s part of the family.

Now I’m learning about the McGill culture more from the inside. It’s absolutely wonderful. I feel very welcomed by the library team and the McGill community.

How are you learning about McGill’s library culture?

I’m on tour! I want to see every library, visit all the spaces, meet new colleagues, and take a little time to sit down and chat. I’ve already been to Mac, Music and Law. I still have a few more branches and units to visit. Next week, I’ll meet with the team to go over the current renovation work happening at the Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering; we anticipate that library will reopen in mid-2023. I will also be visiting the Osler Library of the History of Medicine soon, which reopened at the beginning of September [after being damaged in a 2018 fire].

I like to talk to people. We’ll be holding formal meetings with students, but right now I’m meeting with them informally by walking around the library and talking with them. Later in the semester, I hope to organize an event where I can share my vision.

What is your vision?

Technology has always been at the center of my practice as a librarian. I started as the director of a digital library. I’m one of the cofounders of the Érudit publishing platform [for scholarly books and journals in the social sciences and humanities]. Another main characteristic of my practice is to merge the good things that were given to us by previous generations of librarians with the possibilities found within the 21st-century library.

So, part of my vision is to merge the legacy of many generations with new technologies to give students what they need at different times in the academic year. Do you need to work on your own? Or do you need to work in collaboration? Do you want to go into a place where there’s total silence surrounded by carrels with 18-inch panels? Or do you prefer an open space café-type of environment? We want to offer all of those intellectually inspiring spaces.

When I arrived at McGill, I received a beautiful gift for this community with the Fiat Lux project. When I met with the architects last week, I was moved by what I saw. It’s going to be one of the most beautiful libraries in North America.

We have a beautiful concept, a very powerful concept. We’re making a 21st-century library, and that space is going to act as a catalyst for continuing to improve the quality of services that we offer to our community. That quality is already very high. This project allows us to answer more user needs.

This is a gift that Colleen and McGill started, and my contribution to their vision will be on the operations side. What is going to happen in this beautiful building? It’s not the architectural side of things that interests me as much as what is going to happen in that space. I’m very inspired by the concept that has been proposed.

A library is much more than a collection of books. It’s true, it’s a collection of books in multiple formats, including digital. But it also offers a series of services, expertise and talents, and space. Those are the three components of libraries and how we express librarianship.

In a recent update to the McGill community, you and former Dean Colleen Cook discussed how much of the McLennan-Redpath print collection will be unavailable while the materials are being ingested into the new Collection Management Facility that’s being built in Valleyfield, and how the McLennan-Redpath buildings will close for some three years once construction starts on Fiat Lux.

We librarians don’t like to say no to our users, so it’s extremely difficult when we have to make decisions like closing your library for three years. But if we don’t do that, it will increase the costs, and increase the timeline. So, we looked at all the options, what is the most efficient, and what gives us the best conditions to deliver. And the best option is to close. This is something that happens all over the world; one example is the bibliothèque at the Sorbonne in Paris, which was closed for three years for renovation.

If you look around at other universities like McGill, they all have off-site library storage already. Harvard, Chicago, Ottawa, Toronto, Alberta, Calgary, UBC. It’s now McGill’s time.

I understand that it’s preoccupying, and it’s a big, big change for some of our faculty and other users. But I actually see this as celebration of our print collections. We’re not throwing books out. No, we’re creating a facility and services to make sure that we preserve those collections for current users and the generations of users to come.

How will McGill Libraries support the University community during these transitions? Can you talk about each of the three components, starting with access to materials?

We have been saying that all McLennan-Redpath holdings will be unavailable during the ingestion period, but that may be changing. Just yesterday we reviewed all the parameters of the project, and it looks like the ingestion period could be only four months instead of five, so the collection will be available for a longer period.

Instead of the whole collection being inaccessible during the ingestion period, the call number sequences that have not yet been moved to Valleyfield should still be available. The stacks will be closed to users for the entire ingestion period, but users should be able to use a paging service to have the book pulled and signed out. That’s with the information we now have—and that’s extremely important to say because you know, in construction projects, things may change.

The second option is borrowing the book through network loan from another Quebec university library. It’s just one click of a button now with the Sofia system. And if the book is not available in the Quebec network, there’s Interlibrary Loan. If none of those options work, in certain cases we may purchase another copy of the book.

But the message we really want to get out to all our colleagues right now is: If you think that you may need a book for the 2023-2024 academic year, borrow it now! The maximum number of titles you can borrow is 100, and we can change that if needed. Keep the books with you at your office or at home. It’s totally fine to take all the books you need.

What about course reserves?

Those will be moved to the Schulich Library when it reopens next year. Again, we’re asking instructors to think in advance of the books they want to put on reserve so we can process them a bit earlier. And of course, librarians and library staff will help to support all of that.

When the McGill Libraries were closed during parts of the pandemic, users could request digital materials through the HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS). Will that be an option during the ingestion period?

We had a good experience with Hathi ETAS during the pandemic, and we’ve had in-depth conversations with Hathi leadership about Fiat Lux. Unfortunately, we cannot use Hathi again during construction.

It’s because of copyright laws. During the pandemic, we were providing access to digital versions of books whose printed copies were inaccessible due to an emergency situation. It’s like the digital copy was a surrogate of the printed copy that wasn’t accessible, so the copyright was not infringed upon. But a construction project, even a big construction project like Fiat Lux, is not considered an emergency situation.

How will you maintain library service during the transition period?

When the Schulich Library reopens, it will become our temporary main branch library. Not all, but a large number of staff members currently working at McLennan-Redpath will move over there to continue serving the community. And, of course, all our other branch libraries will continue regular operations during this period. There are a lot of good things happening in the rest of the McGill Libraries network. Even with the demands of Fiat Lux, it’s important to me that I make sure that the rest of the network will have the support they need—especially because I imagine the branches will have more users than usual. Rest assured, it’s not just Fiat Lux that will have my attention.

Finally, what about the third component: space?

It’s too early to share details, but we made good progress recently to find alternative student study spaces on campus. We’ll be communicating details as soon as we can. We’re doing everything we can to continue providing all our services to our users.

Fiat Lux, and the parallel Collection Management Facility, are large-scale projects. What is your experience with big infrastructure projects?

Since the beginning of my career, I’ve been involved in big projects. I was at Concordia for 13 years. The first big project I worked on there was the transformation of the Chapel of the Grey Nuns convent into a reading room with 14 adjacent group study rooms. The second project was renovating and completely transforming the Webster Library, including adding an entire floor. It’s a 17,000 square-meter library, with a strong technology component. It’s a big library. Before that, I helped to build Érudit, a digital publishing platform, from scratch.

We delivered those projects on time and under budget, and I’m approaching Fiat Lux the same way. It’s extremely important to me to keep the budget and the timeline.

What else are you interested in as a librarian?

Open access is important to me. When I was a librarian coming out of school in 1996-97, I knocked on the doors of journal editors and said, “We’re going to move your journal from print to digital and the journal will be open access.” My interest in open access is very practical; it’s an economic model.

Again going back to my time at Concordia, I worked on the foundation of the Concordia University Press. When Concordia was approaching its 40th anniversary, I told the President that I thought we were ready to create a press at Concordia—but an open access press, turning the economic model around. The Birks Family Foundation was instrumental and really supportive to allow us to establish that press.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Seismica [McGill’s new open-access seismology journal]. I just read a very good article about it by McGill librarian Jessica Lange, and it sounds really interesting.

All this being said, I will never, ever tell a young faculty member not to publish in, say, an Elsevier journal. I don’t believe in that. But I do believe in doing everything I can to reduce the cost of those licenses. We’re spending too much money buying back our own research outputs. Three years ago, I was elected chair of the negotiation committee of our buying consortium, which is called the Canadian Research Knowledge Network [CRKN]. With my colleagues, we negotiated a 12.5 per cent reduction on the Elsevier license, saving $17.4 million US for all 90 universities that are members of our national consortium.

Are you continuing your work with the CRKN?

They asked me to continue, but I’m ending that mandate this coming November. The Fiat Lux project will take every minute of my life, I think, for the next three years! [laughs] But I’ll definitely make time to give back to the Quebec, national and international communities again later in my career.

So, are you a print reader, or an e-reader?

Both! All the newspapers and magazines, I read online. More and more, I’m reading journal articles online, and I like to use my tablet to annotate them. But when I need to read more than two chapters of a book, I prefer print. And I always read fiction on paper. I read a lot of fiction—I’m always reading a French and an English novel—and I tried e-readers but they don’t go well with me.

What are you reading right now?

Last year, my husband and I spent time in France and Paris. It’s like my second chosen city, where I have many friends. Shakespeare & Company has become a place for tourists and there are long, long lines, so I went to Gibert Joseph. They have a very small shelf for books in English, but I found Justine, the first book in Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. I’m having fun reading that; the images are so interesting, and the language is beautiful.

Do you have a lot of books at home?

Yes, around 7,000…and we moved two years ago—that was something!

So I suppose people should be confident that there will always be a place for print books in your vision for the library of the 21st century.

Of course. New technology is not erasing the past. Just as the Renaissance printers took manuscripts from as far as antiquity to bring that knowledge into the print culture, now my generation of librarians is engaged in another revolution: print to digital. This library is accumulating—and beautifully so—all these generations, all these centuries of information, but we are in the 21st century. Now it’s time to free more space for the production of knowledge. But of course, we will take great care—and in an even safer manner than ever—of the treasures that were given to us by our predecessors, to keep them for future generations, and for our students and faculty. It’s absolutely incredible the quality of the collections we have in this library, and it’s important to understand our past and history of our communities.