The Bruce Peel Era, Act II: Decade of Diminishing Growth, 1971–1982
Diminishing government support for universities, rising inflation, and a shrinking Canadian dollar in the 1970s led to reductions in both staffing and the rate of acquisitions. In 1973 it proved necessary to cancel 2,000 of the Library’s 17,000 subscriptions to journals and other serial titles. Worse was to follow. In April 1974, the University Administration raided $450,000 of the Library’s encumbered, but as-yet-undisbursed, book fund to balance its own central budget. This placed the Library’s book fund in deficit for two years, and reduced acquisitions. Staff numbers were also allowed to shrink. Between 1971–1972 and 1975–1976, attrition reduced the number of librarian positions from 83 to 79, and support staff positions from 310 to 283. Leaner university budgets were also reflected in a marked reduction in new construction on campus. However, the huge increases in student enrollment and library collections led to demands for more library space. As a result, a total of 202,000 square feet of library space was added between 1968 and 1973: a third storey added to the Education Library in 1968; North Wing of Cameron Library opened in 1969; and the Law Library moved to a 40,000 square-foot facility in the new Law Centre in 1971.
The opening of a large, new Humanities Centre along Saskatchewan Drive prompted faculty to demand that a new library devoted to their disciplines be built close at hand. This proved to be the last major library building project of the University’s boom years. Eventually a site was selected immediately north of Rutherford Library, where it threatened to block the view of Rutherford Library’s beautiful Georgian façade. The architect, Joe Vaitkunas, designed a glass-roofed galleria that linked the two Rutherford Library buildings. Construction of the 100,000 square-foot Rutherford North Library began in 1971 and was ready for occupancy as the new Humanities and Social Sciences Library in May 1973. Rutherford South continued to house the Periodicals and Microforms reading rooms, the University Archives, and the Extension Library.
During the summer of 1976, the University established an Advisory Committee on Library Surveys, with three sub-committees charged with reviewing the Library’s operations and surveying its management and organization, as well as library users’ satisfaction with library services. These sub-committees produced 202 recommendations that were reviewed during the summer of 1978. Of the faculty members and graduate students surveyed, an impressive 89 percent expressed themselves satisfied with the Library’s reference services. Predictably, library users were less than happy with the reduction in the number of journal subscriptions and books purchased. However, in November 1978, the Government of Alberta acknowledged the damage done by a crippling fall in value of the Canadian dollar and the resulting escalation in the cost of imported academic books and journals—by 30 percent in the case of American titles, 40 percent for European titles—by awarding $9 million from its Heritage Trust Fund for the purchase of library materials by post-secondary institutions over a three-year period. The Universityreceived the largest share of this money.
With such an array of services to provide, libraries have traditionally been labour-intensive. Continued operation of the Library, despite an ongoing reduction in the number of staff imposed by declining budgets in the 1970s, was feasible largely due to application of computer technology to library operations. It began in the 1960s and accelerated rapidly thereafter. Library card catalogues were converted into machine-readable records in computerized databases, and computer programs were developed to track the orders and payments made by acquisitions departments as well as the circulating of books to borrowers. The Library’s annual circulation figures rose steadily by 13 percent through the early 1960s, jumped by 23 percent in 1968–1969, and reached 1,000,000 by 1970–1971. Internal use of library materials followed a similar pattern. Manual circulation procedures for controlling such large numbers grew increasingly impractical, and made the case for automation a compelling one. After several failures, on October 15, 1969 a batch-mode, centralized, automated circulation system finally went into operation. On October 10, 1969, The Gateway heralded the system: “Students will no longer be suffering from writer’s cramp after taking books out of the library. The present McBee system will be replaced Wednesday by a new IBM [EPIC] system. All you have to do is pick up your new card and present your new card with the books—no writing is involved.” Automation of circulation was just the beginning. In 1971, a computerized accounting system was put into operation. In June 1973, the first computer-generated list of the Library’s holdings of 26,000 serials titles was produced. In April 1974, a computerized acquisitions system was up and running.
Bruce Peel retired in 1982 after 31 years of service in the University of Alberta Library, 27 of them as Librarian to the University. Had he done nothing more than pursue his career as a library administrator, he would be remembered with awe at his achievements, and envy at the timing of his career, which coincided with an era of unprecedented growth. His most obvious achievement as an administrator was to guide the growth of the University of Alberta Library from a very modest size to Canada’s second largest research library. He was responsible for developing six library facilities, as well as the library collection at the University of Calgary, which began as a branch of the University of Alberta. Peel was also a man of varied interests, and produced a lengthy stream of historical, biographical, bibliographical, genealogical, and journalistic publications. It is, however, for A Bibliography of the Prairie Provinces, and other publications on the history of early western Canadian printing and imprints, that Bruce Peel is best known as a scholar.