Peter Freeman: Years of Retrenchment, 1982–1989
Peter Freeman (b. 1937), a native Manitoban, practiced law in Brandon prior to joining the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta. After earning a library degree at the University of Washington, he returned to University as Law Librarian in 1970. Appointed Librarian of the Supreme Court, he moved to Ottawa in 1980, but returned to UofA two years later as Peel’s successor. His appointment as Chief Librarian coincided with a deep and prolonged recession in Alberta’s economy, which led to years of painful budget reductions across the entire University. Freeman’s challenge was to seek new opportunities, while at the same time conducting damage control.
The Library’s accessions rate went into a steep decline from which it would not recover for years, while the slow eroding of staff through attrition continued, mitigated only by advances in technology. Nonetheless, the Library system continued to grow. Amalgamation of Collège Saint-Jean with the University, as the Faculté Saint-Jean (now Campus Saint-Jean), led in 1983 to the merger of the University Library with the Bibliothèque Saint-Jean, and added another library location and more than 100,000 volumes to the system. The Special Collections Department, appropriately renamed in honour of Bruce Peel, moved from Cameron Library to the lower level of the old Rutherford Library in 1984. The following year, the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library moved into spacious new quarters in the newly built Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre and University Hospital. In 1986, thanks to the generosity of Francis Winspear, Edmonton philanthropist and founder of the University’s School of Business, the Winspear Business Reading Room opened to provide service to Business faculty and students.
At the beginning of 1987 the Provincial Government announced that it was cutting the University’s operating budget appropriation by only 3 percent, but its capital budget would be reduced by more than 36 percent. Among the steps taken to absorb the impact of a 10 percent (inflation adjusted) budget cut was closure of the Extension Library. Early in 1989, Peter Freeman announced his resignation to accept appointment as Secretary of the Law Society of Alberta. Before his departure, however, he set in train a library automation project of profound significance to future operations. On December 8, 1987, Library staff began applying Universal Product Code labels, en masse, to the Library’s collections. This process led to elimination of the obsolete circulation system.