Behind Closed Redpath Doors

by Emmy Wang

If you have yet to visit the McLennan-Redpath Library Complex, or find yourself walking down the Redpath Terrace for the first time, the sight of four doors arranged prominently under the “REDPATH LIBRARY” heading might seem like a natural point of entry. Alas, you would be wrong. Upon closer inspection, it is evident that these doors function as an “emergency exit only.” So why is it that this entrance provides more frustration and less functionality than even a so-called “Norman Door”?

In December of 2014, the McGill Library embarked on a campaign to collect feedback from students on how they could improve their facilities. Soon thereafter a post appeared on the McGill Library website aiming to address various questions that had arisen. The first among this list was a question that might seem familiar: “Why are the doors to the Redpath Library Building closed?” To this, the library responded, citing budget cuts, and a $210,000 security guard cost required to keep the Redpath doors functioning.

“The Library’s administration recognizes that the situation is less than ideal and would like to apologize for any inconvenience caused. Like every department at McGill, the Library has been forced to deal with funding cutbacks while minimizing disruption of services to all members of the community. Having the Redpath Library Building doors function in a non-emergency exit capacity would require an additional full-time security agent posted at the entrance during opening hours at a cost of $210,000 per year. With reduced staff and a decreased security budget we are unable to afford the cost of a security guard stationed at the Redpath entrance. For these reasons only, we took the step to reduce the number of entrances to one and to transform the Redpath entrance into an emergency-only exit. We will continue to work to find a solution that is practical for the entire community.”

But other than a brief three-day intermission of the closure in June of 2017, when construction on the McLennan Library entrance forced foot traffic to be temporarily diverted, almost five years have gone by since the initial closure. This has left the aforementioned McLennan Library doors to be the sole public point-of-entry to the connected Redpath Library Building. Despite McGill Library’s assertion that a solution will continue to be worked towards, there has been little visible change, if any.

After the initial closure of the doors in September of 2014, several student initiatives started to oppose the change. Among these was a petition titled “Open the Redpath Library doors!” on the online petition site Change.org. At the time of expiry, the petition had only been signed by 219 signatories. A public Facebook group titled “OPEN THE REDPATH DOORS!!!” was created in early November 2014 and currently has 668 members. While still existent, only two posts have been published since 2015, both of which promote unrelated events. At the forefront of both of these initiatives was former McGill Student Alexander Elias. 

‘Why are the doors to the Redpath Library Building closed?’… ‘[Budget] cuts, and a $210,000 security guard.’

Only a few weeks after the inception of the Facebook group, a motion was introduced to the SSMU Legislative Council empowering the SSMU Executive to “prioritize the reopening of the Redpath doors in … negotiations with the McLennan-Redpath library” and to “advise and support the student initiated campaign by advertising the petition and mobilising members of SSMU toward this goal.” The motion was quickly approved

The minutes from the meeting indicate that Amina Moustaqim-Barrette (the then-SSMU VP External and ‘mover’ of the motion) decided to take action after having met with an interested student on several occasions. In a comment to the McGill Daily at the time, Moustaqim-Barrette revealed that this student was Alexander Elias, the aforementioned founder of the related Facebook group and petition.

Although debate on this issue was limited, notable opposition was drawn. Then-Councillor Chloe Rourke [2015-2016 VP University Affairs (the following school year)] was the first to criticize the motion.

Rourke questioned the motion, asking: “It may be the case that the only way to do this is for us to pay for it. Will we have that responsibility?”

When 2014-2015 VP University Affairs and co-mover of the motion, Claire Stewart-Kanigan, clarified that “[The] motion would … not mandate SSMU to pay for [the] operation,” Rourke countered: “not mandate, but it might be an outcome.”

In hindsight, the SSMU may have decided that Rourke had been right. No mention of the issue can be found in any SSMU Legislative Council motions, minutes or otherwise related documents for the rest of the 2014-2015 school year. In fact, even from the 2014-2015 school year to the current 2019-2020 school year, no mention of the issue can be found on any SSMU Library Improvement Fund reports or Legislative Council documents since that original motion was brought to the floor on November 20th, 2014.

Further evidence of this comes from a 2018 Reddit post by former 2018-2019 SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer. On a post asking members of the McGill subreddit r/mcgill for input on how to improve McGill’s Libraries, Mansdoerfer, under the username “tre_mans,” referenced the Library’s original post, saying: “If the doors were to open, we would need to add another security guard … We’d much rather see $210,000 be spent on new initiatives then having those doors open.”

Should these trends continue, it seems unlikely that the Redpath Doors will open in the near future. However, planned renovations to the library do ensure a long-term result. Through the Fiat Lux project, McGill Library plans to input $140-million into revitalizing the campus’s libraries, with a primary focus on the McLennan-Redpath Library Complex.

The Fiat Lux project is sure to open doors for McGill students; hopefully they will be the right ones.

Along with details relating to the major aspects of the project, Fiat Lux’s so-called “Master Plan” specifically notes that pedestrian traffic will be better accounted for in the new design. In the document, McGill Library states that: “despite the heavy foot traffic, the circulation in the complex is convoluted and confusing, and does not efficiently connect with other Library and University resources.” And that “limited access points into the complex result in poor connectivity and reduced interaction with the surrounding campus.”

Particularly, the document emphasizes the issue of the single entryway and the trouble it has caused students: “The primary entrance for Redpath Library Building has been closed due to high security and staffing costs.” It continues to note that “this has been unpopular within the community.”

The project is set to break ground in 2022 and continue on for five years, renovating in a way that will minimize disruption to the normal operations of the library. The final product will have two entrances, one on McTavish, and one on the Redpath Terrace, and will increase the amount of seating in the complex by approximately 182 percent. The Fiat Lux project is sure to open doors for McGill students; hopefully they will be the right ones.

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