Libraries are much more than places to borrow books or read newspapers. The libraries at the University of Waterloo are hubs that bring communities together to learn and support each other, while furthering the University’s mission to generate and share knowledge. 

“Academic libraries are very much the heart and soul of a university,” says Beth Namachchivaya, UWaterloo’s university librarian.  

In her role, Beth guides 130 full-time employees across several campus libraries. Millions of  students, researchers, instructors and community members use the libraries each year to study, research and connect with each other. 

“We’re dedicated to supporting learning, research and community-building by providing premier access to research information that supports students, faculty, employees and members of the public as they work to find and integrate information that helps to advance their lifelong learning.” 

That’s why on Giving Tuesday (November 28, 2023), friends of the library will be asked to support its ongoing mission of connecting students and providing a place to share knowledge and ideas. On Giving Tuesday in 2022, more than $13,000 was raised for the libraries. With your support this year, we can do even better! 

In 2022, more than two million people visited UWaterloo Dana Porter and Davis Centre library locations. The library's website was used more than five million times to access 3.5 million electronic journals, nearly 500,000 eBooks, and nearly 35,000 physical books. 

“Most of that usage is digital, with people coming in through the library's website. They’re looking for some of the many millions of resources that the library provides access to on behalf of the University. That could be a student who needs to complete a class assignment or a graduate or postdoc student who's working on a research grant or a paper,” says Beth. 

While library resources are core to the academic and research experience at the University, Beth said university libraries also serve as important places for students to spend time between home, classes and work. Students use the libraries for everything from studying to working collaboratively on group projects to socializing with friends. 

Students chat in Dana Porter Library

“Folks who come to the UWaterloo libraries — especially students — are usually here for a longer duration than people who visit a local community library. They may have two classes in the morning and maybe two in the afternoon, so they might spend this time between classes working on classwork or together on a project,” says Beth. 

Supporting its users means being intentional about selecting library resources and providing user-focused service programs at the Dana Porter Library, the Davis Centre Library and the Musagetes Architecture Library in Cambridge. Each location serves a unique set of needs, and library staff must consider how to support each audience’s information needs, as they provide services and build collections to support students and faculty members.  

While collections and resources are essential, the libraries’ physical spaces and amenities are equally important for their users. Beth has seen students find their perfect space, such as the study corner in the Davis Centre or the lower level in the Dana Porter Library, an in-demand group workspace. As student needs change, so do the library spaces — thanks in part to alumni and other donations. 

“Donors have helped us to revitalize some of the physical spaces across our libraries. We have an open study space in front of the Special Collections & Archives at Dana Porter, which students heavily use. But that lighting was very low, and the furnishings were from the ‘80s,” says Beth.  

“We were able to refresh the space with new furniture and paint and extended the special collections with exhibit cases. It’s beautiful and vibrant, and more people are using it now.” 

It was thanks to fundraising campaigns like Giving Tuesday that the refurbishments were made possible. 

Another example of donor impact can be found in the lower level of the Davis Centre Library. With its proximity to transit and University Plaza, the Davis Centre Library can fill up quickly. Still, Beth says it was often the last space to fill up during busy study periods due to its aging furniture. 

“We devoted some funds to buy new furnishings, paint, and spruce up the space. It’s not a massive renovation, but every dollar makes a difference. We kept the popular long wooden tables and added study pods for students wanting more privacy. Those changes make a huge difference,” she says. 

Students conduct research in the rare book room

Discovering the University’s libraries and resources is a rite of passage for every student. But with multiple locations and an almost infinite number of collections and online services, knowing where to start can be daunting. The Library Ambassadors program is a peer outreach and mentoring program supported by donors, which provides information to students at the library and throughout campus events. 

“We notice that students often come into the library and are hesitant to ask a question. It's a vast system. There are millions of books and other types of information,” says Beth.  

“The ambassadors help incoming students bridge between using a high school or public library and using a university library.” 

The libraries at UWaterloo represent the past, present and future of the scholarship happening across campus. Supporting the library’s mission through an annual or monthly donation helps evolve the spaces, resources and initiatives like the Library Ambassadors program that help the University educate the next generation of engineers, researchers, historians, creatives and more. 

“Everything we do, we do by looking at student needs through the library lens. We truly appreciate the support of donors to make it happen.”