Recap: OCAD Library Tour!

I’m very excited to share our first guest blog post by Karen Lees about our first tour of the year!

If you’re interested in blogging for us about a tour or some other topic, please email us at!

On October 30th Faculty of Information students we saw the challenges and opportunities of a small academic library, and unique aspects of an art library. Daniel Payne led the combined SLA and ARLIS/NA tour of the OCAD University Library, also known as the Dorothy H. Hoover Library. There was a brief check in by Jill Patrick, the director to welcome us. Later Heather Evelyn showed the group the Learning Zone.


Introduction the library

OCAD was founded in 1876, and became a University in 2002, and currently has about 5000 students. Daniel has seen a great transformation of library services and perception in his time there. One could see how engaging Daniel is in his work by his Halloween costume – Frederick Banting, who we learned was also an artist, in the “group of seven aesthetic.”

Daniel likes traditional library theory, especially Ranganathan’s concept about the library as a living organism, and Dervin’s sensemaking theory. He also advocates for the value of the reference interaction. His passion stems from reference being a practice honed throughout the history of our profession, and introduces opportunity that can’t happen in the classroom. The librarian in in the trenches of the research question with the student, and they are immersed in the resources.

The small space allows the library to dynamically support the curriculum. In art, there is a strong mentorship tradition and studio learning, or learning by doing. The reference desk is a great place to emulate this mentorship experience while being surrounded by resources. The change to becoming a university brought a new ‘medium’ to instruction – that of ideas or concepts. Daniel uses studio learning analogies in reference interviews to make connections with the students – like ‘sketching’ ideas.


The collection & space

The stacks are physically divided into three sections: circulation, reference, and quick reference. Reference books are usually catalogues of artists or exhibitions, and their large size has limited their interfiling with the circulating books. Quick reference is mostly encyclopedias, which remain important because they offer the lens of the discourse instead of pop culture present on the internet

Question about circulation counts: books about drawing techniques are used frequently, because of the Bauhaus pedagogy – which means learning about line, texture etc. in first year, then learn to make 2d and 3d forms, then branch out into a specific discipline, like printmaking. OCAD students understand that the library isn’t just about art history, but also about technical mastery. Graphic novels are of course high, and important from an art perspective because artists depend on stories for improvement and communicating. The collection has truly been designed for the curriculum, to take advantage of their small space.

Question about collaboration with faculty: collaborations happen most with the liberal arts and sciences faculties, including building assignments together. The library also collaborates with the writing centre, and Daniel sees partnering with other departments as key to success for the departments and the students. They’ve started a pop up library in the main building’s lobby as a new initiative, and they circulate new books, answer reference questions, and connect with faculty. The small academic setting also helps to make connections.

Collection development

The library maintains standing orders for international art catalogues. The other approximately 60 percent of the collection is individually selected! It is interesting to note that the print periodical collection is actually expanding its titles, because so many journals are going online themselves, so the library is constantly looking for new journals. Another unique feature of an art library is the preservation of VHS tapes – because artists design for the medium, it can be very important that the VHS tapes are not digitized. Considering zines, they wanted to leave them around the library chaotically, but that didn’t work in the library setting, so they are catalogued but with student-sourced subject headings.

(below, left to right) Design annuals, the new book display, and current periodical display.

 design annuals new books current periodicals

Special collections

The OCAD library also has special collections of rare manuscripts and “book works” – books that are art as well. Daniel discussed the spectrum of libraries vs. archives in that the library is to provide as unfettered access to these fragile pieces as possible, but at what cost? We got to touch the velum and the almost millennia old manuscripts.

manuscript 1 manuscript 2 manuscript 3

Interacting with historical books can inspire book works, as seen below. Both the old manuscripts and the book works are considered “artistic learning objects”

book works


The tour got a taste of two presentations Daniel gives to classes.

  1. The intersection of visual literacy and critical thinking: this first presentation ties to course outcomes with transparent techniques for inductive and deductive learning, and explains to students that not everything in art is full text online, and art databases have different metadata fields like document type.
  2. Information literacy via Frida Kahlo: goes through the research process of an example paper about Frida Kahlo. While we did not talk about threshold literacy concepts, it definitely demonstrated searching as exploration, and by comparing searches in different databases, showed that where you put search terms more important than the actual terms students use.

The Learning Zone with Heather Evelyn

The Learning Zone is an alternative workspace, opened in 2009 in an adjoining building. It is an ultimate collaborative space: designed to support student groups, it includes an exhibit space, re-use depots for art materials, and installations by grOCAD. Its modular furniture, and industrial style hanging plugs make it a dynamic and useful space. In collaboration with the library, it houses design annuals, technology loans, and the zine library. Below you can see an aquafarm and one of the supply re-use depots.

aquafarm re-use depot

Closing advice

Daniel returned to talk about his background and some advice. He was trained as a teacher (but teaching from books wasn’t working for him) and has a master degree in musicology, so believes any subject domain can be learned on the job! He also suggests to not turn down a position because the pay is low, as he has seen positions be restructured for new purposes.

When new space became available the director made the proposals and funding applications very last minute for the Learning Zone. They also hired a scholarly communications librarian in the last year. Space and budget may be tight but new and exciting initiatives still occur.

Thank you to Daniel Payne and the OCAD library for the in-depth tour and offering connections between our course concepts and the practical applications in the real world.


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