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‘It’s like home to me’: R. Howard Webster Library celebrates 30 years

Concordians reflect on library’s history and share hopes for the future
December 16, 2022
By Daniel Bartlett, BA 08

The entrance to the R. Howard Webster Library in the J.W. McConnell (LB) Building on Concordia University's Sir George Williams Campus The Webster Library has more than 1.1 million items on its shelves and welcomes over 2.1 million annual visitors.

When the R. Howard Webster Library first opened its doors in the fall of 1992, the Concordia community enthusiastically welcomed the new space at the heart of the Sir George Williams Campus in downtown Montreal.

Not only did it bring together library services, collections and staff for the first time in the university’s history, it also helped untangle the labyrinthian structure of the previous Norris Library.

Now celebrating 30 years since its construction, the Webster Library has become a cornerstone of Quartier Concordia.

Open 24 hours a day, seven days per week throughout the academic year, the library has more than 1.1 million items on its shelves and welcomes over 2.1 million annual visitors.

“The library is like home to me because I’ve been here for such a long time. I have received a lot of support from my colleagues in the advancement of my career in the library,” says Faye Corbin, BA 83, interlibrary loans supervisor at the Concordia Library. “Any time I enter the library, I always feel very welcome. I’m happy to see my colleagues and our students.”

Corbin has worked at the library for more than 35 years and was present for both its opening in 1992 and its cutting-edge digital transformation in 2018. During that time, the biggest change she has witnessed is how bright and inviting the space has become.

“You can see everything when you’re in the library. That makes me feel like I’m in a good place,” Corbin says. “And the plants, of course! There are plants everywhere — I like that as well. The library is doing its best for the well-being of its staff and students.”

The Webster Library opened in 1992 thanks to major donations from the R. Howard Webster Foundation and the McConnell Foundation.

‘Anything I wanted to know was in the library’

For Brian Neysmith, BSc 66, a long-time university volunteer and steadfast donor, his relationship with the Webster Library stems from his days growing up in Montreal’s cold-water flats. Living with his parents and brother in a small, two-bedroom apartment, he couldn’t remember ever seeing a book in their home.

That all changed when Neysmith started attending Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia’s two founding institutions.

“It was the first time that I realized how libraries contain, in a sense, all of the information in the world,” he recalls. “Anything I wanted to know was in the library.”

Neysmith most recently donated $100,000 to the Concordia Library in support of the launch of the Concordia University Press. He also made a further $125,000 donation to create the Carolyn and Brian Neysmith Graduate Fellowships, and teamed up with his younger brother, John Neysmith, BComm 68, BA 72, to create the Neysmith Family Undergraduate Bursaries.

He says his decision to lend his support to the library is an easy one.

“To me, they’re the most important institutions around because they record our history. Everything will be found within the library, even 1,000 years from now,” Neysmith explains. “That’s what the Webster and Norris libraries represent to me. That’s why I am always happy to help whenever I can.”

‘A place where help is always accessible’

Like Neysmith, Tania Tomiuk-Shamy, BFA 69, GrDip 72, MA 84, is a long-time Concordia donor who has made a planned gift to the library. She looks back fondly on her days in the Norris Library in the 1960s, even if things weren’t as easy as they are today.

“Just to get our books, we had to use index cards, write our notes on paper, hand them in to the library loans staff and wait 15 or 20 minutes,” Tomiuk-Shamy recalls. “Anyone who lived through that experience realizes what the technological advancements in library science have done to make work, research and innovation possible.”

As a student, Tomiuk-Shamy spent a lot of time in the library, often setting up at a table near the art history books and feeling completely at home. She remembers walking through the stacks and using the time to relax, think and conduct research.

Through her gift, she hopes future students can share similar experiences at the Webster Library.

“Innovative research has to be done through a library,” Tomiuk-Shamy says. “The librarians have always been extremely helpful, and the glass walls in this building encourage interaction between students and staff. It’s a place where you feel help is always accessible.”


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