Historical Bits and Bytes: The Invisible Librarians in UofT Governance

An understanding of the past can sometimes provide greater insights to the present. In 1906 a bicameral system of governance was established at the University of Toronto by the University of Toronto Act of 1906. This decisive act severed the direct influence of the Canadian government and essentially transferred power to a Board of Governors and a Senate. This governing structure became a model, which was followed by other Canadian universities. Essentially, a Senate is responsible for academic issues and the Board for the financial matters, keeping the two areas separate. When the bicameral system was established at UofT, the libraries and librarians retained a prominent and official presence in the documentation.

In 1971 the University of Toronto revised the University of Toronto Act (1971), replacing the  earlier act of 1906, and changed its governance from a bicameral to a unicameral system. This meant that the Senate and Board of Governors were replaced by a single legislative body, the Governing Council, which we have today, unlike the majority of other Canadian universities who have retained their bicameral system of governance. While this blog is not a debate about the pros and cons of either system, it is interesting to note that many of our UofT student organizations have been vocal against the unicameral system during recent debates over corporatization, fee hikes and other issues.

Two elected academic librarians, Patricia Bellamy, whose term ends June 30, 2011 and Bonnie Horne, whose term ends June 30, 2012, currently sit on the Academic Board, one of the three sub-committees of the Governing Council, giving librarians a voice. These two representatives are elected by librarians in the community. In addition, the Chief Librarian has ex officio status on the Governing Council.

Yet, in the presentation of this information to the community, the faculty status of our librarians is ambiguous. In the list of Elected Members 2010-2013 of the Academic Board (which does not include administrative representatives), librarians are listed under “faculty”.  In the current list of members of the board, however, they have been put under ““administrative staff”.”

Since 1977, UT librarians have had faculty status and have been members of the University of Toronto Faculty Association. When the University of Toronto Act (1971) was written, librarians did not have faculty status and there was no Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). In the definition of terms in the University of Toronto Act, there is no reference to librarians in those defined as “teaching staff” and no reference to librarians in those defined as “administrative staff.” Without doubt, the act is dated and needs to be revised to include librarians, but who decided that academic librarians were administrative staff?

Some would argue this is a small point, but is it? Would a professorial member be silent if his or her name was placed under administrative staff? We think it is appropriate that a major institution like UofT with a professional iSchool, acknowledge the faculty status of our academic librarians in the documentation released to our community.

Historically, the official recognition of academic librarians has gradually diminished in the laws, mandates and committees that govern our University, unlike other universities in Canada. If, for example, you examine the bicameral structure of two universities, Queens University and Carleton University, you will notice that libraries and librarians have retained a strong, official presence in their Senates and participate in shared governance, openly, with an acknowledged expertise in the decision-making processes of their institutions. In fact, in the collective agreement at Carleton University between the administration and their certified faculty association, there are direct references to the shared governance responsibilities of their librarians and faculty in relation to their Senate, a binding agreement which neither UofT faculty or librarians benefit from.

In commenting on the historical transition from a bicameral to unicameral system in 1989 Robert H. Blackburn wrote, “The greatest loss, however, was the loss of a forum in which senior members of the academic staff could meet with their peers to discuss and decide questions of academic import, including library policy, as they had done in the former Senate.” (Blackburn, 230).

Today, we see that the erosion of academic librarianship is occurring on many fronts, but often do not know how to address these small points. We would argue that these seemingly “small points” are important, for when combined, have far greater implications than we sometimes realize.


Robert H. Blackburn. Evolution of the Heart: A History of The University of Toronto Library up to 1981. University of Toronto Library, 1989.

Glen A. Jones, Theresa Shanahan and Paul Goyan. “University Governance in Canadian Higher Education” Tertiary Education and Management 7 (2001): 135-148.

University of Toronto. Governing Council. URL: http://www.governingcouncil.utoronto.ca/Page4.aspx Date: March 19, 2011.

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