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The Ottawa Citizen
Sunday, July 22, 2001

When librarians use umbrellas it's time to fix the roof

The Library of Parliament is getting an $83M facelift -- and it's about time.
Jen Ross reports
"When we've had major storms you get drizzle coming in and you get papers curling up from the humidity." --Francois LeMay, director general of the Information and Documentation Branch of the Library of Parliament.
"In public works we look at buildings having 20 to 30 years of life," said Ms. Soper. "Fifty years is quite a long time to leave a building without repairing."
It receives 150,000 information requests per year. But users say its relocation will cause little disruption in today's information age.

The Library of Parliament is in such rough shape that employees have had to use umbrellas indoors.

A major restoration project, scheduled to begin Aug. 9, is expected to take three years and will require the library to relocate from its home on the Hill.

The famous wood stacks look great, but there is extensive water damage in the building.

"We've had people actually opening umbrellas in there," said Francois LeMay, director general of the Information and Documentation Branch of the Library of Parliament. "When we've had major storms you get drizzle coming in and you get papers curling up from the humidity."

The restoration will cost $83 million of the $1.5 billion earmarked for parliamentary renovations over the next 25 years.

"It's a good deal," said Mary Soper, senior project leader for the parliamentary section of Public Works. "The library is an icon in Canada."

The library's antiquated heating and ventilation systems no longer meet health and safety codes. The floor needs replacing, woodwork needs to be repaired and conserved, and the basement needs to be dug deeper to keep the tops of the bookshelves from blocking the sprinkler system. Lighting will be improved, plaster repaired, and electrical, mechanical, security and communications equipment will be upgraded for current and future demands.

On the exterior, the copper cladding on the roof needs to be replaced, masonry needs conservation, windows need replacing, and insulation and waterproofing are required throughout the building.

The library was built between 1859 and 1876 and is the only remaining part of the original building that housed the first Parliament. Guides delight visitors with the story of how a fire roared through the original Centre Block in 1916, but the library was saved by a quick-thinking employee who closed the heavy iron doors at its entrance.

The last time the library underwent any large-scale restoration was a four-year overhaul after a 1952 fire in the domed ceiling. The whole library was soaked during efforts to put it out.

"In public works we look at buildings having 20 to 30 years of life," said Ms. Soper. "Fifty years is quite a long time to leave a building without repairing."

The library is not open to the public. It is reserved for parliamentarians, government researchers, the parliamentary press gallery, and employees of other government bodies such as the Supreme Court or the Governor General. Few physically come in to use the library because librarians generally do the leg-work, and messengers pick up prepared packages.

Mr. LeMay says 99 per cent of parliamentarians and their staff use the library. It receives 150,000 information requests per year.

But users say its relocation will cause little disruption in today's information age.

"Material today is either available on the Internet or at the branch library," said Grant Purves, a research officer at the Parliamentary Research Branch in Ottawa.

Users won't be the only ones affected by the move. Tourists will no longer be able to gawk at its stunning 41.5-metre dome or its three levels of rounded white pine stacks, decorated with crests, masks and hundreds of rosettes.

"We know that there will be some visitors who will be disappointed, but we're doing our best to give them a taste and inviting them to come back and see it for themselves in three years," said Jo-Anne Guimond, manager of the interpretive development and evaluation for the library.

An exhibit will be set up in front of the library, where visitors will be able to see a one-minute silent video of the interior of the library, a nine-metre-tall photograph of the library, a bookshelf, and a 3-D model of the interior.

The move is scheduled to be completed by the end of August. A small part of the collection will be moving to 125 Sparks St. More material will be added to part of the collection already in storage vaults at the National Printing Bureau in Hull.