Entering MUSC 229 the first thing you notice are the whiteboards that replaced the old bookcases along the wall: colourful sticky notes map out work in progress by student working groups. Bright paint and varied seating arrangements allow visitors a cheerful uncluttered space to work on projects alone or in small groups.

Design-thinking and agile project management systems have moved in as OPIRG’s much smaller library collection becomes mission-focused: fewer books, but more material relevant to strategic organizing, social psychology, campaigning, communications, and hands-on resources that increase our effectiveness and impact.

There is space for students to linger as hours are extended, and sharing ideas over fair trade tea and coffee is the new norm. Anyone can drop in to lend a hand and help move an initiative forward: reducing campus waste; finding ways to protect at-risk turtles in Cootes Paradise; planning workshops, sharing social media strategies.

“VISION: a space where people can collaborate, work and turn ideas in action”

Tools to support creative thinking are at hand: sticky notes, Kraft paper, markers, notepads, there’s an iMac for design work loaded with Creative Suite programs, and there’s place to project your ideas on to the wall, and of course the full wall of whiteboards for scribbling thoughts.

Collaboration, invention, experimentation, play, these impulses are nurtured and form the basis for new ideas and novel solutions to public interest issues. It’s a safe and inspiring place to take chances on the journey to a better world.

Contested Space?

The vision above is no longer secure. Over the previous school year (2016-2017) a group of volunteers, including the OPIRG Board Resource Centre portfolio director, board members, and interested volunteers from McMaster and the community worked with OPIRG staff to create a proposal for renewing the space in MUSC 229.

The table below outlines the basics of their proposal (left column) and contrasts with changes being pushed by current board members who have taken over the file (right column). There are some significant changes.

2016-2017 Board/Volunteer Committee 2017-2018 Board Taking Over Process
A space where people can collaborate, work and turn ideas into action. Not have clutter, be organized, be interactive and aesthetically pleasing To support exchanging ideas and taking action on social justice/ environmental issues as well as keeping the resource centre accessible
Library: Large library, over 1500 materials of different types. According to statistics, books don’t get signed out, not a lot of patronage. Books replaced?

  • Future library = books focused around making change, resources that are toolkits, books on successful movements, classic books.

Some books would stay and some would be needed to be bought. Could donate books to Mills and The Tower.

  • In order to remove the two book shelves, Esmonde will develop criteria to assist in the removal of approximately 270 books (1 ½ shelves).
  • Bookshelves – shorter shelves
  • with white boards above.
  • Floating shelves will be purchased to extend the remaining shelves.
  • A whiteboard will be installed in place of two bookshelves.
PHYSICAL SPACE: More modular furniture – movable. Half circle table could be moved to the side. Get rid of brown table.
  • Mobile/foldable table and chairs will replace the current stationary table and chairs.
  • Add small storage units on wheels.
  • Removing clutter by adding storage unit
  • a new storage unit will be installed to accommodate working groups’ supplies
  • A new filing cabinet will be purchased for the ends of the existing desk.
Remove the slow computer …a new personal computer that will be available to all OPIRG members
  • Kraft paper [wall-] mounted roll.
Versatile lighting options Instead of posters, get bulletin board outside the room for posters. move imac
  • instead of small logo on wall, transparent decal with logo and mission.

strikethrough indicates already completed

Hold up!

  • Is the vision still “a space where people can collaborate, work and turn ideas into action. Not have clutter, be organized, be interactive and aesthetically pleasing”?

  • The board was to consult with working groups; this never happened. However, a recent survey shows overwhelming support for the original vision and suggestions. Will the current board consider input from the Coordinator of Volunteers and working groups?

  • The plan to focus the library on an “organizing” theme and reduce the collection size drastically would re-orient the library to more closely align with our updated Mission Statement.  The added space creates an opportunity to reanimate the space from passive (storage of little-used books) to active use (ex Design thinking). It’s not clear the new proposal adheres to this vision. What is the criteria for the library?

  • A presentation on the new proposal was supposed to be shared with the Board and staff in September, but the board member is now saying the design was pre-approved at a June meeting (without costs or input) and a done deal. Shouldn’t the altered plan be seen before it is approved?

An evaluation of current uses:

  • OPIRG already has space for quiet work, and could seek to expand remote-work opportunities for staff.

  • OPIRG has a large collection of books, but the use has been steadily declining over a period of years, even with a recent addition of an online catalogue. Storing books takes up a large area of wall space that prevents other uses.

  • The least supported aspect of the space in MUSC 229 is for hands-on organizing. Using elements of design-thinking and agile project management, MUSC 229 could easily be reconfigured as a meeting space for working groups/small groups, with passive wall space transformed into active work areas with whiteboards/blackboards, and projection space to share projects and presentations.


OPIRG McMaster’s Mission is to empower students and community in exchanging ideas and taking action on diverse social justice and environmental issues by connecting individuals, groups, organizations, and resources.

Virtual walk-through of two possible versions based on the work from 2016-2017 proposal (Video)