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Monday, March 20, 2006


Libraries Today--a blog space for me!

At last: a more convenient way to post information, reviews, and comments about Canadian library history. Maintaining a web site for ten years while standards change from HTML to XHTML or XML, etc. can be very exacting. The development of weblogs or blogs in the past three years has been very impressive -- in fact I was considering changing the old site "Libraries Today" into a blog, but I think best to try both for a while.

Technology may change again -- blogs may go the way to the old BBS services of the late 80s and early 90s. For now, I will try to post ideas, etc. about Canadian library history, or even general library history, via a blog rather than trying to further develop the old Libraries Today further.

Why have a blog on Canadian History? There is a concern with contemporary library political, administrative, economic, and social issues that are relevant to library history. What influence does the study of the "past" have on the "present?" I try to convey that there is a dual function that critical history performs: it helps us understand how past thoughts and actions were shaped and that it provides us with a deeper awareness of present changes. In this context, past events, facts, trends, and changes can be examined using historical methods and critical theories. As well, we can gain a understanding of explanations for causes and consequences, the use of narratives and evidence, and different versions of the past.

We are constantly reinterpreting history (as events and as historical accounts) using new concepts which emerge from uncovering more evidence and rethinking accepted facts in the light of new ideas and research methodology. "History" can be taken to mean what we accept happened in the past (or, conversely, what did not take place); it can also mean what is written as a result of continuous dialogue: what took place (events); why or how things happened (explanations); who was involved (personages); when did events occur (chronological dimension); and how ideas were formed and the influence they had.

There are many areas where research can enlarge our knowledge of the history of libraries. To name a few: biography; public library administration; the impact of international technological innovation; services for children; rural services; the influence of larger urban libraries; legislation; and the professionalization of librarianship. Currently, there is a resurgence of interest about the role of library history in the education of librarians, the interpretation of public library development since 1850, the impact of gender, and the future prospects of library history as a field of study.

Historical understanding helps us to comprehend cause-and-effect relationships and to avoid judging the past (and by extension "today") in terms of current norms and values. By looking at past library events and decisions in Ontario and across Canada we can develop alternative approaches to contemporary conditions based on a better awareness of the likely consequences. Historical memory is one of the keys to self-identity.