Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Good news -- a new article in the autumn issue (vol. 98, issue #2, 2006) of Ontario History about James Bain Jr. and the Toronto Public Library before the First World War by Mary F. Williamson -- "The art museum and the public library under a single roof."

It is a great article with many informative research notes about the growth of TPL's art collections under James Bain, who was often interested in extending library services beyond books. Williamson details how Bain worked to gather art works and tried to build the concept of an art gallery into the public library at a time when the idea had few supporters.

Bain died in 1908 but his ideas lived on not only in Toronto -- the article points out that other Ontario public libraries followed suit and that art gallery space and shared facilities in public libraries has become more accepted over the years.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


For the past decade the project HBIC has worked to develop three print volumes on Canadian book history that is broadly based in cultural, literary, social, and economic studies. Of course, libraries of all types have been included and the articles on libraries in the two published volumes prior to 1920 have been very interesting. Volume three, covering 1920 to 1980, is scheduled for publication in another year, 2007.

Along with a printed record, the project has developed websites and searchable databases that include many facts and outline events in library history. The databases are searchable at the website hosted by Dalhouse University-- by using Internet Explorer NOT Netscape or Firefox -- HBiC Databases.

Generally, the five databases on Canadian book history and the book trade provide thorough geographic and biographic data about Canada's print history from its beginnings in the 16th century to the present.

The site is a great resource, not just for libraries, but all related aspects of book history and print culture. Updated guides for further research on the internet are also available.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Jean Weihs' short histories / chronologies of library technician programs that started in Canada in the early 1960s is a great place to start to looking at the framework for diploma programs that developed across the country. The author has written much about technicians over the years from the perspective of a director at Seneca College, Toronto. Technician programs have expanded over the years, others closed, and some moved to internet-based courses.

These pages are part of a larger historical effort by the Ex Libris group -- mostly retirees who are interested in Canadian library history. Ex Libris is almost 20 years old and has produced many articles over the years.

You can visit the webpage at -- Library Technician Education History

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.