Sunday, August 07, 2016

CROSS COUNTRY CHECKUP AND THE LIBRARY OF FUTURE (CIRCA 1995)

Duncan McCue begins hosting the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio One's call-in show, Cross Country Checkup, on a regular basis at the start of August 2016. This popular show has been on air for more than fifty years. Long-time commentator and author, Rex Murphy, hosted this show for more than twenty years. He often scheduled programs and issues related to libraries in a lively debate mode from the mid-1990s to 2015.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Mr. Murphy way back in 1995 when the future of libraries, seemingly overwhelmed in the coming age of the Internet, was often questioned.
  • Could they stay relevant in the age of the Information Highway? 
  • Would they wither way and leave half-empty buildings behind, even disappear?
  • Could they transition to Virtual Libraries - Libraries Without Walls - Electronic Libraries - Digital Libraries, whatever they might be called in the 21st century?
Robert Fulford spoke on the same program about the use of electronic reference media in a library setting and how important these kinds of resources were. He was not worried about the passing of the traditional role of libraries any time soon.

Of course, Rex Murphy is a skilled interviewer and put me on the spot more than once. But after re-listening to my spontaneous responses in support of libraries as brick and concrete community resource spaces and accessible places where people and students could find mediators to help locate information, I think most of what I said remains valid twenty years on. The printed book is still with us as a staple in the library along with other media formats. But e-books are great too and they are a lot easier to use now. There are lots of non-print materials in libraries.

The issues about of how libraries have been transformed from storage cites to information providers have been raised and debated many times since the early 1990s. In fact, this question dates to the use of computers in libraries beginning in the 1960s. Now, the prospects for the 21st century 'library' -- Library 2.0 - are front and center. But, users are still the focus: libraries change in relation to user needs and demands and how 'publishers' and the 'public' create content in a multiplicity of ways. There are many types of publishers and many types of public. There are many varieties of libraries, too.

My interview with Mr. Murphy was recorded more than twenty years ago as a .wav file, so click this link and turn up your audio volume if you are interested in going back to 1995.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review - Library Science for Canadians (1936)

Library Science for Canadians, Beatrice Welling and Catherine Campbell. Toronto: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd., 1936.  xi, 151 p., illus., index. Three editions to 1958.


'Library Science' became an emerging field of study in Canada in the 1930s linked with formal professional education of librarians and with patrons who used libraries on a regular basis. In universities there were two streams of development: library instruction (user education) and library education (professional training) that sometimes intertwined. The historiography of Canadian library science has mostly been devoted to the creation of library schools for training and educational achievement, especially McGill and Toronto in this period. But another thread, library science courses for students with academic credit at the undergraduate level, has an interesting history its own, involving as it does librarians at various university libraries. This was the thrust of Library Science for Canadians when it first appeared in 1936, the result of a joint effort by two University of Western Ontario librarians, Beatrice W. Welling and Catherine Campbell.

Western was not the first university to appoint librarians with the rank of instructors. As early as 1911, Acadia introduced an elective library course in the B.A. program; by 1920 it was offering two credit courses taught by Mary Kinley Ingraham, who continued lecturing and leading laboratory classes until her retirement in 1944. The Acadia courses for undergrads continued into the 1980s. They were designed to encourage student interest in librarianship and to provide basic information on library methods, history, selection, reference, and administration. Western followed this model in the 1920s to the 1960s but adapted it for mostly for first-year undergraduates as a required course with credit to a bachelor's degree.

Courses began at Western in the early 1920s under Marjorie Ross, then library director Fred Landon (who also taught history) with varying course credits. General instruction in the use of books and libraries and common reference works was a required course. Major electives included Cataloguing, Classification, Reference Work. Until 1928, students could select Library Science as a major, but only a handful selected this option. After a 1930 survey of 200 incoming students revealed their lack of library knowledge the required course was expanded for entry students and electives reduced. By the mid 1930s, courses were also being taught at Western's two affiliates, Assumption (now University of Windsor) and Waterloo (now Wilfrid Laurier) colleges. For example, the reference course dealt with the use of standard tools, lectures and assigned readings on the use of books. It involved two lectures and three hours of practice per week and provided two credits that could be used in the Secretarial Science program. Bachelor of Arts graduates could use these courses as a springboard to graduate education at library schools.

To complement the coursework, two of Western’s librarians authored the first Canadian text on library science in 1936 which continued in print until the late 1950s. The book was designed to make university library research understandable for students and show them how to use library resources advantageously. Beatrice W. Welling was the more seasoned librarian. A native of New Brunswick, she earned a Bachelor's at UNB in 1909, her M.A. at Radcliffe College in 1912, and attended library school at Simmons College in 1916 before returning to work in Canada. She was particularly interested in government documents and began working at Western in 1926 in the library as Landon's assistant. Catherine Campbell began in 1923; she was a Western graduate (B.A., 1922).

Together, the two devised a basic text that served Western students well for a quarter century. Separate chapters dealt with classification (normally LC and Dewey); the card catalogue, the parts of a book (indexes, half-titles, etc.); 'How to Judge a Book;' periodicals and newspapers; 'Union Lists and Other Title Lists' (e.g., scientific periodicals and regional lists); the vertical file; 'Bibliography;' and a lengthy section of selected reference works (dictionaries, almanacs, and leading tools in subject areas such as business and commerce) which was attributed to Beatrice Welling.

Welling and Campbell were certain that basic training was valuable for students, not only at university but in their later work or profession.

This training in the use of a library should give the reader confidence in his ability to take advantage of the resources of any library, and by removing obstacles to the acquisition of knowledge, should tend to increase the delights of reading and induce the habit of study. (p. 1)

The authors felt that a better understanding of the merits of systematic use rather than browsing and knowledge of inter-library loans had many benefits. Helping students learn to help themselves was not only practical but also a knowledgeable endeavour for learners. Their points about judging reference works followed a systematic pattern: authority, scope, bias, currency, quality of arrangement, format, and additional bibliography remain standard elements today. (p. 40-41).

 The importance of Libraries Science for Canadians lies today not in its teachings on the use of libraries, which were changed drastically by the time Western dropped its library requirement for freshmen and libraries began to automate in the 1960s, but in its national approach. Here was an up-to-date work that Canadian students could use along with Margaret Hutchins' and Alice Johnson's Guide to the Use of Libraries published in many editions after 1920. There was scant Canadian information in the library field that could be used effectively in the classroom. Welling and Campbell filled a void and made a meaningful contribution that many Western students could appreciate. The text was particularity important for students who were denied access to library stacks and had to request books through the main circulating desk.

Welling and Campbell not simply utilitarian instructor-lecturers in the new Lawson Library that opened in 1934. They were motivated by the idea that the library could be an enjoyable experience.

Our libraries of to-day are pleasant, friendly places where one may browse a while in peaceful surroundings, seek a quiet corner for concentrated study of a particular subject or obtain assistance in the solving of a vexing problem. (p. 1)

Finding information expeditiously was part of this experience. Although Library Science for Canadians and library courses in the undergraduate curriculum were eclipsed at Western shortly before a new graduate School of Library and Information Science began accepting students in 1967, two generations of students had already benefited from library education in the B.A. program.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CELEBRATING A HALF-CENTURY: THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA, 1953-2003

As the National Library of Canada (NLC) moved inexorably to its golden anniversary in 2003, it was still a viable institution despite years of cutback management. In line with neoliberal philosophy, services had been reduced or eliminated (e.g. the popular Multilingual service) but many basic functions remained that made it a recognizable national entity. Although it was aging technology, AMICUS, Canada's national database, contained 25,000,000 records for more than 1,000 Canadian libraries. The NLC's Union Catalogue was a reliable source for bibliographic information and locations for books and periodicals that could be used by other libraries. The NLC's comprehensive Canadiana collection was largely due to Legal Deposit Provisions whereby Canadian publishers were required by law to send, as a general rule, two copies of all published works in various formats. The Library's Canadian Cataloging in Publication program was a collaborative effort with publishers and other libraries that permitted books to be catalogued pre-publication. The Canadian Theses service coordinated the microfiche reproduction and loan of theses on a timely basis. The NLC's Canadian Book Exchange Centre offered a utilitarian service to libraries for the distribution and exchange of surplus publications. These, and other services, aligned the NLC with other major Canadian libraries on a reciprocal basis. Together with the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI), comprehensive national library services were available for Canadians and others working beyond Canadian borders from Ottawa.

For the public at large and researchers the old building on 395 Wellington Street shared with the National Archives remained a valuable service point. The second floor Reading Room allowed for consultation of 'closed-stack' resources from the general collection by retrievals submitted through an on-site AMICUS. The Music and Rare Book Divisions provided in-depth reference, referral, and consultative services to Canadian and foreign researchers, libraries and organizations. The Reference and Information Services Division provided reference in Canadiana and Canadian studies to researchers and libraries within Canada and abroad. Inter-library Loan filled requests for materials by lending a copy, providing a photocopy, or giving referrals to other libraries that might loan items.

The fourth National Librarian, Dr. Roch Carrier, sought various improvements. He encouraged expanding the reach of the NLC to Canadians through travelling exhibitions and the newly formed Digital Library of Canada, an effort to document Canadian heritage and culture and to provide access on the NLC website. Carrier also advocated for literacy and reading through improved school libraries. His effort to stem the leaks at 395 Wellington was more successful when the roof was repaired in 2002. Two years earlier, more than 2,500 publications had been damaged after a broken pipe allowed water to enter three floors. The NLC's administration was changing and its staffing attempting to accommodate changes, such as the Internet and the advent of digital publishing. Nevertheless, ominous clouds were gathering. It wasn't just the frequent newspaper stories of water damage that were endangering Canada's national collections at '395' or the atrophied budget NLC was struggling with that were cause for alarm. The NLC's parent body, the Department of Canadian Heritage, a neoliberal creature in search of prominence, continued to take a 'fresh look' at Canada's cultural institutions and heritage.

While some officials, such as Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, stated many federal heritage buildings (including the NLC) were in a poor condition and recommended the government 'do something' before cultural heritage resources might be lost to future generations, Canadian Heritage was developing new concepts. Sheila Copps, the Minister and MP for Hamilton East, preferred to ignore the problems inherent in merging the NLC with the National Archives, something the 1999 report by John English had emphasized along with his recommendations on updating mandates of the library and archives. In fact, on October 21st, 2002, minister provided a simplistic, inaccurate rationale for MPs when she rose to explain the proposed merger in the context of reduced funding for the Canadian Archival Information Network.

"Mr. Speaker, we are of course talking about two different issues when we refer to the National Archives and the National Library. Three years ago, it was decided that it would be a good thing to merge these two institutions to present to the general public everything is part of the wealth of historical information belonging to the National Archives and the National Library. This is what we will do."

During the Parliamentary debates on the merger (Bills C-36 and its successor C-8) a few MPs actually got beyond the political obfuscation and bombastic visionary goals of a long-term plan to combine administration, storage, and preservation work in an area around the former National Archives' preservation centre in Gatineau and to establish a Portrait Gallery of Canada. Critics addressed the most obvious and long-standing problems, lack of funding and intertwined mandates. Also, NLC was a weak player in national information policy development and infrastructure. The general perception that a new administrative entity, Library and Archives Canada, would get enhanced visibility, relevance and accessibility carried the day. A single agency would allow for improved and innovative changes on a collaborative basis for the humanities and social sciences. Alternative schemes, such as combining CISTI (the country's 'other' national library) and the NLC were not considered. "Toward a New Kind of Knowledge Institution" outlined typical promotional views for Canadian heritage operations in Ottawa. All would be well in time: there would be
  • synergy of collections, skills and constituencies;
  • easier access to integrated holdings, both for researchers and for millions of ordinary Canadians;
  • enhanced service delivery to Canadians; and
  • better use of scarce resources.
Later, in summer 2004, LAC released a discussion document, Creating a New Kind of Knowledge Institution, about key future directions and initiatives to be taken. A new era was beginning--Canada proposed to be a leader in new knowledge (or memory) institution implementation with information technology as a major driver. An older era, still viable in other countries and capable of harnessing technology in its own manner (even today in 2015), was out of favour in Canada's capital. Time--perhaps a decade or two?--would reveal the wisdom behind the merger and plans for the future that might be celebrated in their own right.

Further information on post-2004 developments

Library and Archives Canada at Wikipedia
Timeline: Library and Archives Canada Service Decline after 2004 at Ex Libris Association website
Slide History of CISTI, 1924-2009 available on Internet Archive

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA IN THE 80s AND 90s: THE REALITIY OF NEOLIBERAL REFORM

By the time Guy Sylvestre retired at the end of 1983 many ideas crafted in the Future of the National Library (published in 1979) were no longer achievable. In the early 1980s, Canadian political and social life was in a state of flux. The election of a Conservative government in 1984 was a harbinger of change. In western countries the welfare state, often associated with Keynesian economics, had reached its apogee. The era of neoliberal economic reforms, also embraced often by neoconservatives such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, had arrived. For the majority of people, including librarians, this critical change in political decision making was at first slowly perceived. But, by the time Bill Clinton's campaign slogan "It's the economy, stupid!" helped him win the American 1992 Presidential election, everyone began to realize that market issues trumped social and cultural issues in the North America. The success of the Reform Party of Canada in the 1993 election was another indication of new national policy priorities.

The concept of reduced government services--government as an enabler not a provider--and the primacy of economic market-based policies became evident in the 1980s and 90s with the privatization of crown corporations such as Air Canada, Canadian National Railway, and Petro-Canada. Politicians and public servants alike expressed less enthusiasm for the qualitative nature of the 'public good' and more interest in furthering the success of federal institutions in a market economy and the rhetoric of 'free trade.' For a service organization like the National Library (NLC), government restructuring required some different thinking about core services and a reassessment of its activities. When a national study, Report of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee (the Applebaum-Hébert Report) appeared in 1982, it had little to recommend about the NLC except that a more suitable building should be provided. Obviously, the new National Librarian, Marianne Scott, faced many challenges after her appointment in 1984. A new building was just one.

On the surface, the budget situation for the NLC did not seem too precarious at the outset of the 1980s. Total funding for fiscal 1981/82 was just over $21 million. By 1991 it was almost $41 million; but, adjustments for a decade of rapid inflation consumed 3/4 of new funding. The 1990s were to prove even more difficult: by 1999 the total budget had been reduced to $38 million. In real terms, over two decades, there had been no revenue growth. As a result, the NLC applied the logic of neoliberal management and businesslike trimming: it streamlined operations, reduced collection building, and approached new developments, such as internet services and new digital initiatives, with caution. The rhetoric of "'Doing more with less!'; 'Empowerment!'; 'Partnerships!'; and 'Right-sizing!" were the order of the day.

The NLC's situation was not unique, all libraries and federal organizations encountered problems, but effectively national leadership was slipping away from the NLC. Although a variety of national and regional reports still emanated from Ottawa, an internal report, Orientations: a Planning Framework for the 1990s, which appeared in 1989, focused on NLC's own core activities: the development of a decentralized Canadian library and information network; resource sharing; preservation; and a commitment to Canadian studies. This short report was very different from The Future of the National Library. It was not a surprise when The Friends of the National Library of Canada was founded in 1991 to raise awareness and encourage public support of the Library. It was a necessity.

A second study--Canadian Information Resource Sharing Strategy, released in 1994--was more consultative and client oriented. It outlined a framework for Canadian libraries to develop coordinated resource sharing systems that would allow Canadians access to information. The NLC was retiring the DOBIS system and replacing it with AMICUS for its collections and union catalogue. However, the report arrived at the very time that the "Information Highway" exploded on the library community and the world. People began to envisage different ways to get rapid, convenient access to information required for research, business or leisure purposes without libraries. Nevertheless, the NLC was one of the first Canadian libraries to establish a website in June 1995. It was 'keeping up with the times' but unable to leverage government support for new identified roles, especially in the digital environment where Industry Canada was playing an important role.

Shortly before Marianne Scott prepared to set down after fifteen years, in April 1997 the NLC submitted a brief, The Role of the National Library of Canada in Support of Culture in Canada, to a committee of the Department of Canadian Heritage, to which it now reported. Scott emphasized the NLC had a vital role to play in the nation's cultural information and communications environment. The preservation of materials in the current building was threatened by water damage in collections areas. Canadiana acquisitions were much reduced. Canadian Heritage, under the minister Sheila Copps, was reviewing its own general role and, of course, applying neoliberal standards to its activities. Ironically, the processes the NLC had assiduously applied to its own internal operations and administration would be applied to the portfolio of cultural agencies in Canadian Heritage.

On 12 March 1998, Sheila Copps announced the launch of consultations on the "future role and structure" of the National Archives of Canada and the NLC. Some people in the cultural field understood the coded language that this entailed: amalgamation. However, the subsequent report, by John English, The Role of the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada, completed in 1999, looked to the future, especially in digital terms, and explicitly rejected the idea of unification. The report had many good ideas, but was obscured--sidelined in political parlance--by the prior announcement of a new appointment. Roch Carrier, an award winning author with minimal library expertise, stepped into the position of National Librarian in July 1999.

"We have to build a vision, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet," Carrier first advised the press. Then he went on a two-week cross-Canada tour to discover ideas and opinions about libraries and the NLC. "My role will be to help them [NLC staff] build the future" he wrote in the National Library Bulletin in November 1999. His 'Bridge to the 21st Century' would prove to be a short span to a barren shore.

Further Reading

The English Report recommendations are available on the web at the University of Alberta.
Read news about the National Library in the late 1990s archived on the web.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Review - Report on Canadian Libraries (1941) by Charles F. McCombs

Report on Canadian Libraries, 1941, 81 p. Originally unpublished with three appendices, index, letter of transmission, and schedule of Canadian travel by Charles F. McCombs, New York Public Library, on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation. Reprinted photographically with extensive commentary by William J. Buxton and Charles R. Acland, Philanthropy and Canadian Libraries: The Politics of Knowledge and Information Montreal: Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, and The Centre for Research on Canadian Cultural Industries and Institutions, McGill University, 1998. 51 and 88 p.

The Charles McCombs Report was the last of many American philanthropic Canadian studies begun in the 1930s. It was undertaken in 1941 to discover if further assistance might enable Canadian libraries to work with American institutions, especially the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) which previously had not been active on Canada's library scene. At the outset of WWII, the Foundation was exploring the development of international exchanges through librarianship and, with the development of microfilm systems and readers, it was interested in capturing the historic record of countries using this relatively new technology for newspapers, books, and periodicals. But before taking action in a new theatre of operation, the RF needed to explore the state of Canadian libraries and the merits of their newspaper holdings.

The senior administrators at the RF, especially John Marshall, the Assistant Director of the Humanities Division, felt more thorough examination of Canadian libraries (particularly research collections) was necessary in terms of collections, staffing capabilities, and national coordination before recommending courses of action. Accordingly, in May 1941, $2,750 was allocated to allow for the secondment of Charles McCombs from the main reading room of the New York Public Library to conduct at study of Canadian libraries. McCombs was an experienced librarian, born in 1887, noted for his bibliographic talents. In four trips, from June to November 1941, McCombs visited almost seventy libraries in eight provinces (omitting P.E.I.), submitting his report shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entry into WWII.

What did Charles McCombs report on? Because his report remained unpublished for almost six decades, its contents were never adequately referenced in postwar Canadian studies. Two researchers, William Buxton and Charles Acland, finally dealt with the context and importance of McCombs' work in their admirable study published in 1998. They took care to reprint the 1941 report in its entirety while at the same time discussing his recommendations and the aftermath of the Rockefeller Foundation's and Carnegie Corporation's subsequent financial aid to Canadian libraries and librarians. They demonstrated that the impact of American philanthropy on Canadian library development in the 1930s and 1940s was directed to particular projects that intersected with Canadian aspirations for progressive steps, coordinated assistance from the American Library Association, and also the policy interests of the two foundations in the immediate postwar period. The intersection of this multiple engagement provided crucial, initial assistance for the formation of the Canadian Library Association in 1946 and the subsequent legislation for a National Library in 1953.

Thus, it can be said that McCombs' work helped advance two vital postwar developments. He observed that the most pressing concern in Canada was "lack of national coordination of activity" and recommended financial aid for the new Canadian Library Council, which had coalesced in June 1941 and held its first meeting later in October with RF financial support. The RF was quick to promise $17,500, funneled through the ALA, for use by the Canadian Library Council in 1942 with the objective to establish microphotography and general advisory services (e.g., fellowships and field visits) for Canadian libraries, another important concern of McCombs. Subsequently, the Carnegie Corporation made five payments from 1944-48 to the Canadian Library Council, through the ALA, totalling $20,000. With this seed money, the CLC transitioned into the Canadian Library Association, hired Elizabeth Morton as executive director, and opened an office in Ottawa. CLA published its first list of microfilmed newspapers in 1948 and championed the cause of a national library.

Buxton and Acland make the case for American influence on Canadian activities in their well documented study. But the McCombs study also is revealing at many points for it was conducted through personal interviews and observations: "I did not submit a questionnaire, or make my visits armed with notebook and pencil" (p. 2). His use of statistics was brief, confined mostly to larger universities and colleges. Many comments appear in his report that otherwise would have been expunged before publication. McCombs seems to have been influenced a good deal by André Siegfried's Canada (translated into English in 1937) which treated the English-French divide, Canada's nascent nationality, our national east-west and north-south economic pull, and our British-European and North American ties. McCombs referenced these points throughout his report, e.g. the regionalism of the "five Canadas," isolation, and absence of cooperation, even amongst libraries on the downtown campus of the University of Toronto (p. 9). He suggested a reorganization of Ottawa's Parliamentary Library (to make it more efficient) and formation of a national library with co-equal French and English speaking directors (p. 74).

Because of the RF interest in the potential of Canadian content for researchers, McCombs spent the most part of his report on larger libraries in universities. On the personal side, he got on well with Toronto Public Library's chief, Charles Sanderson, who was enthusiastic about the prospects of microduplication in libraries. McCombs was disappointed that W.S. Wallace, University of Toronto, did "not show much interest in microphotography." Two female university chief librarians, Elizabeth Dafoe at Manitoba and Mary K. Ingraham at Acadia, were commended for their work. He found that the Citizen's Free Library, Halifax, was "a disgrace." (p.62). He spoke of the need for advanced library training and education--Canada's library schools at McGill and Toronto were a "Type II" ALA category offering only one year of professional education. McCombs judged the other schools at Montreal and Ottawa would not meet ALA standards for accreditation. He found the provincial legislative libraries lacking: "with the exception of British Columbia, they lack adequate catalogues, and pay little attention to standard library methods, although there are occasional signs of progress" (p. 48). For the most part, his criticisms and compliments were designed to foster improvements in administration, finance, and collections as well as bolstering his own recommendations.

McCombs knew the limitations of his brief travels. In his letter to John Marshall on 1 Dec. 1941 he wrote, "I am acutely aware of the shortcomings of this lengthy document; there is much more that I could have said, but I have tried to give an impartial account of conditions observed, including impressions of personalities." On balance, many of his observations updated the study, Libraries in Canada by Ridington, Locke, and Black published in 1933. McCombs died in May 1947 after a lengthy career as a reference and bibliographic expert spanning more than three decades at the New York Public Library. The CLA continued the newspaper project he had advocated into the early 1980s. The importance of his original proposal was recognized in 1958 when the newly formed Canada Council granted $10,000 to CLA to continue microfilming papers in order to further Canadian research. Some CLA newspapers from the microfilm project are searchable today in the Google digital newspaper archive, e.g. the Toronto World.

Also, Buxton and Acland, "A Neglected Milestone: Charles F. McCombs' Report on Canadian Libraries, 1941," in Peter McNally, ed., Readings in Canadian Library History 2, p. 265-74 (Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 1996).

For a listing of CLA microfilmed papers go to http://www.cla.ca/Content/NavigationMenu/Shop/CLAMicrofilmCollectionCatalogue(2013).pdf 
 To see if a newspaper is available go to the Google News Archive Search site and type your paper, using quotations, e.g. "Toronto World" and click on the Search button.