Reference services across borders

By Virtue Tran

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) serves a diverse clientele with diverse information needs. In Reference Services, we see many queries coming in from across the globe. Though service for this international community is essentially the same as for inquirers from Canada, responses should take account of the challenges associated with accessing the collection across borders. This blog provides a glimpse of who our international clients are, a sample of interesting questions we have received, and a look at some of the techniques our reference specialists use to facilitate access by this community.

Our clients

Our clients are from all over the world! In the years 2018 to 2020, requests came from the following countries and regions:

  • Africa: Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Djibouti, Morocco, Tunisia
  • Americas: Brazil, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, United States
  • Asia: India, Japan, Taiwan
  • Europe: Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Middle East: Israel, United Arab Emirates
  • Oceania: Australia

The above list is only a small sample of the international locations from which we receive requests. Many inquirers are professors and students doing research on either a specific Canadian topic or one with a Canadian component (such as ethnic groups who have immigrated to Canada; government policies and the Canadian cultural scene). Students in information science who have an interest in LAC as an institution or in the state of librarianship and archives in Canada comprise a niche within this clientele.

Then there are archivists, librarians and genealogists. As this is part of their day-to-day jobs, these clients are experts in searching for information. They usually have tools of the trade that allow them to conduct more complex searches. Their questions are geared mainly toward finding information on behalf of their own clients or for internal work. Recent examples include the Direção-Geral do Livro, dos Arquivos e das Bibliotecas [national book, archives and libraries department] of Portugal and the Scottish Natural Heritage Library. Finally, inquiries from members of the public vary widely. They are often driven by curiosity, hobbies or research into family history.

Here are three examples of topics that have piqued the interest of our international clients:

From Martinique: Guadeloupe domestics in 1910–1911

Request for information regarding the Canadian immigration service during that period and biographies of various immigration public servants who worked on the file of Guadeloupe domestic workers. This is found mainly in books discussing the history of immigration legislation and the policies of Canada. At the time, the Department of the Interior was responsible for immigration. Because immigration of Black people was discouraged, as was the case for other ethnic groups, immigration officers would find ways to deport them under the Immigration Act of 1910.

Further sources:

LAC database: Immigrants to Canada, Porters and Domestics, 1899-1949

Calliste, A. (1991). Canada’s immigration policy and domestics from the Caribbean: The second domestic scheme. In S. Brickey and E. Comack (eds.), The social basis of law: Critical readings in the sociology of law (2nd ed., pp. 95–121). Halifax: Garamond Press.  OCLC 24743137   This chapter sources information from various archival documents available at LAC.

Kelley, N., and Michael, J.T. (2010). The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.  OCLC 531018353 Chapter 4, “Industrialization, Immigration, and the Foundation of the Twentieth-Century Immigration Policy, 1896-1914,” pertains mainly to the discriminatory treatment of Asian immigrants under the section “Selective Admission Restrictions.” The discriminatory treatment of Black immigrants is also discussed, but to a lesser extent.

Macklin, A. (1992). Foreign domestic worker: Surrogate housewife or mail order servant. McGill Law Journal 37(3), 681–760.   ISSN: 0024-9041 — OCLC 768130032

Yarhi, E. (2016). Order-in-Council P.C. 1911-1324: the Proposed Ban on Black Immigration to Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada.

A typed page (Form B of the Immigration Act of 1910, used for deportations).

Form B – Order for deportation (C-10411 reel on Héritage).

From France: “Les Belles Mères” by La Bolduc

Request for information on the song “Les Belles Mères” by this famed folk musician. This song borrowed the “Red River Valley” melody as mentioned in an extensive biography published on our webpage. It is available on Virtual Gramophone along with other digitized songs by La Bolduc while materials such as books, articles and musical scores are searchable through our catalogue Aurora.

A colour picture of the label of the song “Les Belles Mères” with golden lettering on a navy disk.

Label of the song “Les Belles Mères” (published by the Compo Company Limited) (OCLC 1007640213).

From the United Kingdom: Stephen Leacock recordings

Request for a list of audio records of the writings of Stephen Leacock. Specifically, the requester wanted to know the names of those who were speaking in the recordings. LAC holds many audio recordings that can be located through our Aurora catalogue. Information about the readers is found within the bibliographical records, in the section on performers, in the notes or even in the title.

A black-and-white photograph of Christopher Plummer in a suit standing on the left with his arms crossed. A large framed painting of a woman in a dress holding a fan is hung on the right side.

The celebrated actor Christopher Plummer read and adapted Stephen Leacock’s writings. (a182414); for an example, see OCLC 3589995).

Accessing the collection: Options

It is standard practice to redirect clients who are not in the vicinity of Ottawa, Ontario, to institutions closer to their location in order for them to access relevant materials. However, when the materials cannot be located that way, three techniques are often used:

1. The Internet

The list of online resources is long, but here are a few that are heavily used by reference librarians. LAC maintains various resources that can serve as a starting point for research. They are accompanied by an explanatory page that provides a concise summary of the subject and, sometimes, a list of publications for further readings. Other helpful resources are the Government of Canada Publications portal and the Internet Archive’s Canadian Libraries collections, which host a massive amount of official publications, departmental libraries collections, and Canadiana, a staple for pre-1921 Canadian content.

2. Interlibrary loans

LAC does not offer an interlibrary loan (ILL) service. As a result, reference librarians count on local libraries that often provide this service to help connect clients with the publication they need. In the United States, many universities have Canadian holdings, and some public libraries will offer ILL with their Canadian counterparts. While the chances of finding a publication in institutions overseas diminish greatly, not all is lost. Specialized collections exist at universities with Canadian studies programs and within national libraries and museums, to name but a few. The fact that many international organizations are based in Europe should not be discounted. Those organizations often have libraries that collect Canadian content relevant to their work. While they are unlikely to lend out, they are generally open to the public and researchers.

3. Copy services

Copy services are always an option. LAC can provide copies of documents, images, etc., in various formats, including digital, which can be requested in PDF or JPEG format. Most institutions will also offer this service for a fee, but figuring out which institutions hold a copy is the hard part. This is when reference books, bibliographies and union catalogues come in handy. A dated resource will still offer valuable insight for determining the correctness of the references provided and identifying the institutions that used to hold copies. These tidbits of information are useful for tracing back publications, especially older materials that are oftentimes discarded when they no longer meet the needs of users.

With skills, perseverance and a little bit of serendipity, LAC’s Reference Services will connect you with our Canadian heritage. So don’t be shy about sending in your queries to Ask us a Question; we will be happy to assist you in your research!


Virtue Tran is a reference librarian in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

From the Lowy Room: a productive quarantine

By Michael Kent

Like many people, I had frustrated moments in spring 2020 when we entered lockdown. Quarantining away from family and friends, and having regular life come to a standstill, is an exceptionally draining experience. One way that I kept busy—and my spirits up—was by getting to some work projects that I had always wanted to tackle but that were constantly delayed due to other priorities.

One such endeavour, related to my own professional development, was to learn more about the key early reference material in my field, Judaic librarianship. We are very fortunate in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection to have several volumes of Early Modern Hebrew bibliographic literature. These books birthed the fields of Hebrew bibliography and the history of Jewish books. While I invariably use far more modern reference material, the legacy of these works influences my job on a daily basis. I was excited to be able to finally delve into the early history of my profession.

A colour photo of book with different coloured spines on a wooden shelf. The books have small white pieces of paper sticking out of their tops.

Some of the early Hebrew bibliographic reference material in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

While doing research at home during lockdown, I was surprised to discover that one of the books I was investigating had its own quarantine story. The volume is Shem ha-Gedolim (1774) by Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (he was also known as the Ḥida). Our collection is fortunate enough to have a first edition. This work, whose title translates as “Names of the Great Ones,” is a bibliography of Jewish scholars and their contributions to Hebrew literature. In authoring this book, Azulai became one of the fathers of Jewish bibliographic scholarship.

Azulai was born in Jerusalem in 1724. He was descended from a family of prominent rabbis with roots in Spain before that country expelled its Jewish population. As a scholar, he was known to treat his interest in religious and mystical subjects with strong intellectual curiosity. He would write many books, ranging across topics of Jewish law, history and folklore, as well as his own diary and travel logs. In all, he authored over 120 works, 50 of which were published during his lifetime. In addition to his scholarship, Azulai served as an emissary of the Jewish community of the land of Israel, visiting communities in Italy, Germany, Holland, France and England, as well as throughout North Africa. During his travels, he would visit public and private libraries, keenly interested in rare manuscripts and early printed books. The research he conducted at these libraries would serve as the basis for Shem ha-Gedolim.

A colour photograph of a page of a book, written in Hebrew.

The copy of the first edition of Shem ha-Gedolim in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. Photo: Michael Kent

These travels give us the quarantine story. In 1774, on a fundraising mission, Azulai arrived in the port of Livorno, Italy. Upon disembarking from the ship, he was forced to stay in a quarantine camp for 40 days. This was a standard requirement for visitors to the city because of the fear of epidemics. He spent his time in the camp writing the book Shem ha-Gedolim. Upon his release, he worked with members of the local Jewish community to have the work published. While travelling through Italy, he would remain active in the process of publishing the volume, through receiving and editing proofs.

Learning that Rabbi Azulai was able to write a book during quarantine certainly makes me feel humble about my own accomplishments during our COVID-19 lockdowns. I certainly enjoyed the serendipity of discovering this quarantine story while filling my pandemic downtime. This opportunity for investigation has definitely given me a new appreciation for the origins of my field.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

Etiquette, courtesy, good manners and polite society: Retrospective publications at Library and Archives Canada

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

No one who searches through the LAC collection leaves empty-handed. Thirsty for knowledge, LAC’s etiquette collection attracted my attention. My excitement was so strong that I prepared as though I was setting out on a long journey to a destination I like to call “etiquette books published in Canada before 1953.”

We carry the genes of our ancestors with us and we enjoy the benefits of the trails they blazed for us by removing the obstacles that made their daily lives difficult. What’s more, we inherited their know-how and their courtesy.

In fact, etiquette seems like a way to build an orderly, caring and cared-for society. Codes of etiquette allow people to gather for events, joyful or sad, and spend time together in harmony with everyone somehow following the same set of rules. Contact and coexistence with peoples of different cultures have also influenced etiquette on all sides. As such, etiquette textbooks and schools specializing in this area gradually expanded their field of expertise as encounters between different civilizations grew.

The etiquette collection is rich and highly diverse. Far from being outdated, it holds promising interest for many. The works in the collection offer writers or filmmakers possible inspiration for scripts set in an era of interest. For some comedians, retrospective publications provide fodder for skits highlighting the contrast between the customs of modern times and yesteryear. For them, this documentation is vital! Even students researching lifestyles in different eras will find what they are looking for.

Black-and-white photo of people in formal attire seated around a long oval table. The table features place settings and decorative centrepieces.

A group of people demonstrating their good manners (a029856)

What it is exactly?

The terms etiquette and manners differ in that the etiquette is defined as a series of codes that create the conditions for good manners. Etiquette is quite exhaustive and covers all aspects of human life. It applies to behaviours, gestures and expressions both spoken and unspoken.

Many books have been written about etiquette, although the word may not necessarily appear on the title pages. Nevertheless, the following terms or keywords allude to the model practices expected in polite society: courtesy; the art of living; the art of dressing; good manners; the art of presentation; the art of correspondence; home economics; table manners; and politeness in the areas of transportation, leisure, travel and more.

Scope

Good manners are not the focus of publications alone. The once numerous specialized schools often catered to wealthy, elite young women. Finishing schools provided a full range of etiquette training.

Some careers also require employees to graduate from specialized schools, such as schools of protocol or butler schools.

The LAC collection

Vintage publications on etiquette are a treasure trove of information. Among other things, they teach us about the transformations that our society has witnessed. For example, a textbook on good conduct for teenagers informs us about what parents, teachers and society as a whole expected of young people of their generation. Some books describe dress codes. For example, at one time, women were not supposed to go out without a hat, especially to church. Men, however, had to remove their hats in church.

Developments in etiquette

Over time, certain social practices or rules change or fall by the wayside to meet new needs or to adapt to new realities. Etiquette has also adapted to changes in the work world, such as industrialization and the arrival of the female workforce. As communication and correspondence tools evolved, codes of conduct emerged for typed correspondence, the art of speaking by telephone and more.

Sociologists interested in the evolution of society, customs, relationships between men and women, or the role of young people and children in the family are sure to find material for their research. Moreover, when historians describe a major historical figure, they highlight the person’s habits, style of dress, achievements, and the etiquette of the time. Some well-known individuals led a morally questionable existence, while others were more virtuous. Sometimes, what was once considered immoral is no longer so.

Black-and-white photo of a woman setting the kitchen table.

Woman setting the table, 1945 (e010862357)

Some finds in the collection

Mille questions d’étiquette discutées, résolues et classées. M. Sauvalle. Montréal: Éditions Beauchemin, 1907. OCLC 300069021

This encyclopedic-style book covers a range of topics and provides a list of questions and answers about good manners in different situations.

For example, concerning illness:

[Translation] Question—What is the correct way to show concern for close friends who are ill with a mild but contagious sickness?

Answer—Many people with a mild but contagious sickness close their door to their good friends. [In this way,] friends are not exposed to catching the sickness: in this case, their friends should be thoughtful enough to slip their card under the door or in the box […]

Other handbooks are more moralistic.

Traits caractéristiques d’une mauvaise éducation, ou actions et discours contraires à la politesse, et désignés comme tels par les moralistes tant anciens que modernes. L. Gaultier. Quebec: Librairie de W. Cowan et fils, 1839. OCLC 49023922

This collection contains 555 examples of character traits that are contrary to politeness and good manners, and explains what a sensible young person should not do (in terms of clothing, cleanliness, conversations and contact with others).

Finally, people say that some fashions and lifestyles never fade. I like to say that good ideas are timeless. The following publication discusses the art of receiving guests.

Manuel de l’étiquette courante parmi la bonne société canadienne-française. Evelyn Bolduc. [Ottawa]: [1937?]. OCLC 1015541211

[Translation] For the hostess expecting dinner guests […]

We will now turn our attention to the menu that the hostess will have created based on locally available resources and the season. In November, for example, game will be easier to find than it would be in April; grapes are tastier and better than strawberries; and oysters are abundant.

During this season, the following dishes might be served: oysters, consommé, fish (not a crustacean since oysters are already on the menu), a first course, a roast; hopefully not a roast of chicken or turkey every time; salad, a dessert of fruit ice cream or jelly. Coffee is usually served in the living room.

Eating local and seasonal products: a lifestyle choice that nutritionists recommend even today! It also conforms to our responsible consumption principles.

The following pre-1953 publications on etiquette are also in the LAC collection:

How to Arrange a Public Dinner. Walter Gardner Frisby. Toronto, Ryerson Press [1938]. Series: The New Dominion Books, [no. 6]. OCLC 42308995

Etiquette in Canada: The Blue Book of Canadian Social Usage. Gertrude Pringle. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1932. OCLC 5322767

Manners. Toronto: McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart, 1914. OCLC: 222701034

Good Table Manners. Narcissa Burwell. [Toronto: Reader Mail, Ltd., 193-?]. Series: Home Service Booklets, 118. OCLC 1007367401

Every publication is unique and the information they contain is invaluable. Some stylists and fashion designers, vintage and contemporary, say they found their niche through the inspiration they discovered in books from a bygone era or in the styles and manners of their grandparents. The same applies to various other occupations.

In any case, the publications discussed in this article are somehow irresistible. They are absolute page-turners!


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is a retrospective acquisitions librarian with the acquisitions team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Don’t fear virtual conferences!

By Sarah Potts

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how Library and Archives Canada (LAC) staff, like many Canadians, have been working full time from home for almost a year. I also thought about how my work has changed during the pandemic. The reality is, my work as an acquisitions librarian never stopped, but my usual way of working and interacting with my field did. So when I had the opportunity to attend a virtual professional event, I jumped at it.

A colour photograph of a laptop on a wooden table, with a lamp and pens in the background.
Welcome to my office (it’s really just my dining room table)

Virtually engaged

I attended the Library Journal (LJ) Day of Dialog, an event that was launched over 20 years ago. Traditionally, it’s a one-day in-person event with multiple iterations throughout the year. The LJ Day of Dialog allows librarians and publishers to connect, talk and highlight the latest trends in books.

Because of COVID-19, the event became free and went online. Most of the sessions were pre-recorded. What had originally sold me on attending the conference was having live sessions, because it would remind me of what it was like to participate in a discussion in person.

The conference did have elements of an in-person event, though. There were opportunities to interact with fellow attendees, but through a chat function. We were able to exchange ideas, and sometimes to have a group discussion with authors. This situation was challenging, since both my mental tabs and my Internet tabs were at their maximum. I spent so much time looking up concepts that I forgot to engage with the very conversation I was a part of and to pay attention to the event! There was so much I could do that I worried I wasn’t doing enough on the day of the conference.

Despite knowing that I could access the sessions afterward, I still worried that if I didn’t attend the event as it happened, I would miss something important at the moment. I found it hard to step away from my computer and take a break. I even found myself checking social media “just in case” I missed something. I knew then that I was experiencing FOMO, the “fear of missing out.”

Too much to attend, too little “time”

The term FOMO was popularized in the early 2000s by American author and researcher Patrick McGinnis. Essentially, it means that when you step away from an event or discussion, you worry that you’ll miss something important or exciting. In my case, I thought of never-ending what-ifs and questions. I asked things like, “If I step away from the event, will I miss making a connection with someone?,” “Could stepping away mean that I’m not fully engaged?,” “What if I don’t ask a question during the session? Will my colleagues think less of me?” I spent more time worrying about what could happen than enjoying what was actually happening.

My FOMO extended beyond the conference sessions. I had trouble disconnecting from my other work, too. When attending an in-person conference, I often don’t check my work emails, instant messages or phone. But while attending the LJ Day of Dialog, I couldn’t help myself. If a client emailed me, I would email back immediately; if one of my colleagues sent me an instant message, I felt compelled to respond right away. I felt that if I left my work for a while, I was doing something wrong. It’s an unsettling feeling, and it’s heightened when I work from home. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but I couldn’t disconnect.

Ottawa, we have a problem

It took someone else, in this case my mom, twisting my arm to get me out of that state of mind. She reminded me that it’s healthy to step away and reconnect with myself. Stepping away allowed me to refresh and engage in a more meaningful dialogue with publishers.

A colour photograph of a park with trees.
I became so obsessed with staying connected that I didn’t disconnect and ended up using my “break” when I went for a walk at a local park to continue listening to the conference (location: Queenston Heights National Historic Site, Niagara, Ontario)

I’m not saying that attending a virtual conference is terrible, but it presents challenges that I had never encountered before. I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with librarians worldwide; I connected with international authors and their publishers. Looking back, I now see the benefit of going and viewing the pre-recorded sessions once more. I can learn at my leisure, and catch concepts I missed the first time when I was caught up “in the moment.” I was able to grow and learn more about my work style.

Many Canadians have published online articles (in French) (isn’t it ironic?) and shared ideas (in French) about overcoming FOMO (in French). Most shared the same solution: step away and embrace the joy that comes with living in the moment. It may be hard at first—I can attest to this!—but it makes the event more enjoyable and, in my case, more comfortable to focus on.

At LAC, we’re lucky to hold a few books by Canadian authors and publishers on this topic. These are some fantastic options!

  • The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World by Christina Crook, New Society Publishers (2015). OCLC 897352546
  • Taking a Break from Saving the World: A Conservation Activist’s Journey from Burnout to Balance by Stephen Legault, Rocky Mountain Books (2020). OCLC 1201519705
  • It’s My Tree (translation of C’est mon arbre) by Olivier Tallec, Kids Can Press (2020). OCLC 1135581755

Sarah Potts is an acquisitions librarian in the Legal Deposit section of the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Reflections on Rwanda

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In February 2020, after four weeks of work and 33 hours of travel (thanks to a delayed flight and a missed connection), my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I returned home to Canada from Africa safe and sound, full of stories and insights to share with our colleagues (and families and friends) about our assignment with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) in Kigali. The question I am asked most often (after “How was the food?”—everyone wants to know about the food) is, What did I bring back to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) from the experience? The purpose of the assignment and my goals were pretty clearly defined (to provide four weeks of training on bibliographic description and cataloguing), and I think that all involved would agree that the objectives were met and the assignment was a success. The lasting impact of this opportunity on me and my work is a little less tangible. Of course, there are all the benefits of travel, and living and working in another place, even for a short period of time—broadening your understanding of the world, seeing new perspectives, and appreciating in a new way things that you have come to take for granted.

Professionally, I saw many other benefits as well. I really had the opportunity to improve and refine my skills in training and teaching. While I have participated in the formal and informal training of many colleagues over the years, this was the first time I had to develop a curriculum and learning plans, and spent such a concentrated amount of time delivering instructions. I learned to adapt as I went, identifying newly discovered needs and incorporating them into the plans. Patience and flexibility are always key! I also developed a new understanding of the cataloguing tools and standards that I already use every day. When you are teaching someone else how to use something, you really have to stop and take a step back, and you get a better picture of how that thing is constructed and how the different parts fit together. It was good for me to go back to basics and refresh my fundamental understanding of the tools and concepts. This will help me as I return to my “everyday” work of cataloguing.

A colour photo of people gathered in a conference room.

Delivering training on the Dewey Decimal Classification system to librarians from across Rwanda. Photo credit: LAC

Living and working in Rwanda, even for a month, was a life-changing experience for me, personally and professionally. It was a major challenge, taking me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, but it will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am proud of the work that I did, glad that LAC is an institution committed to these kinds of partnerships and the development of the library and archival professions in Canada and around the world, and so grateful to have had the chance to share my knowledge and expertise with fellow librarians in another country.

To learn more about this special assignment, and to get an overview of the training that my colleague and I gave the RALSA staff, I invite you to read my previous posts: Ready for Rwanda! and An update from Kigali!

A colour photo of a group of people gathered around a table.

Our going-away party with staff at RALSA on our last day in the office.


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada. Her blog articles depicting her work trip to Rwanda were written before the COVID-19 pandemic context.

 

Making Connections, Growing Collections

By Michael Kent

When I lead workshops, attendees are often fascinated to learn about the all-encompassing nature of our agency’s acquisitions mandate when it comes to Canadiana. Simply put, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) strives to have every Canadian publication intended for sale or public distribution that has ever been produced. By Canadian, we mean either published in Canada, written by a Canadian, or about Canada. We acquire items published in Canada through legal deposit, a program that requires publishers to send us copies of their publications.

Works published outside of Canada are more complicated to acquire. For one thing, we have to pursue them more actively. Often the greatest challenge is knowing they exist. This is no simple task as Canadian authors write on all topics, are published around the world, and produce in a diverse range of languages. I have discovered that one way of uncovering this information is through informal encounters.

I had one such experience recently at a conference dedicated to Yiddish literature in Canada. At the conference dinner, I started up a conversation with the woman sitting across from me and to my delight discovered I was speaking with Goldie Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is a professor of literature at the University of Lethbridge and a noted translator of Yiddish literature. She is also the daughter of acclaimed Canadian Yiddish author Chava Rosenfarb, a Holocaust survivor who settled in Montreal.

Chava Rosenfarb sitting with her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler. Dr. Morgentaler is sitting on the right and has her arm over Rosenfarb’s shoulders.

Chava Rosenfarb with her daughter, Goldie Morgentaler. Photo courtesy of Goldie Morgentaler.

When our conversation shifted to my work at LAC, Dr. Morgentaler inquired about our holdings of her mother’s books. I explained we should have all of Rosenfarb’s books published in Canada that meet the legal deposit criteria. I noted that, given her mother had many books published outside of Canada, LAC could very well be missing some of those publications, since those are not subject to legal deposit. Wanting to see her mother’s works preserved as part of LAC’s collection, we agreed to follow up after the conference to see what gaps might exist in LAC’s holdings.

Through latter emails, Dr. Morgentaler and I were able to identify a few Rosenfarb works that LAC was missing. These included translations published in the United States, Poland, and Spain. Translations of Canadian authors published abroad provide important insights into the reach of Canadian culture and how Canadians are perceived abroad.

In addition to offering her mother’s works, Dr. Morgentaler proposed to give LAC some Yiddish periodicals published outside of Canada that feature Canadian authors. These included issues of Di Pen and Yiddishe Kulture. We graciously accepted. Canadian culture exists in more than just English and French. Acquiring international publications such as these, in minority languages, provides a fuller appreciation of the cultural diversity found in Canada.

When these periodicals arrived, I was excited to discover that Dr. Morgentaler had attached to each issue a sticky-note providing information about the Canadian content. These notes mention the Canadian authors, on which pages their content appears, and the city in Canada they come from. In including these notes, Dr. Morgentaler not only gifted LAC with the actual publication but also provided us with important bibliographic content.

12 periodicals laying on a table. Attached to each periodical is a post-it-note written by Dr. Morgentaler identifying Canadian content in the issue.

Some of the Yiddish periodicals donated by Dr. Morgentaler, with the attached post-it-notes containing the bibliographic information she identified for LAC. Photo credit: Michael Kent.

While I am a Judaica librarian, I am far from knowing every Jewish author. Connecting with Dr. Morgentaler allowed me to discover authors and publications I had not previously known about and bring minority language publications into our national collection. I am always thankful for people such as Dr. Morgentaler, who are knowledgeable and passionate about Canada’s history and culture. Connecting with individuals outside our organization is essential to growing LAC’s collections and the public’s knowledge about Canada.

I was honoured to connect with Dr. Morgentaler on this small project, and I look forward to my next opportunity to introduce myself to a stranger.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

From the Lowy Room: A Scroll of Serendipity

By Michael Kent

One of the most exciting aspects of working with rare books is the story of the individual items in our collections. The life an item had before finding its way to Library and Archives Canada (LAC) can be fascinating, and is sometimes as interesting as the content of the work itself. In some cases, the story of an item can share amazing parallels with the work itself. One such example is a scroll containing the Biblical Book of Esther. This scroll is now housed in LAC’s Jacob M. Lowy Collection.

A colour photograph of a handwritten Hebrew manuscript on parchment completely rolled out across a table, approximately seven feet in length. Also on the table is the protective metal casing that originally housed the manuscript.

The Megillah of Esther unrolled in the Jacob M. Lowy Room, located at 395 Wellington, in Ottawa, Ontario. Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada

This scroll is handwritten in Hebrew in a format suited for ritual use as part of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The story of how it ended up at Library and Archives Canada was passed down to me through an oral history from previous curators of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection. It is a story too good not to share.

When I show the scroll to visitors, they are instantly struck by its damaged metal case. People often exclaim that it looks like it has gone through a war, and in fact it has. As the story goes, a British soldier found this case sticking out of the rubble of a bombed-out building in continental Europe at the end of the Second World War. Upon discovering that the case contained a scroll, the soldier decided to keep the item as a war souvenir. Later in life, that soldier would move to Canada and bring the scroll with him.

The next chapter in the story of the scroll took place after this soldier passed away. As it has been recounted to me, the soldier had no children, and his neighbours volunteered to clean out his apartment. Through that process, they discovered the scroll, recalling that he had previously shown it to them. Recognizing it was an item of value, they decided to find a home for it. As chance would have it, these neighbours had a relative who worked at the then-National Archives. They sent the scroll to this relative, who passed it off to an archivist. Several years later, the Jacob M. Lowy Collection of rare Judaica was donated to the National Library of Canada. The decision was made to transfer the scroll to that collection so that it would be housed with other Judaica.

So why do I feel that the story of the physical scroll mirrors the story contained within? The answer comes from a unique aspect of the Biblical Book of Esther as one of the two books from the Hebrew Scriptures that does not mention God. The traditional rabbinic explanation to textual oddity is that the name of God was left out of the book to highlight the hidden nature of the miracle contained within the story. It is a story of a series of small and unlikely worldly events that culminate in the survival of the Jewish people.

When I look at the scroll, I too see an item that survived through a series of small and unlikely event. That the original owner would house it in a strong protective material. That the item would survive a bombing. That it would end up in a visible place. That a soldier would stop to investigate it and decide it was worth saving. That his neighbours would volunteer to clear out his apartment after his death. That those volunteers would carefully examine the apartment’s contents and seek a proper home for the scroll. That they would have a connection at the National Archives. These unlikely occurrences come together to form a powerful story of survival and a fantastic journey for this scroll that brought it to LAC.

While I am in no place to offer spiritual reflections on the survival of this scroll, the serendipity is remarkable. This story, and others like it, highlight the powerful past the items in our collections have. These stories go far beyond the written word, and I am always humbled to learn and share them.


Michael Kent is curator of the Jacob M. Lowy Collection at Library and Archives Canada.

An update from Kigali!

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In February 2020, my colleague Karl-Xavier Thomas and I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda, where we are both guests of the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA). As we approach the end of our second week in Kigali, it is hard to believe that our time is almost half over! After months of preparation, we have packed so much into the first two weeks. RALSA invited us to train their staff of three librarians and four archivists in best practices and international professional standards. A small but mighty staff, they are keenly aware of their responsibilities and obligations as the national library and archives, and anxious to implement the best standards they can, not only to properly manage and describe their own collection, but also to provide guidance and assistance to other memory institutions across Rwanda. Representing the library side, I have been focusing on cataloguing (my own specialty), but I am also answering questions and helping them to develop policies on everything from administering the national ISBN program to digital rights management to generating the library’s social media content. It has been interesting for me, coming from a large institution where different aspects of our collection and services are managed by different sections and large teams, to see a handful of people striving to do it all here. They are ambitious and incredibly hard-working, and every day I admire and respect them even more for what they are trying to accomplish.

A colour photograph of archival materials on bookshelves.

Part of RALSA’s archival collection. Photo credit: Karl-Xavier Thomas

As part of our work here, RALSA has also invited librarians and archivists from across Rwanda to attend a four-day conference in Kigali, where Karl-Xavier and I will be giving the same training we have delivered over the last two weeks to a bigger audience. It is an opportunity for us to meet and make connections with many of the professionals working in the field in this country, and for them to learn and develop their skills so they can better serve their clients and collections. Although I have always felt that my work has value and have always been proud of what I do, it is special to be able to see the immediate impact of my knowledge and expertise. I really do feel that I am making a difference here, helping professionals across Rwanda learn to better describe and provide access to their collections. These are lessons that they will be able to continue using long after I have returned to Canada.

Another interesting activity that was part of the cultural exchange was participating in Umuganda, the countrywide community clean-up day. This takes place on the last Saturday of every month and is mandatory for all citizens between the ages of 16 and 65. People gather in their villages and neighbourhoods to work on a project that improves their local community. The idea is to make things a little bit better each month than they were the month before. The day that we joined in, people were clearing brush from around newly planted trees, and digging out a drainage canal that was overgrown with weeds. Following the work, the members of the village gathered for a meeting where news and reminders were shared, and members of the community were able to raise issues of concern. I was struck by how respectful the tone of the meeting was, how all members felt free to stand and express themselves, and how they listened to each other and reached solutions together.

I feel that what we are accomplishing here is in the spirit of Umuganda, in a small way. We too are bringing what we have to share, contributing it to the community, and leaving things a little bit better than they were before.

A colour photograph of an office building.

RALSA is moving to a custom-built facility next year, but it currently operates out of several rooms on the top floor of this office building in Kigali, Rwanda. Photo credit: Alison Harding-Hlady


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

 

The Freedom to Read

By Liane Belway

A colour photograph showing the spines of a stack of books against a black background.

A sample of the variety of books held in the Library and Archives Canada collection, which have been challenged.  Photo credit: Tom Thompson

In Canada, we enjoy the freedom to read what we choose, so much so that we may not always consider how important this right is, or whether it could be interfered with in a country such as ours. After all, our intellectual freedom is guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet, freedom to read can never be taken for granted.  Even in Canada, books and magazines are frequently challenged in libraries and schools, and these pressures affect the right of Canadians to decide for themselves what they should or should not read. Freedom to Read Week encourages Canadians to talk about and celebrate our intellectual freedom. Each year, Canada’s Book and Periodical Council ensures that this event raises awareness of Canada’s often little-known history of censorship and book banning, and the battles fought to keep books on the shelves of schools and libraries. Nationwide events throughout this week help raise awareness about the importance of protecting our right to read.

The right to intellectual freedom means that each person has the right to choose what to read, within the limits of Canadian law. Challenging a book’s right to be on a shelf and available to readers involves more than a personal expression of taste or the choice not to participate in a conversation about controversial issues. It is an attempt to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries, or bookstores, often for political or moral reasons, and prevent others from reading them. Libraries have a core responsibility to protect the freedom to read and are required to have library policies reflect this duty.

Each case is different, and libraries respond differently, according to their mandate and their responsibilities to users. Most public libraries have intellectual freedom policies in place to deal with individual concerns while protecting the collective right to read, for example by shelving according to age appropriateness, while the mandate of many school libraries is mainly to support the curriculum for the school’s relevant age group. At Library and Archives Canada, our mandate is to acquire, describe, and make accessible all Canadian publications to readers and researchers from Canada and around the world.

Not all challenged books wind up being banned. When a famous author like Margaret Atwood has a book like The Handmaid’s Tale challenged, the result is often greater media attention, increased sales, and more readers. Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women was challenged decades before she won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

However, the process of trying to ban a book can have a more insidious effect, especially in school and public libraries. A children’s book with a controversial reputation can simply be dropped from reading lists and curricula to avoid confrontation. When books with themes like that of Maxine’s Tree, a picture book with an environmentally friendly message, are challenged, sometimes the challenge is denied, as in this case from 1992, where the book was allowed to remain in elementary schools. Today, we take for granted picture books that teach kids about the environment, or same-sex families, or different religious views, or any number of topics, but this was not always the case.

Who knows how many such books were not purchased (or not written) over the decades because of a culture of banning? We like to think that, today, we are more open to the views of others. Nevertheless, as Canadians, we should remain aware at all times of how valuable our right to read is and should protect this right for ourselves as well as for other readers.


Liane Belway is a librarian in the Acquisitions section of Published Heritage at Library and Archives Canada.

For more information, check out Freedom to Read Week online.

Ready for Rwanda!

By Alison Harding-Hlady

In a few days, I’ll be leaving Canada for a very special assignment in Kigali, Rwanda. A few months ago, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Rwanda Archives and Library Services Authority (RALSA) to provide training in professional activities, international standards and best practices. Along with Karl-Xavier Thomas, an archivist at LAC, I’ll spend a month living and working with the staff of RALSA.

I was honoured and thrilled to be chosen to represent the “library” side of LAC, and I’ve been hard at work for months preparing for the trip. I’ll be sharing expertise with RALSA’s librarians and have been asked to focus on bibliographic description—that is, cataloguing and classification. As a cataloguing librarian who has spent her entire career developing these skills (16 years at LAC and counting), I couldn’t agree more that these are the fundamental building blocks of librarianship. All other library activities—making acquisition decisions, serving researchers, answering reference questions, digitization projects, exhibitions, conservation, and more—depend on a well-organized catalogue with clear, detailed descriptions of every item in the collection. You have to know what you have and where it is before you can do anything else! Although it’s sometimes dismissed as boring, I would argue instead that cataloguing is often misunderstood. A fascinating, vibrant and ever-changing field, the work is always focused on the goal of providing the best possible access to the collection. Every day brings a new challenge, and new opportunity to learn, as every item that we catalogue requires research and thought, to understand how best to classify, describe and connect it to other parts of the collection. It’s this philosophy, and the tools needed to achieve it, that I hope to share with my library colleagues in Rwanda.

Over the four weeks that I’m in Kigali, I’ll be tackling such topics as the international standard for description (RDA), how to create and use name authorities, different classification systems, navigating the public and staff view of the integrated library system (ILS), and more. A lot of time will involve hands-on work, cataloguing books together and discussing the challenges and intricacies of each individual item. There’s always a challenge, even in what seems like the most straightforward book to catalogue! My goal is that at the end of the four weeks, RALSA will have all of the tools needed to provide access to their collection and to support all of the important and valuable work by RALSA in Rwanda. And even after I return to Canada, I’ll always be only an email away and can continue to act as a support and resource!

So the training materials are almost all prepared, the vaccination shots received, the tickets booked, the suitcase packed. There’s an enormous challenge before me, but it’s also the most exciting opportunity of my career so far. The pressure’s on, both in developing four weeks of curriculum and instruction, which is not part of my day-to-day job, and in the international travel (22 hours and three flights, here I come). But I’m confident that I can rise to the challenge and do LAC proud. The opportunity to share my expertise and passion for librarianship and cataloguing with new librarians in another country is an exciting and inspiring one

A colour photo of a woman with a suitcase outside a building.

The author with her suitcase, ready to go!


Alison Harding-Hlady is the Senior Cataloguing Librarian responsible for rare books and special collections in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.