Tracing history through books

By Meaghan Scanlon

When you’re browsing in a used book store, you might not want to buy something if its pages are covered in marks left by previous readers. For researchers looking to learn more about where a book came from and how it was used, though, such traces are rich sources. Annotations, inscriptions, bookplates, and stamps are evidence of the history of a book’s ownership. This history, referred to as provenance, tells a story about the book and its owners.

Most of the items in the Rare Book Collection at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) passed through the hands of one or more owners before arriving here, and many of them bear physical signs of their former lives. LAC’s second copy of The Polar Regions, or, A Search after Sir John Franklin’s Expedition by Sherard Osborn is an interesting example. LAC acquired this book only a short time ago, in 2015, as a transfer from the department known at the time as Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. But the marks on the book’s pages indicate that it has actually been the property of the Government of Canada for about a century.

A colour photograph of two pages of an open book showing a stamp and a signature on the right-hand page.

Pages from copy 2 of The Polar Regions, or, A Search after Sir John Franklin’s Expedition by Sherard Osborn. A stamp at the top-right corner of the right-hand page reads “Commission on Conservation”; a handwritten signature in ink reads “W.A. Malcolm [?] / Jan’y [January] 1864 / Yokohama.” (AMICUS 6359969)

The book was printed in 1854. The oldest evidence of its provenance comes in the form of a signature on one of the pages that tells us the book spent some time in Yokohama, Japan, in 1864. Above the signature is an oval-shaped stamp reading “Commission on Conservation.” This likely means the book was part of the library of the Canadian Commission of Conservation. This commission was an advisory body established by the government to make recommendations on the stewardship of Canada’s national resources. It existed from 1909 to 1921; we can therefore guess that the book joined the public service during that period. In 1921, when the Senate was debating the Commission’s dissolution, one senator asked whether its “valuable library” would become part of the Library of Parliament’s collection. It seems that the books were instead distributed among the libraries of the various government departments that absorbed the Commission’s functions.

A colour photograph of the front endpapers of an open book showing a bookplate on the left-hand page and four stamps on the right-hand page.

Front endpapers of copy 2 of The Polar Regions, or, A Search after Sir John Franklin’s Expedition by Sherard Osborn, showing marks of past owners. Left: Bookplate from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Right: Stamps from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (top right), the Lands, Parks and Forests Branch of the Department of Mines and Resources (blue stamps at middle and bottom left), and the Northwest Territories and Yukon Branch of the Department of the Interior (bottom right). (AMICUS 6359969)

This particular item’s Arctic subject matter made it a resource for the people responsible for the Canadian government’s administration of its northern territories. Over the years, this responsibility has landed with various federal bodies. The book apparently travelled with the staff who needed it, staying with them through several changes in bureaucratic structure. Much like the stamps on a passport, the jumbled departmental stamps on the book’s front free endpaper provide an illustration of its journey. After the closure of the Commission of Conservation in 1921, the book went to the Northwest Territories and Yukon Branch of the Department of the Interior (green stamp at bottom right), where it remained from 1922 to 1936. From 1937 to 1953, the Department of Mines and Resources took over northern administration, and got the book as part of the deal (blue stamps at middle and bottom left). Ownership marks from Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (black stamp at top right, and bookplate on facing page) and the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources (stamp behind Indian and Northern Affairs Canada bookplate; not visible in photograph) depict the volume’s continuing odyssey through the government.

It is not always possible to glean so much from the traces of a book’s past. Still, next time you find a ratty old tome on a shelf, take a moment to look at what other readers have left behind. Maybe you’ll find more than you expect!

Additional resources


Meaghan Scanlon is a Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Local newspapers at the heart of Canadian life

By Annie Wolfe

Library and Archives Canada’s newspaper collection is full of stories, both large and small! These true stories make up Canada’s fabric, from politics to the economy, and from the arts to sports, not to mention the obituaries, known to be a gold mine for genealogists.

Local newspapers, in particular, are the voices of regions, cities, villages and neighbourhoods. The information they provide is especially important because it comes straight from those involved in building Canada’s communities. Local newspapers open a window on debates and events that directly affect citizens’ lives. Thanks to local newspapers, communities discover news that affects them directly. Local newspapers are outstanding sources of historical fact.

Here are two examples of local newspapers with valuable information for researchers or the merely curious.

Fort McMurray Today

The daily Fort McMurray Today, founded in 1974, covers the communities of Fort McMurray and Wood Buffalo, in Alberta. In spring 2016, a huge wildfire raged, forcing the evacuation of the area. The damage was extensive, with devastating effects on the Canadian economy, including reduced oil production.

Fort McMurray Today won the Breaking News award, shared with the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun, in 2016 for coverage of the wildfire. (Source: http://nna-ccj.ca/award-archives/list-of-winners-since-1949/#2)

Microfilms of newspapers from 2015 to 2017 were acquired for the national collection to document the history of the community before, during and after the wildfire tragedy.

L’Écho de Frontenac

The weekly L’Écho de Frontenac, founded in 1929, covers the region of Lac-Mégantic, in Quebec. In summer 2013, a railway accident caused an explosion and fire that destroyed part of the town. This tragedy had significant economic, environmental and, particularly, human consequences for the community, which will take years to recover. Even today, in 2018, the courts are still trying to establish what exactly happened.

As a side note, the public library was rebuilt after the fire and renamed for Nelly Arcan, the famous Lac-Mégantic author.

Microfilms of newspapers from 2012 to 2016 were acquired for the national collection to document events related to the tragedy, but especially to show the community’s great resilience.

Local newspapers, being at the heart of Canadian life, are an extraordinary source of information on what is really happening in communities across Canada. They relate and confirm both tragic and happy events. Canada’s history is written in newspapers.

The two newspapers mentioned in this article, Fort McMurray Today and L’Écho de Frontenac, are just a few examples of the newspaper microfilm acquisitions in the national collection. These microfilms are available through interlibrary loan. For more information, please visit Library and Archives Canada’s Loans to Other Institutions page or your public library.

Black-and-white photo of a large church in a small village. Railway tracks can be seen in the foreground.

The Lac-Mégantic church before the railway accident that created a major explosion in the village in 2013. The photograph is dated 1925 (MIKAN 3323453)


Annie Wolfe is an acquisitions librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Voilà – Canada’s new National Union Catalogue

Banner with the word Volià in large font.

Library and Archives Canada is proud to launch of Voilà, Canada’s new National Union Catalogue, hosted on the OCLC website.

We have been working with the non-profit cooperative OCLC, a leader in library services, to implement a leading-edge library management system to make the published heritage of our country more visible than ever before, and share Canada’s culture and knowledge with the world.

Starting today, we invites members of the Canadian library community to use Voilà.

Learn more about Voilà

The literary season has just wrapped up; did you see it go by?

By Euphrasie Mujawamungu

In early autumn or more likely in late summer,
Before the birds—great and small—pull up stakes and fly south,
Well before Parliament resumes sitting,
And on the eve of the back-to-school rush,
While some employees are still enjoying the sun,
The new literary season magazine appears,
Awaited by bookshops, readers … and especially librarians,
Not to herald the falling leaves, oh no—
New releases, new novels, new poems, new ways of doing things, and more.

Publishers release most of their books during this period, to put themselves in a strong sales and marketing position. Those few months before the end-of-year holidays give readers the chance to shop and to benefit from the recommendations of other book lovers for holiday gifts. This is also when avid readers stock up on their literary supplies so they can curl up with good books during the fall and winter.

This is the time when publishers and bookshops suggest lists of candidates for various awards, as most of these are handed out in the fall. Books that win awards or are named “staff picks” are in high demand among readers; another reason not to miss the literary season!

It bears mentioning that according to the provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act, all publications, regardless of medium or form, must be legally deposited by their publishers or authors. Legal deposit enables Library and Archives Canada to collect, preserve and make accessible all of Canada’s published documentary heritage.

Colour photo of a book cart with two copies of each book.

A book cart with new releases.

Many publishers and authors meet their legal deposit obligations when their publications are released. Consequently, the Legal Deposit team receives more publications in the fall than during other times of the year.

Just imagine the passion of the authors, the enthusiasm of the bookshops, the excitement of the readers!

Books in all formats have a place of prominence—the library—cared for by a devoted staff!

Our contact information:

Legal Deposit
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario  K1A 0N4
Canada

Telephone: 819-997-9565
Toll free (Canada): 1-866-578-7777 (Select 1+7+1)
Toll free (TTY): 1-866-299-1699
Fax: 819-997-7019

Email:
bac.Depotlegal-LegalDeposit.LAC@canada.ca (Physical or Analogue Legal Deposit)
bac.Depotlegalnumerique-DigitalLegalDeposit.LAC@canada.ca (Digital Legal Deposit)
bac.archivesweb-webarchives.LAC@canada.ca (Web Harvesting)


Euphrasie Mujawamungu is an acquisitions librarian with the Legal Deposit team in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Behind the scenes at the library: a glance at cataloguing librarianship

By Arouce Wasty

October is Library Month, a time to celebrate libraries and the work that librarians, library technicians and library staff do to ensure that knowledge and information resources are available and accessible to everyone. In the spirit of this month, let us look at a side of the library not normally visible to library-goers and library staff. We’ll take a behind-the-scenes look at the work of the cataloguing librarian.

A black-and-white photograph of two women in a library. One is looking through a card catalogue and the other is holding a book and looking at the work of the other.

An archival image of librarians processing books. Photograph taken March 1941 (MIKAN 3571070)

You’ll rarely, if ever, see a cataloguing librarian behind the reference desk at your local library. Often, cataloguing librarians work in a different building—though one just as packed with books as the library itself, if not more so! The cataloguing librarian, along with cataloguing technicians, prepares the various resources, such as books, CDs, DVDs, video games, etc., to be placed within the main library. Furthermore, they enter the bibliographic information from these library items into the library’s computer system. The main goal of cataloguing is to enter accurate bibliographic information for an item, making that item easy to find through the library catalogue.

Seems fairly simple, right? Actually, cataloguing can be quite complex. Essentially, there are two major steps in cataloguing: descriptive cataloguing and subject analysis.

Descriptive cataloguing involves finding and entering information describing the library item according to cataloguing standards. Descriptive information includes pieces of information such as the name of the author, the title, the name of the publisher, the number of pages, the file type, and so on. These pieces of information are entered into the bibliographic record for that item.

Next is the subject analysis of the item. Here, the cataloguing librarian determines the main topic presented by the item. This is where things can get quite tricky. Even if the librarian figures out the subject of the item, s/he has to use tools such as Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH), or Canadian Subject Headings (CSH), to find the appropriate term(s) or heading(s) associated with the subject. For example, for a book about cars, the appropriate subject heading, according to LCSH, would be “Automobiles”, and not “Cars”. Sometimes multiple terms are put together to create a subject heading. For example, a book about the social conditions of African countries in the 1990s would likely have the subject heading “Africa—Social conditions—20th century”. Some items may have multiple subject headings to cover either the range of major topics they touch on or all the aspects of a topic they discuss.

Another aspect of subject analysis is assigning a call number to the item. A call number groups the item with others on the same subject. You may be familiar with the Dewey Decimal System used in public libraries; academic libraries use the Library of Congress Classification system. A cataloguing librarian assigns either one or both of these types of call numbers to an item. Call numbers and subject headings are also entered into the bibliographic record.

A colour screen capture of a cataloguing entry showing the division of descriptive and subject information.

Figure 1: Example of a bibliographic record

Remember, cataloguing is not just about describing or determining the subject of an item. The main aim of cataloguing is to allow library users to find and access library items. Descriptive cataloguing allows users to find items via the library catalogue by using keyword searches as well as advanced search options, such as title or author searches. Subject analysis allows library users to find items on a particular subject by using the “subject search” option in their local library catalogue. And, of course, call numbers allow users to find the item on the library shelves.

This is just a glimpse of the work of cataloguing librarians and technicians. Although you may never see or meet with them, the work they do has a great impact on the workings of a library and the experience of the library user.


Arouce Wasty is a cataloguing librarian in the Descriptive Division of Published Heritage.

ISBNs and ISMNs: did you know?

Did you know that Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is the national agency responsible for issuing ISBNs (for English publications only) and ISMNs to Canadian publishers?

This week, LAC is honoured to host the annual general meetings for the International ISBN Agency and the International ISMN Agency, and to welcome delegates attending from national and regional agencies around the world. Work done by these international agencies to coordinate and supervise the world-wide use of the standards ensures that they meet the present and future needs of the publishing industry.

What is an ISBN?

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Publishers, booksellers, and libraries have used them since the early 1970s to identify each unique edition of a publication. These numbers provide an unduplicated, internationally recognized identifier used in publisher inventories, online retail systems, and library catalogues. Each different format of a publication (e.g., hardcover, softcover, MOBI, EPUB, PDF) is assigned a separate ISBN, so that the correct format can be easily ordered or retrieved.

A photo of the back cover of four books showing the ISBN and barcode of each.

ISBNs are assigned to monographic publications such as books, e-books, and maps.

What is an ISMN?

ISMN stands for International Standard Music Number. Introduced in 1993 as a unique identifier for notated music, music publishers request ISMNs for scores and sheet music collections, including digital sheet music. They are not used for recorded music or books about music. A separate ISMN is assigned to each separately available format and component (e.g. full score, vocal score).

An image of the first line in the sheet music for the song Oh Canada.

ISMNs are assigned to scores and sheet music.

The elements of an ISBN/ISMN

Far from being a random number, the 13-digit number is composed of four or five meaningful elements providing valuable information about an item’s publishing location or language, publisher, and publisher’s size. For example, ISBN 978-0-660-05896-2 (a Government of Canada publication) breaks down as follows:

978:       The prefix element, needed to create a 13-digit barcode, identifies the number as an ISBN. (The prefix element for ISMNs is 979-0.)

0:  The registration group element identifies the country, region, or language area. English-speaking areas are 0 or 1. French-speaking areas are 2. (ISMNs do not use the group element, since music is international.)

660:  The registrant element identifies a particular publisher. The number of digits in this element varies according to the size of a publisher’s expected output. Large publishers have short registrant elements, while small publishers have long ones.

05896:  The publication element identifies a specific publication by a publisher. A long number indicates that a publisher has published (or expects to publish) many titles, while a short number indicates the opposite.

2:  The check digit verifies that the previous digits are correct, and is calculated by an algorithm.

The ISBN 978-0-660-05896-2 has five elements: 978 is the prefix that identifies the number as an ISBN; 0 identifies a country, region or language area; 660 identifies the publisher; 05896 identifies the publication; 2 is the check digit.

Dissecting the ISBN.

Canadian publishers or self-publishers should contact the ISBN and ISMN agencies at LAC to obtain the appropriate number of ISBNs or ISMNs needed for their publications.

Contact us

Please note that French language publishers must obtain their ISBNs from the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Anything to declare? Yes, it’s of Canadian interest

By Louise Tousignant

The mandate of Library and Archives Canada (LAC) includes acquiring published material that is Canadian or of Canadian interest. In collecting this material, LAC aims for a national Canadiana collection that is as comprehensive as possible. Canadian material published in Canada is received through legal deposit while material of Canadian interest is published in other countries but has a Canadian creator or subject. Creators could be authors, illustrators, translators or artists. Works of Canadian interest, being published abroad, are acquired through gifts or targeted purchases.

Of those titles of Canadian interest received recently, there are studies on, and analyses of, Canada: Canada/États-Unis : les enjeux d’une frontière, Comparative North American Studies: Transnational Approaches to American and Canadian Literature and Culture, and Canadian Perspectives on Immigration in Small Cities.

Other works are also related to Canada; for instance, Negotiations in the Indigenous World: Aboriginal Peoples and the Extractive Industry in Australia and Canada and Indian Agents: Rulers of the Reserves delve into Indigenous matters.

Famous Canadians have also been the subject of scrutiny: painter Alex Colville in The Mystery of the Real: Letters of the Canadian Artist Alex Colville and Biographer Jeffrey Meyers; journalist and author Jane Jacobs in the biography Becoming Jane Jacobs; and singer and musician Alanis Morissette, whose work is explored in The Words and Music of Alanis Morissette. Canadians who made their names in Hollywood have also been featured in several books. William Shatner, born in Montréal and an ambassador for his hometown’s 375th anniversary celebrations and best known for his role as Captain James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” television series, recently released Leonard: My Fifty-Year Friendship with a Remarkable Man. Acclaimed Hamilton-born actor Martin Short, who became a star on the “Saturday Night Live” TV show, authored the memoir I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend.

A black-and-white photo of a woman with long hair leaning against a wrought iron fence.

Portrait of Alanis Morissette by Bryan Adams. Photo signed by Alanis Morissette. 1999 (MIKAN 3614421)

Here at home, Canadians have also had their works published in other countries: Quebec’s Guy Delisle, with the comic book S’enfuir : récit d’un otage, published by Dargaud; illustrator Yanick Paquette, the man behind Wonder Woman, with his Wonder Woman, Earth One. Volume 1 comic book; and Louise Penny, with The Long Way Home, which was published by Minotaur Books and became a New York Times number 1 bestseller.

Finally, some titles of Canadian interest in the national collection are directly linked to LAC’s archival fonds. These holdings allow for greater in-depth study of authors and their international profiles, and support research into Canadian literature. Examples include translations of works by children’s writer and illustrator Marie-Louise Gay, and by Sri Lankan–born Canadian poet, novelist and filmmaker Michael Ondaatje. Regarding Marie-Louise Gay, ¿Alguna pregunta?, a Spanish translation of Any Questions?, was published in Mexico in 2015; Angela en de ijsbeer is a Dutch version of Angel and the Polar Bear; and Bolle-Bertils sirkus is Fat Charlie’s Circus translated into Norwegian. As for Michael Ondaatje, LAC holds no fewer than 20 translations of his best-known novel, The English Patient, including versions in Bulgarian, Japanese and Italian. His novel won the Booker Prize and the Governor General’s Award in 1992, while the film adaptation received nine Oscars at the Academy Awards in 1997.

A colour photo of a seated, smiling woman. Blurred pencil crayons can be seen in the foreground.

Marie-Louise Gay. Canadian children’s writer and illustrator. @Groundwood Books

Colour photograph of a book open at the title page written in Bulgarian.

The English Patient published in Bulgarian by Delfi in 2000 (AMICUS 32172817)

Colour photograph of a book open at the title page written in Japanese.

The English Patient published in Japanese by Shinch⁻osha in 1996 (AMICUS 15875585)

Colour photograph of a book open at the title page: Michael Ondaatje Il Paziente Inglese.

The English Patient published in Italian by Garzanti in 2004 (AMICUS 32785464)

This brief overview is just a sampling of the variety of publications about Canada and of Canadian interest. The painstaking work of sorting through published material continues to ensure the growth of Canada’s documentary heritage and the development of the collections, and to make the national Canadiana collection the most extensive in the world.


Louise Tousignant is an acquisitions librarian in the Published Heritage Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

Government of Canada Publications: On your MARCs… Get set… Go!

A new MARC21 bibliographic record service from Library and Archives Canada for Canadian libraries

Every year, the Government of Canada publishes numerous publications, including research reports, conference proceedings, and much more. Many of these publications are available through the Depository Services Program (DSP) managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada. Since 1927, the DSP has gathered and distributed government publications every year to Canadian libraries. With the transition from print material to electronic publications, the DSP has now evolved into a centralized, online weekly distribution service that provides access to electronic government publications.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has a legislated mandate to be “the permanent repository of publications for the Government of Canada” (Library and Archives Canada Act, S.C. 2004, c. 11). Thousands of government publications are acquired through various means—such as the DSP, donations, and gifts—and in various formats.

With the increasing volume of electronic content being published by the Government of Canada, the need for timely, efficient and accurate cataloguing of government publications becomes even more necessary to ensure access and discoverability not only for LAC and its users, but also for all Canadian libraries and their users.

A black-and-white photograph of young woman giving a pile of books to a seaman. They are both standing on the deck of a boat with the harbor in the background.

Leading Wren Ruth Church, Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS) delivering a supply of library books to Able Seaman Bill Swetman of HMCS PETROLIA, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, November 1944. (MIKAN 3519918)

Continue reading

New additions to Rare Books album now on Flickr

 

A colour photograph of an open book on a blue background showing a very well dressed man on the verso and an elaborately illustrated frontispiece on the recto.

Walton’s Polyglot Bible, Volume 1, 1654. Left: engraved portrait of Brian Walton. Right: engraved title page (AMICUS 940077)

The Rare Book Collection at Library and Archives Canada is one of the largest collections of rare Canadiana in the world. Canadiana is defined as works printed in Canada or printed outside of Canada but concerning Canada, written or illustrated by Canadians.

Visit the Flickr album now!

Superheroes of the Digital Universe: Digitizing the Bell Features Collection

By Meaghan Scanlon

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is excited to announce a new digital resource for fans of Canadian comic books. The Bell Features Collection of Second World War-era comics has been completely digitized and is now available to researchers online.

The Bell Features Collection consists of 382 comic books, most in multiple copies, published in the 1940s by the Canadian comic book publisher Bell Features. These comics showcase an astounding selection of Canadian heroes such as Nelvana of the Northern Lights, Johnny Canuck, and Dixon of the Mounted.

Between November 2015 and March 2016, LAC’s digitization staff painstakingly photographed one copy of each issue held in the collection—a total of 193 comic books. At between 50 and 60 pages per comic, that’s around 10,000 pages!

Creating electronic copies of these delicate documents from LAC’s collection involved hours of careful labour from technicians in our digitization labs, who follow rigorous standards to get the best possible images while preserving the condition of the items.

The process begins with a technician placing a comic on a flat copy stand under an overhead camera, making sure to line the comic up with the camera so that the image taken will be straight. A sheet of Plexiglas is laid over the item to keep it flat. The Plexiglas is on small risers to ensure as little contact as possible with the surface of the comic. This helps prevent damaging the item by placing too much pressure on its spine. Every superhero has an archenemy, and so, too, does the digitization specialist: dust. A single particle on the Plexiglas can create a spot that ruins an image. The technician keeps an anti-static blower on hand to defeat this threat.

A comic book is placed on a flat black surface underneath a sheet of Plexiglas. A woman leans over the surface, using an anti-static blower to remove dust from the Plexiglas. The lens of a camera is visible above the table.

A digitization technician uses an anti-static blower to remove dust from the sheet of Plexiglas covering the comic book she is about to photograph. The camera lens can be seen suspended above the copy stand.

Once the comic book is in place, the technician uses an overhead camera to take a photograph. For the Bell Features Collection, a Phase One 645DF+ camera body with an IQ260 digital back and an 80-mm lens was used, with an F11 focus and a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. The image taken with the camera is automatically uploaded to the technician’s computer, where she checks for imperfections. If she is satisfied with the image quality, she crops it in Photoshop and moves on to the next page.

A woman faces a computer monitor showing an image of a page from a comic book.

A digitization technician checks for imperfections in the digitized image of a page from Slam-Bang Comics no. 7 (AMICUS 42623987), with art by Adrian Dingle.

This entire process is repeated for each page of each comic book. Once all the pages of an issue have been photographed and the images corrected, a PDF version is created. Finally, this PDF is uploaded to LAC’s servers and a link is added to the relevant record in LAC’s online library catalogue.

If you’re interested in checking out a few of these newly digitized old Canadian comics, you can find a small sample on our website. Hungry for more? The finding aid attached to the catalogue record for the Bell Features Collection (AMICUS 43122013) includes links to all of the digitized comics. You can also access them via the catalogue records for each of the individual titles in the Bell Features Collection; see for example the record for Active Comics (AMICUS 16526991).

In the Ottawa area? Encounter some of Bell Features’ characters on a bigger scale when you visit LAC’s exhibition Alter Ego: Comics and Canadian Identity. It runs at 395 Wellington Street in Ottawa until September 14th. Admission is free.

Additional resources


Meaghan Scanlon is the Special Collections Librarian in the Published Heritage Branch at Library and Archives Canada.