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.
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.
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.