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That will be tuppence for that overdue quarto, Sir…

May 5, 2010

Montreal’s library scene is a strange one, worthy of a whole post of its own.  Sufficed to say that, due to the fractured and multi-lingual nature of the place, its library service is patchy at best.  It also has several ‘independent libraries”, public libraries which are not linked to, or funded by, any particular municipality.  One of these is Atwater Library and Computer Centre, down by the old Forum, which developed out of the Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal.  Originally founded in 1828 as the Montreal Mechanics Institution, its activities were suspended in 1835 due to political unrest – not surprising since its board included Molson, Papineau, and the sheriff of Montreal. Awkward.

In 1840, post rebellion, the institute was reincorporated as Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal under the aegis of John Redpath. In 1855 it opened its own building at the corner of Great St. James and St. Peter streets, the highlight of which was its reading room.  To accompany their new library space, the institute published a snazzy new edition of their Catalogue and rules, and thanks to the miracle of digitization, they’re available to everyone online here.

I haven’t had time yet to look through the catalogue in depth, but I have looked at the rules.   What stands out is how little they’ve changed really: they have fines, and renewals, and holds… There are differences too, of course – the length of the loan period and fines were dependent on the size of the book (i.e. quarto vs. octavo) and “Any Member lending a Book to any other person shall be fined two shillings and sixpence.” – but over all it’s really clear to see how the modern public library developed out of these mechanics institute reading rooms.  It’s worth noting that, although Atwater lays claim to being the only Mechanics Institute still in operation, the fact is that most municipal libraries, such as Toronto Public Library, also developed out of, and eventually subsumed, local mechanics institutes.

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Preserving Wonderland

March 3, 2010

When we toured the LAC preservation centre in Ottawa last week (which was awesome)  it was pretty clear, if not expressly stated,  that their priorities these days have shifted away from working on books,  to dealing with AV materials.  Firm fan of the book though I am,  I entirely understand why.  The book is a relatively stable medium: treat it properly and you can store it away for centuries without worry.  Sound and film, by contrast, are not only subject to age-related deterioration,  but obsolescence.  I am constantly amazed at the miracles film preservationists are able to work with film.  Take for example the very first movie version of Alice in Wonderland,  which was shot in 1903,  and recently posted online by the BFI.  The sole, seriously water-damaged copy of it was found in a cinema in Hove.  It’s still pretty beat up, but considering how badly it’s been cared for, and how old it is,  you realize the amazing amount of work that must have gone in to making it watchable.   All I can say is thank goodness that we have places like the LAC and BFI with such talented restorers to ensure that gems like these will still be around in another hundred years.

Talk about an information package…

March 2, 2010

When you decide to become a librarian,  you suddenly find they’re everywhere.  It seems like every time I tell someone what I’m studying,  they always seem to know someone who got an MLIS.  And they pop up all over the place in pop culture, too.   Right now I’m super excited because we masters of shushing are starring in on one of my favourite webcomics,  the acerbically witty Girls With Slingshots by Danielle Corsetto.  Not only has the mom of main character Hazel turned out to be a librarian,  but Hazel was just assaulted with a  dildo (it hit her in the head) for not telling her friend Clarice, who desperately wants to join our happy band.   I have a great deal of sympathy for Clarice.   The closest she’s gotten to her dream of being a librarian is working in an adult bookstore (hence the deadly-weapon dildo).  The way my summer job hunt is going these days, that could well be me pretty soon!

Oh, and BTW: if you’re going to Google the terms “sexy librarian”, make sure the parental filters are on.   Lets just say it brings a whole new meaning to the term hardcover.  *shudder*.

Gasp, it’s GASP!

March 2, 2010

I am normally leery of anything that involves a cutesy acronym.  When Alex Yarrow of Ottawa Public Library explained to our visiting class group that OPL had (oh horrors!) hired a consultant and used a system with the conveniently adorable name of GASP (Graphics, Ambiance, Style, Presentation) to manage the refurbishment of their branches, I was skeptical to say the least.  Having emerged out of the hospitality industry, the point of GASP is to create a unified look that represents the values of the organization without each branch being cookie-cutter identical. Members from all parts of the organization are invited to come up with adjectives that described how they felt the system should be in each of the GASP categories.  Perhaps not surprisingly the first library to use the GASP system was in West Palm Beach.

Looking around the newly refurbished Rideau branch, I had to admit it was pretty nice,  but I wasn’t convinced that it required a bunch of touchy-feely buzz-wording to co-ordinate your paint with your carpet.  It wasn’t until after the presentation, at the reception in the programme room downstairs (ooh, chocolate cheesecake bites, score!) that I grasped what the whole GASP thing was about.  Our hosts had displayed sample boards and designs for the branches they were refurbishing, and looking at them all together, I suddenly got it.  It wasn’t so much that each branch matched within itself (which it did) but that each branch matched each other.  And while you couldn’t necessarily tell what message the designs were supposed to be sending, it was clear that they were all on the same page, and that page looked pretty spiffy.

Do I think that every library should drop a bajillion dollars on a consultant to GASP them? No.  But I do think that the basic idea of having a unified vision of what your library should be, and extending that to all aspects of design and service is a good one. Gasp!

If you want to know more about the OPL GASP project,  it’s all online here.