A Life with Books & Libraries: Past, Present, & Future

By McNally, Peter F. | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

A Life with Books & Libraries: Past, Present, & Future


McNally, Peter F., Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


SOMMAIRE

Cette histoire personnelle d'une vie passee dans les livres et les bibliotheques debute dans un village ontarien, se poursuit dans la ville de London pour finalement aboutir a Montreal. L'amour des livres et des bibliotheques se transforme peu a peu en travaux universitaires et erudits. La discussion jette la lumiere sur les bases theoriques de la bibliographie et les defis que pose le texte numerique. En soulevant cette question, l'auteur souligne l'importance de preserver nos collections uniques de recherche a l'ere electronique. Il enonce en outre les principes et les postulats qui definissent la bibliotheque ainsi que les dangers potentiels auxquels font face de nos jours les collections de recherche, tels que leur conversion dans les depots de livres numeriques.

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Inspiration for a life with books and libraries comes from many sources. My personal journey of discovery began with a small town public library, and a family that appreciated reading and learning. In retrospect, I can now appreciate that circumstances and inclination have provided me with unique opportunities for living with books and libraries, and also for studying and theorizing about their role over time in society. The personal and academic have proceeded hand-in-hand as complementary sides of the same coin.

I grew up in the small, southwestern-Ontario town of Tillsonburg, five thousand people strong, after the Second World War. Standard diversions consisted of school, church, movies, radio, the newly emerging television, swimming pool in the summer, and skating rink in the winter. Only a few blocks from our home stood a small Carnegie Library, now sadly replaced by a larger, modern building. With steep stairs leading through columns and arches into the reading room and stacks, the old library was truly a home away from home. I read my way diligently through much of its collection, including all the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries, usually with a television blaring in the background! That my youthful enthusiasm for television has largely evaporated will surprise few people. I was particularly impressed with the library's regularly changing stock of British and American periodical titles, mostly disappeared, including the Illustrated London News, Country Life, Saturday Evening Post, and Look. They kept reminding me of the much wider world existing beyond our town. Mrs. Mason, the Librarian, widow of a local bank manager, may not have been technically the most proficient of librarians, but she did realize that there was no stopping a young adolescent from reading whatever he wanted, even if it veered occasionally into racy adult fiction by writers like Shellabarger, Sabatini, and Frank Yerby. Contemporary novelists like C.P. Snow would also catch my attention. Interestingly, it was usually historical fiction that captured my imagination. High school English and history courses inspired both fiction and non-fiction reading.

The town had no bookstore, and school library collections were rarely to my taste. Family collections yielded reading treasures, such as novels, picture books by the Scottish publisher, Blackie, and the Book of Knowledge encyclopedia that I read assiduously. Comic books were an important source of reading material, with "Classic" comics introducing me to serious literature! Vivid childhood memories persist of my mother, a teacher, encircled by my friends and me in our backyard on hot summer evenings reading aloud chapters from Robinson Crusoe and Swiss Family Robinson whose powerful narrative enthralled us all. Perhaps it augured a future career in research that I thought then of keeping a permanent record of my reading. I never followed through, but I did develop the habit of noting when and where I purchased a book.

As an undergraduate student at the nearby University of Western Ontario, I attended a required course on library use taught by future Tremaine Medal recipient, Olga Bishop, who graded my final assignment at 100%--surely a harbinger of my becoming a librarian. …

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