Why I’m a member of the Canadian Library Association

The CLA is dead.  Long live the CLA.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past year, then you know about the CLA’s plans to dissolve its divisions and other internal bodies and replace them with networks.  My read on things is simple: the networks are hoped to be nimble, member-driven groups that can organize Canadian librarians, strengthen their voices, and improve participation in the Association itself.   This change is coming at *great* expense to the former divisions, such as CACUL, CASL, etc., but I’m hopeful we’ll see some benefits from this in the long run.

I’m hopeful we’ll see benefits in the long run because the CLA needs it.  Librarians of all stripes can gain a lot by being part of a broad-based, national umbrella organization.  In my mind, the CLA still has the potential to speak for our profession (yes, librarianship is a profession, but a “small-p profession”.)  It has the potential to represent the wide range of opinions, activities, and values of librarians across Canada, and it has the potential to be an advocate for our concerns within the community and within society at large.  But right now, it doesn’t do that so well.  The CLA remains a player in the “acronyms market”, but it has to compete with so many other associations that are regional (e.g., OLA, APLA) or professional (e.g., CHLA,  CALL).  And it also has to compete for our attention and membership fees with the granddaddy of all library associations, the ALA and all its own divisions and councils, which can offer its members a wealth of networking and information-sharing opportunities.  In short, the CLA is being pinched, which is diminishing its ability to be a strong, nation-wide advocate for librarianship and information science, and for information policy.

But this crisis shows us why we really do need a strong CLA and why we should all invest our time into the CLA’s new network structure.  What do we lose by leaving the CLA?  Whether you leave the CLA reluctantly or willfully, you are diminishing a nation-wide body’s ability to advocate for you and the profession.  Our membership in the CLA is what lends it authority to be an expert not only on copyright and the book rate, but also on data curation, on open access to government information, on the census, on teaching and learning, on privacy in a public sphere, and on how to build an Internet that works for our grandmother in Random Cape Nowhere as well as it does for our cousin John who lives in a suburb pre-wired for Fiber Op.

These are the things the CLA can do.   These are the things that a national association should be doing.   The national association has let a lot of people down in the past few years; that can’t be denied or understated.  But it is only a national association that can raise our concerns in our communities, in our regions, and in all of our capitals.   As strong as the OLA is (and I don’t mean to pick on the OLA), it cannot speak for librarians and libraries in my home province of Nova Scotia.   And although our membership with the ALA gives us incredible value for the money spent, its Washington Office doesn’t have the time or desire to look into what’s going on in Ottawa.  Only a national Canadian library association can do this.

I’m not going to deny that CLA membership is expensive, because it is.  It is especially expensive for newer librarians such as myself, who often are working term contracts and are lucky to be able to expense these fees.  (This is a pity since recent graduates have so much energy and potential that must be tapped for the CLA to fulfill its mandate, I believe).  And I’m not going to deny that profession-specific associations can offer librarians a community of peers that better resembles him or herself, because if you’re a health librarian, then the CHLA conference probably has more sessions that pique your interest than the CLA can, or if you’re a law librarian, then CALL’s community probably speaks to the day-to-day issues you face in your workplace better than the larger CLA community can.  But these facts, which can’t be denied, can’t deny the greater fact that a national professional association, when properly charged, can raise the profile of the profession, affect policy-making and governance, and produce positive change within society at large.

The new Networks policy at the CLA is far from perfect and I don’t think everything is going to be sorted out overnight.  But if you have any care or any grievance at all with the library profession in Canada, then now is a perfect time to get involved with the CLA because you can make a difference immediately by proposing and organizing these networks and communities.  It’s an opportunity to stake a claim and to make it known that your issue, belief, goal, or intention is so important that it warrants nation-wide attention and discussion.  This is the time to make it happen.

Whether you call yourself an academic librarian, a public librarian, a health librarian or law librarian or anything else, remember that the adjective only modifies the noun: you’re a librarian first and foremost, and librarian isn’t a dirty word.  The CLA won’t ever please everyone, but it is the professional body in Canada that gives librarians of all stripes a chance to affect change in their workplaces and in their communities all across the country.   Change is slow – it always will be – but change can happen, and you can be a part of it.  Consider taking part in a CLA Network and being part of positive change, for the good of you and your peers, the good of your workplace, and of your community.


Remembering Norman Horrocks (1927-2010)

Norman Horrocks, 1927-2010
Norman Horrocks, 1927-2010

Norman Horrocks passed away yesterday, October 14, 2010.  He was a scholar and gentleman.  He was a recipient of the Order of Canada.  He was a professor, teacher, librarian, publisher, and all-round good guy.

I’m not going to list off everything that Dr  Horrocks has done in his life since you can find those details elsewhere.  There are some important things we should recall, such as his work with the LA/CILIP, the ALA, and the CLA; his war service for Britain; his unsurpassed knowledge of government documents collections and organization in several jurisdictions, and his work with the School of Information Management at Dalhousie University.  It’s this work with SIM that matters most to me and to so many others today.  What matters is the way this man has affected so many people’s lives.

This afternoon, after a reference meeting at Dal’s Killam Library, word got out amoung my fellow librarians that Dr Horrocks had passed on.  I looked around the office, and as the most recent hire (and as Dr Horrocks’ last student amoung my colleagues), I realized that nearly everyone I worked with had themselves either worked with or been taught by Dr Horrocks.  And as for the few people in the office who had not had the occasion to shake this man’s hand, they surely have been touched by his work with so many of our professional associations and standing committees.

We all have our favourite moments to remember Norman Horrocks by.  For me, it was a chance encounter at the 2009 CLA Conference in Montreal.  I attended on a scholarship but had to remit my expenses after the fact, so I chose to stay at an inn which was not a conference hotel in order to save a few dollars.  On the second day of the conference, I bumped into Dr Horrocks and we exchanged pleasantries.  How was the weather, how I was enjoying my first CLA conference, etc.  He then he asked me how I was enjoying my stay at this hotel.  I told him I liked it very much and that I had a really decent sleep the night before.   That’s when I realized I hadn’t yet told anyone where I was staying.  I called Dr Horrocks on this and asked him how he found out which hotel I booked with.  He smiled and winked his eye at me, and then he walked away, quietly chuckling at my expense.  To this day, I still don’t know how he found out where I was staying that weekend.  But that’s Dr Horrocks for you and that’s how he rolls.

It was a quiet, rainy, Friday afternoon today in Halifax.  The city is silent and grey, but it’s not completely on account of the weather.  Godspeed, Dr Horrocks.

Managing Terror

Ed.Note.  I’m real excited by this post.   This week, a good friend and colleague, Brian Dewar, of Luther College High School in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, gives us some advice on taking on a new position when you’re a brand new librarian.  Look for more posts by Brian in the weeks to come.


I’m Brian Dewar, and I recently took a job managing a library at a private high school in Regina. After some initial reservations (not the least of which was confronting an inherent – and unfounded – prejudice against high school libraries), I pursued the opportunity. What I found once I got to Regina was surprising: no OPAC or ILS, circulation was exclusively done via cards, students and teachers were regularly circulating library materials outside of a controlled system, and the collection had not been properly organized for some time. Needless to say, upon finding my library in this state, I was intimidated by the enormity of the tasks and my morale was low.

Managing Terror

If you were anything like me, you did not emerge from library school brimming with confidence. I had a vague idea of how things are, a notion of how things should be, and no idea whatever about how to get from here to there. There were (and honestly, still are,) a lot of unknowns in my library. And there’s no denying it – unknowns are scary. But it’s not really the unknowns themselves that are frightening, it’s the implication of powerlessness that comes with them. It’s incredibly difficult to solve problems that you don’t understand and can’t define. So to regain a sense of control, I needed to answer these questions:

  • What are this library’s problems?
  • How can I solve them?
  • In what order do they need to be solved?

I decided that I needed library infrastructure in order to accomplish anything in my library in terms of outreach, collection-building, or research support. Developing this foundation has included surveying the collection to determine the capacity an ILS would need to have, researching available systems and matching those systems to the library’s needs, buying the system, and then inputting all of the cataloguing data into the system. After I finish accomplishing these tasks, I can begin to build the collections in earnest, and then use those resources to aid students.

The basic strategy of:

Acquire and utilize an ILS ==> Begin to rebuild the collection, using the newly acquired infrastructure ==> Use those newfound resources to educate and perform outreach for students

has enabled me to move from the terrified position of helplessness that I felt on my first day. I now have a benchmark against which to weigh any action – I can ask myself, “is doing this thing going to further my goals? Does it follow the order of the plan?” Being able to ask myself those questions allows me to filter the sheer amount of things that need to be done into more manageable, discrete segments. Would I like to be teaching a mandatory anti-plagiarism course for students caught cheating? I’d love to – but I haven’t advanced to that part of the plan yet. These things have been prioritized, and the plan must be respected in order to have any value at all.

So, for any other new librarians out there: making a plan alleviated my anxiety in a new position. While admittedly I have more autonomy than most, within the constraints of any job, making (and owning!) a plan can make all the difference. Speaking personally, too, I’m so much happier knowing that it’s my plan that I’m carrying out. And because of that control, my morale couldn’t be higher.

Brian Dewar is the Librarian at Luther College High School in Regina. He enjoys boxing, baking, and biking.

Memory Banks. Or: Why I’m Here

I’ve been revising and editing this post for several days now.  It has shifted back and forth from its original faux-flowery-rhetoric to become a “mission statement”, but has more or less developed into a middle-of-the-road affirmation of sorts.  On the one hand, one could say it declares to the world what I’m interested in and why ‘m interested in it.  On the other, it might be a sideways declaration to myself that interests such as these are in fact interesting and thought-provoking in their own right.

I’ve been interested in the plastic, unreliable nature of memory for several years now.  Our ability to think, remember, and forget has always been a bit of a secondary curiosity throughout my academic career, but it began to hog the limelight in the last year of my BA when I was researching in one course early modern conceptions of memory and mnemonic devices, and in another course the unreliable, ahistorical, and permeable nature of memory – as evidenced in so much post-modern and sci-fi literature.  Memory and the post-modern condition became my little pet projects for a good eighteen months or so, since these themes carried over into term papers I wrote when I began my MA.  To a certain degree, they both remain threads that tie my thoughts together (or loosen them).

Somewhere along the way, I became intrigued with the concept of the mind as a mental storehouse.  There is a nice little metaphor of this in the second book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, where Guyon, the hero, makes his way with Arthur through a castle which is an allegorical structure of the mind and body.  Guyon eventually encounters three wise old sages, who together the parts of the mind – foresight, advice and memory.  Memory sits in a room full of manuscripts, texts, scrolls and rolls, constantly recording that which the parts of the body encounter (or something to that effect).  Within an elegant twist of time, Spenser has Memory shift to a future-past tense in order recount the future-history of Arthur, Guyon, and Britain to the heroes and to the reader.  Beyond these particular details, however, lie Spenser’s important characterization of memory as a room full to the brim of records and books waiting to be accessed.  And these texts are a record not only of the person, but of the entire nation.

Independent of my time in “Faeryland”, I began to look upon the libraries I walked in and researched in for so long as similar physical storehouses of cultural and literary memory.  The books we look for in the stacks of our libraries are simple remembrances to be reconsidered whenever our society looks to recall that knowledge.  The setting of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient reinforced this idea with a poetic polish and rhetorical flourish I could only dream of: the text, we recall, is set predominantly in the bombed shell of a house.  Its characters read the books in the house’s library, take on the characteristics of these characters, and even rebuild the house from the books themselves.  Important to the plot is the Patient’s own journal, a palimpsest of excerpts, pages, notes and remembrances from other books and from his own travails.  Ondaatje created characters and settings that are archives of other people and of other settings; reading his text was akin to adding kindle to the idea in my own mind of people and places as their own sites of memory.

So it is then that I find myself espousing the metaphor of the archive as our storehouse of thoughts and remembrances.  Although  this archive-as-memory concept wasn’t my main motivation to enroll in an MLIS programme, and I understand that the courses I will eventually take in Archiving will likely be more practical in nature, I’m allowing myself to hold onto this metaphor because it keeps in mind many of the larger cultural and theoretical issues that drive my person.  The profound changes in librarianship and in the physical design of libraries in the past twenty years demand that we reconsider the notion of the archive as the site of cultural memory.  On the one hand, open libraries are making access to this memory easier and more accessible; on the other, the digitization of so much information is potentially filling our minds with too much knowledge (some of it potentially misleading) to sift through.  These are only two considerations within in a host of others, of course.  As public spaces, archives and libraries are in many ways contested sites of power, authority and legitimacy.  What is entered into the archive, by which mandate and under which funding agreement, for instance, can severely affect that which we choose, or even persuaded to remember.

I’m not going to speak exclusively to these concerns in this blog, and I’m certainly not going to limit myself to archiving and memory.  But I think that for at least the next little while, until I reconcile some of the arguments being teased out in my own mind or until I move on to another interesting subject, that these issues will often be brought to the fore on this particular site.  (We’ll see..)