Readings in Canadian Library History, 2


407 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88802-269-7
DDC 027.071




Edited by Peter F. McNally
Reviewed by John D. Blackwell

John D. Blackwell is Reference Librarian/Collections Coordinator of the
Goldfarb Library at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.


Canadian library history is a largely undeveloped field of study. This
seminal volume of pioneering work opens up numerous vistas for

Peter F. McNally, an associate professor at McGill University’s
Graduate School of Library and Information Studies and the founder of
the Canadian Library Association’s Library History Interest Group, has
edited three collections of articles on this subject area. The current
volume of 17 essays (one of which is in French and all of which are
peer-reviewed and documented) by 15 leading librarian scholars covers
such diverse themes as library education, public libraries, and
biography. A section entitled “Diverse Perspectives” contains a
particularly engaging historical survey of fires in Canadian libraries.
The volume’s detailed index greatly facilitates access to this rich
body of material. Unfortunately, there are no illustrations to enhance
the text and the book’s prohibitive price will severely limit its

Perhaps the most valuable contributions in this collection are
McNally’s two bibliographic essays outlining the development of the
English and French literature in Canadian library history up to 1964 and
from 1985 to 1991 (two other contributions in the first volume of this
set cover the period 1964-1984. He enumerates the strengths, weaknesses,
and numerous lacunae in the scholarship, and thereby charts the course
for further investigation.

This volume makes a number of important points. First, even though
libraries are a key aspect of our sociocultural heritage, their role has
been overlooked by mainstream historians in Canada. There has not even
been much research done on the leading figures who built the library
system in this country. Second, unlike Great Britain and the United
States, “Canada is still, as it has always been, a poor book
country” (Guy Sylvestre, National Librarian, 1979); fortunately, the
Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproduction has done much to
locate, reproduce, and make accessible our national print heritage.
Third, the literature is now sufficiently mature that some synthesis is
feasible using the French histoire du livre and other intellectual

Anyone interested in this emerging field of scholarship should also
consult The History of the Book in Canada (1993), a bibliography
compiled by Mark Bartlett et al.


“Readings in Canadian Library History, 2,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed December 3, 2023,