Some Challenges facing the Modern Research Library, Part 2.

This is part 2 of the written text of my presentation for the New Frontiers Graduate History Conference at York University.  Click here to see Part 1.  Here I outline some possible solutions and future steps for the Wilfrid Jury Library at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology.

Future Steps

The unfortunate thing in this process has been that I do not think I will have enough time to finish everything that I want to accomplish–a common reality in the not-for-profit sector.  My research assistantship ends at the beginning of April.  Much of what I would like to do will have to be completed by someone else.  Nevertheless, here are some future steps I would recommend for the library moving forward.

Remove the items we do not need off-site 

There are several ways the Executive Director and I have discussed to accomplish this.  The first method we are going to explore is a book sale.  Like many small museums, the Museum of Archaeology is struggling for funding.  If we could make some money off of these books, we would gratefully accept it.  We may also invite rare and antique book dealers in the London area to come around and peruse the books we are de-accessioning as well.

We will also explore donating the books to not-for-profits in the city.  We will first approach our colleagues at the University of Western Ontario since we are an affiliate of the University.  We will approach institutions such as the various libraries on campus, as well as the various departments such as History, Anthropology, and First Nations Studies.  I doubt though, that any of these institutions will take them because the departments on campus do not typically have libraries, and for Western Libraries collecting the books that we would want to donate would be in violation of their collection management policy, mainly because of their age, and that they already likely have their own copies of what we’re giving away.[1] [2]  We will also approach registered charities in the community such as Goodwill and Salvation Army.

The final solution we will look at will be to simply recycle them after we have done everything we can to give them to someone that can use them.  Though this sounds like a cruel end, if no one sees value in the books we are de-accessioning, then the books have fulfilled their purpose, and they can be reused as a medium for further great literature and writing.

Catalogue the Collection

We also need to catalogue the collection according to MARC standards in the Library of Congress style in PastPerfect.  Creating an electronic catalogue will make it easier for patrons to interact with the collection, and more easily search through the holdings.  This will also give staff a better idea of what the library has.

Hire a Permanent Library Assistant

As I said earlier, in order to be successful, the library needs to become a program within the museum rather than a project.  One way to do this successfully would be to hire a part-time librarian.  This person would preferably hold a Master of Library and Information Science and have a solid background in First Nations History or Anthropology.  This person could perform outreach initiatives at the university to attract students to explore the library and archival collections and provide reference services.  This person could also give tours of the library and museum as part of campus visits of prospective students, especially the graduate students.  I realize this is a bit of a dream scenario due to the Museum’s financial situation, but I think it is a necessity moving forward if the Museum wants to get full utility out of its library.

The library assistant would also conduct collection development duties like identify gaps in the collection, and acquiring books to fill those gaps.  For example, I am quite embarrassed that my collection–partially dedicated to First Peoples’ History–only has one book that tells the sad story of the Indian residential schools.  That piece history, however sad, needs to be acknowledged in our collection, and tell the story so that it is never forgotten.  I should also say that this is not a result of ignorance or insensitivity on the Museum’s part, this kind of collection occurs when the primary source of materials comes via donation, because the content is determined by donors who may not necessarily be aware of the library’s needs.  Unfortunately, the Museum does not have any surplus funds to put toward developing the library collection at this moment.

What this Means for the Modern Scholar

As I have been working through my project, I noticed a lot of parallels between the changes I was making and the changes that are occurring in the academic libraries throughout North America.

Librarians have to do More with Less

In this day in age, academic libraries have never been more expensive to run. Yet, budgets are getting smaller every year.  This need to meet growing demands has resulted in libraries to get more creative in their allocation of funding.  This, in turn, has resulted in creating retail spaces in the library, like cafes, to generate more revenue.  This has also led to librarians cutting out traditional formats of library materials entirely. Western has severely cut down on its reference materials like encyclopaedias, dictionaries, and handbooks.  Trent University has gone one-step further in basically not purchasing any physical items if they are available in electronic format.[3]

Observation is the Librarian’s Best Friend

In decision making, librarians typically base them on either their own observations[4][5][6][7], or by analyzing results of non-representative questionnaires.[8][9]  They do not have the time or money to carry out a large, institution-wide survey to really see what students, researchers and faculty want from the libraries.  Thus, they are left to their own devices to figure it out.  In other words, they are making educated guesses as to what patrons want from their libraries.

I will admit that I have been doing the same thing.  Judging by my observations, the Museum library needed more space.  I also noticed that the collection was not widely used.  So I decided some material deselection needed to happen so that I could create space for other the activities that occurred at the library.  This is what I think my patrons want.  And so it is with academic libraries.  Librarians are making changes to their libraries because they think that is what the patrons want or need.  I am not saying whether these changes are right or wrong, but I invite library patrons to reflect upon the changes they have witnessed, both in the libraries’ physical and virtual space, and consider if those changes are what they really want.  If they are, then they have amazing librarians.  If they are not, then please take the time to voice your concerns to the librarian and the library administration.  The librarians need to know what you want or do not want for your library.

[1] Dan Sich. “Western Libraries Collection Management Policy: Anthropology,” Western Libraries. (accessed Feb. 17, 2014).

[2] Elizabeth Mantz. “Western Libraries Collection Management Policy: History,” Western Libraries. (accessed Feb. 17, 2014).

[3] Trent University Library. “Trent University Library Resource Management Guidelines.” (accessed Feb. 17, 2014).

[4] Sarah C. Michalak. “This Changes Everything: Transforming the Academic Library.” Journal of Library Administration 52 (2012): 412-422, doi: 10.1080/01930826.2012.700801.

[5] Alain R. Lamothe. “Factors Influencing the Usage of an Electronic Book Collection: Size of the E-book Collection, the Student Population, and the Faculty Population.” College and Research Libraries 74, no. 1, (Jan. 2013): 41-48.

[6] Scott Kennedy. “Farewell to the Reference Librarian,” Journal of Library Administration 51 (2011): 319-323, doi: 10.1080/01930826.2011.556954.

[7] Karen S. Fischer, et al. “Give ‘Em What They Want: A One-Year Study of Unmediated Patron-Driven Acquisition of e-Books,” College and Research Libraries 73, no. 3, (Sept. 2012): 469-492. (Note this article does not mention any demand of Iowa students wanting e-books, it is an assumption).

[8] Sarah Buck Kachaluba, Jessica Evans Brady and Jessica Critten. “Developing Humanities Collections in the Digital Age: Exploring Humanities Faculty Engagement with Electronic and Print Resources,” College & Research Libraries 75, no. 1, (Jan. 2014): 94-95.

[9] Gail Herrera. “Deliver the eBooks Your Patrons and Selectors Both Want! PDA Program at the University of Mississippi,” The Serials Librarian 63 (2012): 179, doi: 10.1080/0361526X.2012.700780.


Some Challenges facing the Modern Research Library

This is the script I prepared for my presentation for the New Frontiers Graduate History Conference on February 21, 2014 at York University.  I feel like my thoughts are worth sharing to a larger audience because I feel like patrons needs to get a glimpse of the work that occurs behind the scenes in a library.  I hope this will spur a dialogue between scholars and librarians so that they can work together to create more functional research libraries that work for all stakeholders involved. For Part 2, click here.

Introduction and Institutional Background

Today I will be talking about the challenges facing the modern research library as demonstrated by the work that I have been doing as a Graduate Research Assistant at the Wilfrid Jury Library at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, an affiliate of the University of Western Ontario.

The Museum is located adjacent to the Lawson Prehistoric Iroquoian Village in London, a site previously occupied by a Neutral Iroquois tribe in the 16th century which is now a designated provincial heritage site. The museum grew out of a collection of artifacts started by a father and son duo Wilfrid and Amos Jury, two pioneering archaeologists in southwestern Ontario who used to tour around county fairs presenting their popular artifacts.  In 1933, when Western was constructing the Lawson Memorial Library (now Lawson Hall), space was made to house and exhibit the Jurys’ collection in the library.  Forty-years later, the Museum was finally built as a more permanent home for the Jurys’ artifacts.

Museum of Archaeology exterior

Fig. 1: Museum of Ontario Archaeology

The Museum’s library was created from a series of donations from some generous individuals and institutions including Wilfrid Jury, the London Chapter of the Ontario Archaeological Society, archaeology professors L. Laetitia Sample and Albert Mohr, and museum volunteers.  The most valuable items in the collection are the unpublished theses, dissertations, and archaeological reports written by various scholars.  The library also features an impressive Jury archival collection as well as some antique books from the 19th and early-20th century.

Main Issues

There were three main issues that the Jury Library was facing when I arrived back in September: space, collection misdirection, and lack of a program.


Looking at the images below, the issues of space are very evident both in terms of the function of the space as well as space constraints.  This space is no longer just a research or reading space.  On the large table you see that artifact processing occurs.  You may also notice that on top of the stacks in the background there are baskets from the Museum’s collection being stored there.  The space is also used as office space for an employee as well.  In short, the space’s function has evolved substantially.

Wilfrid Jury Library 1

Fig. 2: Wilfrid Jury Library

Jury LIbrary

Fig. 3: Wilfrid Jury Library

A vital document necessary for the function of the library is a collection management policy.  This document outlines what kinds of materials the library will be acquiring, and establishes some direction for what the library collection should look like.  The Wilfrid Jury Library has never had a collection management policy.  Because of this lack of direction the library acquired a lot of material that really does not support the museum collection, or its mission.  Here is a small sampling of some of the intriguing books that the library had acquired over the years prior to my arrival.

No Established Program

The biggest issue the library is facing–as evidenced by the previous two issues–is the lack of an established program.  The library has only been a project for various people over the years, most of whom were volunteers from Western’s Master of Library and Information Science Program.  Because the library has not been a program, it has been left neglected for long stretches of time over the years.  I define a project as a task with a defined start and end date.  A program, on the other hand, is a component of the day-to-day operation of an institution.  Unfortunately, the work I am doing is also a project since my assignment ends in early-April.

What Steps have been taken thus far?

Reached out to Employees

The first thing I did was speak with the full-time employees at the museum to get their opinion of the library, and where they feel the library should go.  I also asked them how the library had been used as far as they could observe.  This was crucial since the library did not keep track of any circulation statistics.  I myself spent a lot of time walking around the space, getting a sense of which titles they had, how many duplicate items they had, just to get an overall feel for the collection.  After I had done that preliminary research, I proposed to the Executive Director that we undergo a complete collection review, and remove the items that we do not need or that do not have value to the Museum.  I continued and said that we could remove the five stacks in the middle of the room to open up the space and create more room for more tables and chairs (see figs. 2 and 3).  This would create more space for artifact processing, preparation space for children’s programming, and even just meeting space.

Reached out to the Academic Committee

After my project proposal had been accepted by the Executive Director, she forwarded it to the Museum’s Academic Committee for their approval.  They had no issues with my project and invited me to continue with it.  It was important for us to keep the Academic Committee closely involved in this process so that we could promote good faith, and so that they could become invested in the well-being of the library.

I also felt that the library needed its own collection management policy since the Museum’s collection management policy did not acknowledge the library in any way.  So, I created a new collection management policy specifically for the library.  After a few revisions by the Executive Director, we sent it to the Academic Committee for their approval.  The Academic Committee made one small tweak and approved it unanimously.

The collection management policy in place states that the library will only collect items related to Archaeology, Anthropology, and First Nations History in North America with a focus on the Great Lakes Region, and Northeastern North America.  It also states that the library is interested in collecting items discussing relevant material culture, and items regarding North American planning, environmental and heritage management, and museum studies.

The Museum was also interested in preserving institutional memory, so we also decided to keep books pertaining to the history of the University of Western Ontario, anything published by present and past curators and other executives, anything written under the name of the Museum, and anything written by the namesakes of the Museum like Wilfrid Jury.

Here are a few examples of some interesting books I found in the library. Below the images I give an explanation as to why I find them interesting to give you a glimpse into how collection development librarians think:

Fig. 4: Books written by, and about Stephen Leacock

Fig. 4: Books written by, and about Stephen Leacock

These books (Fig. 4) written by and about Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock are very close to my heart and important pieces of Canadiana.  However, they really do not belong in an archaeology/anthropology library since there is no mention of First Nations or the politics around them.

Fig. 5: Smithsonian Institute Reports

Fig. 5: Smithsonian Institute Reports

These Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institute (Fig. 5) from the turn of the century are great and certainly belong in the collection since they give a history of museum management and administration.

Fig. 6: "Indian Races of North and South America" published in 1856

Fig. 6: “Indian Races of North and South America” published in 1856

This book gives a history of the indigenous peoples of North and South America (Fig.6).  This book was written from an ignorant point of view; however, it is useful to the collection because it presents an accurate perspective on how Europeans and North Americans viewed First Nations people.  Furthermore, I know that the tensions and problems of race have not been resolved yet, but reading this book helps the reader appreciate how far we have come.

Fig. 7: The Pacific Islands

Fig. 7: The Pacific Islands

The Pacific Islands (Fig. 7), confuses me.  The Museum is in Ontario, it’s dedicated to Ontario, and our artifacts were found in Canada.

Fig. 8: Oedipus Myth and Complex

Fig. 8: Oedipus Myth and Complex

I’m at a loss for words as to why my library has this book (Fig. 8).

Fig. 9: Asian Picture Book inside

Fig. 9: Asian Picture Book inside

Fig. 10: Asian Picture Book front cover

Fig. 10: Asian Picture Book front cover

This Asian picture book really intrigues me because it looks old, and it it’s written completely in Chinese (I think).  Though this book does not belong in our library, I am hesitant to deselect this book right away because I don’t know what it is.  In order to make a responsible collection decision, I’ll need to show it to an expert to read the text so that I can determine its value.  This book may be a candidate for restoration and/or donation to Western’s rare book collection.

Fig. 11: Holy Bible

Fig. 11: Holy Bible

It is amazing to me how many libraries and special collections tend accumulate Bibles.  To be honest, a Bible written in English does not really fit into our collection.  We do, however, have some parts of the Bible translated into Cree and Navajo which I have happily kept in our collection.  The other funny thing is that this is not our only family Bible, we in fact have three.

Fig. 12: The History of the North West Rebellion published in 1885

Fig. 12: The History of the North West Rebellion of 1885, published in 1885

I don’t know if we can call this book a history since it was published in the year that the event took place (Fig. 12).  Nevertheless, it is an important event of Metis history.  Perhaps if it is an account of the First Riel rebellion, we could call it a history.

Backhouses of the North

Fig. 13 Backhouses of the North

Backhouses of the North (Fig. 13) is the most hilarious of our library collection.  It is a book featuring poetry and short stories pertaining to the Canadian outhouse.

This is the end of Part 1. Part 2 will discuss my recommendations for the library. 

Librarians and Preservation

Recently I wrote an essay about the Baker-Cox debate.  This debate reached its height between 2001 and 2002, but the points discussed during this debate still have not been resolved.  Nicholson Baker, in his book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, accused librarians of being careless in their stewardship over current and historical newspapers.  He hated that common practice in libraries was to take newspapers, microfilm them, then throw the paper away.  One of the reasons why libraries would throw the paper away would be because they would have cut the paper up into single sheets, making the scanning a lot easier.  Similar procedures are used for digitization. Baker saw this as irresponsible and that libraries should shift their focus toward preserving the original copies, and adopting microfilming practices that don’t damage the newspapers.  Baker was adamant that libraries ought to preserve every newspaper possible since microfilm is tedious to use, and that the newspapers themselves are important historical artifacts, in his opinion.

Richard J, Cox, an archivist, defended librarians in their current practices saying that librarians are not in the preservation business, they are in the information business, meaning that they are not guardians of paper information, but guide people to all information no matter the medium on which it is found, whether it be online, on a CD, or a stone tablet.  Public Librarians go beyond the responsibility of being information guides and carry out programs that help, for example, new immigrants to Canada learn English and help adapt to the culture of the country.  Librarians also put on a multitude of other programs such as resume workshops, clubs for youth (e.g. chess, video games etc.), test proctoring, and nutrition classes.  In essence, the library has evolved from being an information repository to an important community centre.  Some cities built new library buildings as the start of

Library of Birmingham

Library of Birmingham

downtown revitalization projects, like in Birmingham, UK.  Say what you want about the the post-modern architecture of this particular library, it is exciting that the city decided to build a new library as a means of cleaning up downtown.  Same goes with Vancouver Public Library in British Columbia whose library structure has become an iconic feature of Vancouver’s downtown landscape.

Baker’s opinions represent a fundamental misconception over what librarianship has become and what its purpose is.  To be fair, Baker isn’t the only person that’s fallen into this misunderstanding.  I’ll bet if we surveyed lots of people in the community, many would say that one of the librarian’s main purposes is preservation.  While preservation of information is important, it’s not the librarian’s job.  In terms of collecting, the librarian needs to stay on top of reading trends and purchase the books that will best meet his/her patrons’ needs.  If the librarian collected and never discarded or put materials in alternate formats, library buildings would need to be massive structures.

So whose responsibility is it to preserve the written word?  Well, it depends on the community, but generally it falls on to the shoulders of the archives–or, if your community is privileged enough to have one–a rare book library or special collection.  By the way, most public libraries do not have rare book collections.

So, should the librarian be in the business of both preservation and dissemination?  Possibly, but the problem is that their parent institutions are not willing to increase the library budget, increase staff, or give them a larger building in order to take on that role. When a librarians discard a book, or pulls it apart to digitize it, don’t worry, they haven’t devolved into Nazis or the Westboro Baptist Church, burning books they don’t like or agree with, they are simply doing their best to work within their budgets. Collection review is a challenging task (most of the time), and it’s difficult to be cold-hearted and take a book off the shelf and put it out of its misery, but that’s the way it is for now.

If you feel libraries should be in the business of preservation, contact your town councillor and make a fuss.  Politicians won’t change until their constituents tell them to (democracy!).  As it stands, most communities are not interested because the money  and support isn’t there.  To be honest, I believe most librarians would like to keep more books; I don’t know a librarian that hates their collection, but the powers that be have determined that it’s not financially viable to keep all of the books, so the librarians are forced to make do with what they have.