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National Library News
October 1999
Vol. 31, no. 10


by Norma Gauld and Mary Bond,
Research and Information Services

The Petit Robert provides a number of definitions for the term "savoir-faire": competence or experience in the exercise of artistic or intellectual activities; the ability to succeed at an undertaking.

SAVOIR FAIRE would seem then to be an excellent name for the very successful series of monthly seminars organized by the National Library of Canada, drawing, as the series does, on the knowledge and enthusiasm of Library researchers and staff of the National Library and highlighting the richness of its collections.

Since September 1996, when the series began, there have been 33 seminars covering subjects as varied as the Library's collections. Researchers have presented topics in Canadian social, military and diplomatic history, the origins of place names, immigration to Canada through Grosse-Île and the history of organizations such as the FLQ (Front de libération du Québec), the research for which required the use of a full range of official publications, newspapers, periodicals, monographs and reference sources. Often material from the Library's collections was on display at the seminars to be eagerly examined by members of the audience.

The challenges of writing literary and historical biography were described by Wendy Scott, Allan Levine and Henny Nixon, biographers of Fred Cogswell, T.L. Harrison and William Carson, respectively. Antonio Lechasseur discussed the writing of biographical articles for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

Group Photo Front Row: Denis Robitaille, Henny Nixon, Soeur Rita Lacombe, s.c.o
Back Row: Cheryl Jaffee, Denise Leclerc, Daniel St-Hilaire, Paul Kitchen

Two longtime genealogical researchers at the National Library, Ken McLeod and Donald McKenzie, explored the wealth of information to be found in the Canadian newspapers in the National Library collection. Dr. McKenzie has devoted large amounts of research time to indexing birth, marriage and death notices and obituaries in Methodist newspapers such as the Christian Guardian, making him an expert on their contents, while Ken McLeod's research, both genealogical and archaeological, helped to demonstrate to the audience the unexpected and delightful treasures to be found in newspapers.

Illustrated lectures on art and architecture have been a highlight of each SAVOIR FAIRE season. Lectures on the picturesque in 18th-century British art, the treasures of Canada's parliamentary precinct, the Refus global, the architecture of Canada's embassies, and the history and art of Japanese gardens and bonsai were variously illustrated with slides and works of art. The Japanese garden seminar was timed to coincide with a large exhibition on the history of Canadian gardening mounted by the National Library. The May 1999 seminar was held at the Mother House of the Soeurs de la Charité d'Ottawa (the first off-site seminar since SAVOIR FAIRE's inception), affording the audience a richer understanding of the life and letters of Élisabeth Bruyère and a delightful opportunity to tour parts of the convent and the museum of the Soeurs.

Group Photo Front Row: Mary Bond, Claire Bourassa, Rosalie Smith-McCrea
Back Row: Michael McLoughlin, Boris Stipernitz, Michel Brisebois, Robert MacMillan

Seven seminars to date have been given by National Library staff members. Several focused on Library publications which provide improved access to or highlight important collections held by the Library: Great Britain Official Publications: Collection Guide; UNESCO Publications: Collection Guide; Read Up On It; and Canadian Reference Sources: An Annotated Bibliography. The Read Up On It seminar formed part of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of this successful publication which promotes children's literature and reading in Canada. The expertise of the National Library's staff, as well as the depth of its collections, have been evident in the seminars. Elaine Hoag, for example, spoke about rare and little-known examples of 19th-century Arctic shipboard printing, and Timothy Maloney and Gilles St. Laurent described the virtual Glenn Gould archive.

As the series has evolved and its promotion improved over the three years of its existence, the audience at the SAVOIR FAIRE seminars has grown from a regular batch of Library researchers and staff to a more varied group, including staff of the National Archives, and members of the general public interested in the topic of a particular seminar. On-site posters, information on the Library's Web site and in its Public Programs brochure as well as media coverage about several of the seminar presenters have helped to increase its visibility.

The series has also been successful in fostering increased interaction between researchers and staff. Certainly for staff of the Reference and Information Services Division, which coordinates the series, the seminars have provided an excellent opportunity to learn more about the fascinating research in which clients are involved and for which staff provide research assistance.

This month, SAVOIR FAIRE begins its fourth season, one which we are convinced will be as interesting and varied as in previous years. Please join us!

Most SAVOIR FAIRE seminars are held at the National Library of Canada, Room 156, 395 Wellington St., on the third Tuesday of each month between 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., with coffee being served at 2:30 p.m. The 1999-2000 SAVOIR FAIRE schedule is now available on the National Library Web site at <http://www.collectionscanada.ca>.