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Le générique du Bulletin
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March/April 2003
Vol. 35, no. 2
ISSN 1492-4676

Previous Article Contents

Happy Anniversary, NLC!
The First of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations

André Paul, Special Contributor

"Hello! How are you?"
"Long time no see!"
"It’s so good to see you again!"

These are some of the remarks that could be heard at the staff party to launch the National Library of Canada (NLC) 50th anniversary's celebrations.

In fact, on January 22, 2003, the atmosphere in the central lobby of the main building where about 400 former and current National Library employees were reunited in celebration was one of fun and relaxation. Gold "Happy Birthday" balloons, lively music, a quiz, displays of old archival photographs and films, and lively conversation warmed up the marble lobby! Everyone seemed happy to get together to celebrate this golden jubilee, to talk to former colleagues and acquaintances and recall fond memories.

This wonderful get-together, held at the beginning of the jubilee year and just a few days after January 1, the anniversary of the National Library Act in 1953 and of the creation of the NLC, launched a series of activities and events that have been scheduled for throughout the year (see the article on the 50th anniversary elsewhere in this issue and www.collectionscanada.ca/50th/index-e.htm for more information).

This first event reunited past and current National Library staff, those who have made the NLC what it is today, who provided and continue to provide daily the services that established the Library’s national and international reputation. Thus, the first official public event celebrating the 50th anniversary was held "at home" and among colleagues.

For most of us, celebrating our 50th birthday is cause for anxiety. It can be a difficult hump to get over. But for a public organization, reaching 50 is a source of great satisfaction. It demonstrates that the organization has proved its value as a service to the public, its stability over the years, and that it can hope to continue serving its clients for a long time to come!

National Archives staff  --  our colleagues within the new organization, tentatively named Library and Archives of Canada  --  were also present. For years, the National Archives and the National Library have shared common services and have cooperated closely in many areas, including collections preservation. The creation of this new organization will contribute to the consolidation of the connections already established between the two organizations.

Distinguished guests joined us in our special celebration: colleagues and representatives of organizations and partners in the library field, with whom the Library maintains constant contact, whether in the pooling of resources or in the development of bibliographic systems and standards. Of particular note, Eric Spicer, former parliamentary librarian of the Library of Parliament, Don Butcher, Executive Director of the Canadian Library Association (CLA), and Friends of the National Library representatives, including Ron Cohen, current president, Grete Hale and Georgia Ellis, as well as Flora MacDonald, former federal minister and member of the first Board of Directors of the Friends.

For the occasion, we were privileged and honoured by the presence of two of the three past national librarians, Guy Sylvestre and Marianne Scott. The very first national archivist and national librarian, Dr. W. Kaye Lamb, has unfortunately passed away. In their speeches, Drs. Sylvestre, Scott and Carrier laid out the major milestones in the evolution of the Library and pointed out the significant facts to remember. Excerpts from the speeches by the national librarians are available on the Web site of the 50th anniversary of the NLC at www.collectionscanada.ca/50th/index-e.htm.

Guy Sylvestre, National Librarian from 1968 to 1983, stressed that this anniversary is "a good opportunity to celebrate the past, evaluate the present and plan the future" [translation]. Through his impetus, the NLC undertook the automation of its library operations: DOBIS, the forerunner of our current national database, AMICUS, was born. The designing of these systems necessitated the "development of compatible bibliographic standards if they were to be linked in a national network and indeed with systems in other countries to facilitate and expedite the exchange and sharing of library resources. Our staff played a key role in the development of these standards in Canada, but also internationally, well above what should have been expected of such a young and small institution."

Looking to the future, Mr. Sylvestre recalled: "We should never forget, however, that if they perform their useful functions at any given time, their mission transcends time, and they will always have the essential function of preserving and of making available the printed heritage of a nation, which is an essential part of the cultural heritage of the nation, just as national archives must preserve other parts of that heritage." He also asserted that "national libraries and national archives are the repositories of the memory of a nation, the soul of a nation, and a nation which has no memory or soul shall perish."

Marianne Scott, the first woman to hold the position of national librarian (1984 - 1999), reminded us that the creation of the first Canada-wide union catalogue was a major achievement for Canadian libraries and that the pooling of resources has been a continual interest and activity from the NLC’s very beginnings. She also recalled the efforts of the staff working on the national bibliography and the retrospective national bibliography, which supply users with quality bibliographic data about Canada’s published heritage.

The NLC can also be proud of its work in the area of new library technologies: research and trials have led to the adoption of new technologies allowing the automated entry of data to the Union Catalogue and the creation of a decentralized bibliographic network. And, thanks to our persistence, we have implemented a system for automated inter-library loans, the first such system at an international level.

The Multilingual Biblioservice, services for persons with disabilities, national collections inventories and the Canadian Book Exchange Centre are a few examples of the NLC’s sometimes-unique and much appreciated initiatives. "I never cease to be amazed at what we have here, and thanks to AMICUS what we have is known to the world." The NLC can also be proud to have implemented "the first mass deacidification system in the world" and to have campaigned for "the use of acid-free paper within the Government of Canada."

Marianne Scott also underlined "the contribution made by the National Library to the international library community. In spite of being one of the smaller national libraries of the world we contributed more than our size would suggest." Our contribution and expertise have been focussed on the development of standards and the promotion of the Canadian experience to improve access to information throughout the world.

Dr. Roch Carrier, the current national librarian, invited all those present to think about the progress made and the accomplishments realized by the NLC during its first 50 years of existence. He expressed his pride and gratitude for the work done by the early pioneers and by those who have worked throughout the years on the various services and programs offered by the NLC.

Dr. Carrier also expressed his confidence in the future and in the interesting prospects opened to us by the creation of the Library and Archives of Canada, the new body based on the two existing organizations. He reassured staff and clients, stressing that both the merger and the ensuing transformation will bring new hope and will provide a promising basis from which to offer even better access to Canada’s cultural and historical heritage for Canadians and the world.

An anniversary cannot be celebrated without a cake and best wishes! We did not deviate from tradition. To express our hopes for the next 50 years, we invited two young people, Justin St-Laurent and Sylvie McEwen, children of NLC staff, to tell us in their own words their wishes for the NLC. Then, along with Roch Carrier, the two young guests cut the impressive anniversary cake, which bore the 50th anniversary logo. To cut the cake, they used the ceremonial trowel His Excellency the Right Honourable Georges-P. Vanier had used at the time of the cornerstone laying of the current building, on May 10, 1965. The celebrations continued with popular tunes performed by Lee Cloutier, son of an NLC staff member. Friends and former colleagues used the opportunity to take photos to capture the moment.

To find out about other activities planned for the 50th anniversary, visit the 50th anniversary Web site, which can be accessed from the NLC’s homepage.

To preserve them for posterity and to reconstruct a piece of the NLC’s history, former and current staff of the NLC, as well as colleagues and partners are invited to send in their memories and anecdotes about events or services in which they were involved. This "living memory" will enable us to keep the memories alive, share memorable moments with colleagues and clients, and make our history known  --  an insider’s view, from those who lived it. To contribute to "Scrapbook / Memories" (www.collectionscanada.ca/50th/index-e.html), contact the site moderator or the 50th anniversary celebrations organizers. Thanks in advance for your collaboration… and may the celebrations continue!