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Banner: National Library of Canada 1953 - 2003

Speech by Dr. Marianne Scott

(Remarks by Marianne Scott, National Librarian from 1984 to 1999, on the occasion of the party for current and former staff members to mark the 50th anniversary of the National Library of Canada in 2003 held on January 22, 2003, at the Library and Archives of Canada.)

Thank you. I am very pleased to be here on this special occasion.

It seems a long time since 1997, when the Executive first started thinking about how to mark the anniversaries of the establishment of the Canadian Bibliographic Centre and the National Library itself.

I believe it is important to have periodic milestones, which encourage reflection about the past. With the pressure of day-to-day challenges we sometimes forget the larger landscape.

As I listened to Dr. Sylvestre I realized how lucky I was to have come to the National Library after all the struggle to get it established was over. I also realize that the staff can take great pride and pleasure in their achievements over the past 50 years.

To refresh your memories I am going to highlight just a few of those notable milestones, above and beyond the excellent library services which the Library has always provided.

What an achievement it was to create the first national union catalogue. Just think of the experiences of staff as they travelled across Canada filming the card catalogues of 136 major libraries and special collections. I was the Law Librarian at McGill at the time and I recall the visitation and the interest and activity in this project. Imagine interfiling all those thousands of slips of paper and then the excitement as the catalogue began to be used by libraries across the country as they shared their materials during a time when our country was still collections-poor. Resource sharing has been a continual interest and activity from our very beginnings.

We finally began to have quality and consistent bibliographic records for the growing output of Canadian publishing and through the National Bibliography were able to make it known not only in Canada but abroad as well. The retrospective bibliography was a Sherlock Holmes task: tracking down and identifying, hopefully acquiring, and then cataloguing early bibliographic items which were missing from our collection. The many excellent Canadian bibliographic tools the Library either created or supported have been a boon to users across the country and Canadianists around the world.

In another area, technology, the staff can be proud of the role that the National Library played in encouraging adoption of the new electronic technologies. The Office of Network Development researched new ideas, consulted the community, ran trials. Remember our early establishment of an online catalogue in the form of DOBIS, now succeeded by AMICUS; the development of MARA (MAchine-Readable Accessions), which permitted libraries to report their new additions electronically to the Union Catalogue; the adoption and promotion of standards for communication to encourage a decentralized bibliographic network? And of course who can forget our dogged determination to perfect and promote the ILL protocol. In the end we had one of the first automated interlibrary loan systems in the world.

It is also in the area of direct services to the public that the National Library has shone over the years, partly because it was in the area of service delivery that our greatest asset was highlighted: our dedicated, hardworking and knowledgeable staff, who regularly dealt with the public in providing service and consulting on how to improve existing services.

The ILL service, the Multilingual Biblioservice (unique in its time), the services for persons with disabilities  -  in these areas we facilitated and helped the library community provide front-line services. The Surveys of the strength of library collections in Canada were very useful as the network of libraries across the country grew and developed their collections. The Canadian Book Exchange Centre has over the years facilitated the exchange of thousands of books between libraries and, in the process, improved the collections of many very small libraries.

Many of these activities were dependent on our collection. Again what a magnificent feat it has been to build the National Library's collection into the treasure it is today. It was started by the great gifts from the Library of Parliament and the Public Archives of Canada and continued by legal deposit and the generosity of donors and the tireless work of staff, searching out those special items. I never cease to be amazed at what we have here, and thanks to AMICUS what we have is known to the world.

I will finish by reference to three specific things. The first is our work in preservation: the use of the first mass deacidification system in the world, our promotion of the use of acid-free paper within the Government of Canada, and the establishment of the preservation collection of Canadiana.

The second is the establishment of the Friends of the National Library of Canada, a group that is constantly giving to the Library, not only with gifts of valuable collections but also with a more precious commodity, time and energy.

Last, but certainly not least, is 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. It was a contribution of expertise together with much voluntary effort on the part of dedicated staff to standards work and to promoting the Canadian library experience in order to improve access to information throughout the world.

Now I would like to conclude with my most sincere thanks to all the staff since the beginning of the Canadian Bibliographic Centre and on through the life of the National Library for your contribution to making this a wonderful, successful, useful and admired institution. As you move on to a changed environment, good luck et chapeau.