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McGill Reporter
February 21, 2002 - Volume 34 Number 11
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Dorothy Williams: Building a library for all

Photo PHOTO: Claudio Calligaris

Dorothy Williams wants to change the face of library studies. Literally.

After completing her MA in history at Concordia, the author of The Road to Now: A History of the Blacks in Montreal seemingly switched gears by entering the PhD program at McGill's Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. But Williams says the move isn't as dramatic as it may first appear.

"What I'm doing right now isn't that far removed from what I was doing in my master's," she explains. "I'm very much interested in the whole area of research. There's a dearth of material on blacks."

Rectifying this dearth is largely what drew her to library studies.

Williams says that libraries, as an extension of the "Eurocentric" education system at large, "are really seen as a white place."

At last November's Education Graduate Student Society conference, she read an essay titled "Educating the Library and Information Studies Profession: Why is it Important to Recruit More African-Canadian Librarians?" in which she argued that libraries were essential tools for cultural survival. Encouraging more non-white people to pursue library studies is therefore crucial to said survival.

"Libraries are repositories of culture," she says. "If you want to destroy a people, you burn their libraries down, which happens every time you get a war. If you destroy that history, you destroy that people.

"So, particularly now that libraries are evolving and becoming more than just a building -- with virtual libraries you don't necessarily have to have the four walls any more, and the same with virtual books -- it's really important for blacks to get on the bandwagon...or we're going to lose that whole culture."

Williams sees her work as a step toward developing a two-way flow in which libraries are actively interested in acquiring cultural documents, and communities recognize the importance of "keeping history alive in written form."

Without these efforts, history can easily disappear. Williams is currently wrestling with such consequences first-hand as she researches her PhD dissertation about the impact of Montreal's early black newspapers on the city's communities.

There were plenty of such publications during the mid-1900s; the trouble is tracking them down today.

The 1934 debut of a publication called The Free Lance marked the beginning of Montreal's rich history of black newspapers (which included titles such as The Black Page and Drum). It's a history, however, now all but lost. A few tiny, incomplete library collections exist, leaving Williams to rely on individuals to help fill the gaps.

In the case of The Free Lance, she was delighted to discover that the late publisher's family kept his personal copies of the historic newspaper. The thrill was tempered, however, by the fact that the fragile papers weren't "being preserved in an archival fashion, or being filmed before they completely disintegrate. If you touch them, they turn to corn flakes in your hands." It's a frustrating, bittersweet scenario that's becoming all too familiar.

"I'll phone people up and ask them if they have any old newspapers," she says, "and they'll tell me, 'Oh, I just threw them out last week because they were yellow!' I have the same reaction as those guys on Antique Roadshow, when people bring in antiques that are all cleaned and spiffed up: 'Well, it's worth $5,000 -- but it would've been worth $10,000 if you hadn't had it refinished!' Some people think that a yellowed newspaper doesn't have any value, but of course it has more value.

"You don't know what you've lost: maybe they were duplicates of what I already have, or maybe they were the only existing copies of any given newspaper. It's hard to say."

Williams shakes her head at the possibilities.

"I don't want to dwell on it," she adds, breaking the sombre mood with a burst of laughter. "Or I'll get depressed!"

quote

In some way, we are trying to take away childhood from them by turning them into miniature adults.

Educational and counselling psychology professor Jeffrey Derevensky on what he calls "hurried child syndrome" -- how marketers are targeting youngsters for their products even if they have mature themes. He spoke to The New York Times.

Disneyland, Niagara Falls and Walkerton?

Photo Downtown Walkerton
PHOTO: Toronto Star

Looking for a relaxing spot to take a vacation trip to? How about Walkerton, Ontario?

Yes, that Walkerton.

The town has enlisted the help of tourism experts from the University of Waterloo to help it become known for more than just the tainted drinking water scandal that dominated newspaper headlines across the country.

Paradoxically, the UW team thinks the answer may lie in the town's water resources -- namely the Saugeen River.

"It's a delicate issue," says recreation and leisure studies professor Steve Smith. But the scenic river has long been popular with canoeists, kayakers, anglers and hikers and Smith wants to rekindle the Saugeen's allure for outdoorsy types.

The UW team, working in conjunction with an ad agency, has put together a list of things to do and see in the area, including a driving tour of lighthouses and other nearby historic sites, bed and breakfast packages involving trips to local breweries and crafts studios and outdoor "team building experiences" for corporations and non-profit organizations.

The UW researchers also propose rebuilding 8,000 km of snowmobile trails and redeveloping Walkerton's colourful old town hall so that it could play host to concerts.

An ad campaign is planned for the spring and Smith thinks Walkerton's notoriety will actually help the project. "Ironically, the tragedy has probably brought more visitors to Walkerton than ever before."

Source: University of Waterloo Gazette

quote

This bill is founded on a premise which says that the medicare law... is going to be changed and it is an insult to the National Assembly because [it] has never had a chance to speak on the subject.

Law professor Marie-Claude Prémont questioned changes to Quebec's proposed bill for a Medicare "smart card." Prémont says the changes seem to pave the way to increasing privatization of the health care system. She was quoted in The Gazette.

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