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History of GSLIS: 1904-1930

In the beginning . . .

McGill Librarians c. 1903 JPG (19Kb)
McGill Librarians on display c. 1903 (McGill University Archives pr008207) Enlarge

Beginning in 1897, McGill's Redpath Library offered an apprenticeship-training program in Library Science under the direction of Charles Gould, McGill University Librarian.

The early 1900s saw the growing need for well-trained librarians to administer Canada's growing network of libraries. With the urging of his friend Melvyl Dewey (yes, that Dewey, see the right sidebar), Gould founded a summer program to this end.

Charles Gould as a young graduate JPG (5Kb)
Charles Gould graduated from McGill in 1877 (McGill University Archives pr009066) Enlarge

This experimental program was approved by McGill as a "Summer School in Methods of Library Administration" and advertised as a "Summer School of Library Economy". It was financially supported by prominent Montrealers including the Birks and Drummond families.

Melvil Dewey JPG (5Kb)
Melvil Dewey in his prime. (Public) Enlarge

On June 14th, 1904 the five week summer library school debuted.

The first of its kind in Canada, the summer school's original session included courses on classification, cataloguing, shelf listing and reference work. Although having full-time instructors, such as Gould and Sydney Mitchell, the summer school also included talks by international figures such as Dewey. Tuition was $5.00. The School was held in the basement of the Redpath Library Building.

Redpath Library c. 1895 JPG (9Kb) The original home of GSLIS (McGill University Archives pr038040) Enlarge

In order to attract working librarians, entrance requirements were basic: one had to be in a library job and have at least a high school education. Nowadays, a bachelor's degree with high standing is the basic minimum requirement.

Charles Ammi Cutter JPG (4Kb) Charles Ammi Cutter was a guest lecturer in the early years of The School (Public) Enlarge

The 1905 summer course featured not only Dewey but also Charles Cutter, another giant of the librarianship field. To this day the Redpath Library houses stacks based on Cutter's Expansive Classification System.

1906 featured the new courses "Binding and Repairing Books" and "Library Buildings" followed the next year by "Travelling Libraries and Extension Work" and "Work with Schools and Children."

The summer school continued relatively unchanged until 1914 but was not held during the war years.

After the war, in 1920, the McGill Library School reopened.

Gerhard Lomer JPG (8kb)
Gerhard Lomer was McGill Library School Director for almost 30 years (McGill University Archives pl007753) Enlarge

Dr. Gerhard Lomer, an alumnus of the original library school session in 1904 and McGill University Librarian, took the reigns as Director of the School. He implemented a four-week curriculum of more than 150 hours.

The curriculum was divided into four areas: technical (eg: classification, accessioning), bibliography (eg: reference, history of books and printing), administration (eg: library routine, loan administration), and a specialty area (eg: extension work, travelling libraries).

The School's "mission" became more focused as it wished to train "...librarians in active service who have wished to become acquainted with the best methods of library routine."

In keeping with the development of new library professionals, Lomer hired local practitioners to teach some of the courses. This included Mary Saxe who would remain the Westmount Public Librarian for 30 years. Lomer himself, of course, was the chief instructor, and recruited American librarians, such as Mary Shaver from Vassar College.

In 1922 the School moved from its original facilities to a new home in the newly built wing of Redpath Library.

Redpath Library 1921 Extension (8Kb)
The Library School's new home of 1922 was located in a new wing of the Redpath Library building, seen on the left of the photograph (McGill University Archives pr038034) Enlarge

Throughout most of the 1920s the curriculum remained virtually unchanged but the faculty of the summer school became "Canadianized."

Starting in 1924, lecturers from Queen's University in Kingston and the Public Archives of Canada were added. The University of Toronto also became involved when assistant cataloguer E.V. Bethune began to lecture regularly. The hiring of a professional cataloguer is particularly noteworthy as cataloguing took up over 40% of the lecture and practice time of the students.

No school was held in 1925 owing to a lack of funding.

Dr. Lomer, however inclined he was towards presenting the best summer program that he could, preferred a full sessional course. As early as 1922 the McGill governors approved a full sessional program requiring high school matriculation but, probably owing to funding difficulty, was not implemented until the 1927 academic year through a Carnegie grant and support of the American Library Association. The sessional program was the first of its kind in Canada.

Meanwhile the summer training program was accredited under ALA's 1925 standards, also another Canadian first.

Library School Staff of 1927-1928 JPG (9kb)
The Library School staff c. 1928 (McGill University Archives pr001269) Enlarge

In 1929 the sessional program was accredited and in 1930 the sessional program was changed to a post-graduate degree which granted a Bachelor of Library Science (BLS) after successful completion of a year of study.

The McGill Library School was now on firm footing although the 1930s would be a difficult time.

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Melyvl Dewey helped found the School

Dewey not only had a marked influence on the development of public library service in the United States but also on Canadian library education as well. A letter he sent to Charles Gould not only provided motivation for Gould to establish the Summer School but also lent instead credibility to that effort. Dewey also taught at McGill's Summer Library School several times.

Library school students were (are?) a wild bunch

"Every student is required to deposit with the Bursar the sum of $10.00 as caution money to cover damage done to furniture, books, apparatus, etc. This amount, less deductions (if any), will be returned at the end of the session."

from the 1927-28 McGill University Library School Announcement (a calendar). Check out the complete publication (PDF - 2.7 Mb).

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