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History of GSLIS: 1931-1966

The School grows up

Summer school students of 1931 JPG (13kb)
McGill library school summer students (McGill University Archives pr001529) Enlarge

Carnegie grants would, of course (as they would for many library or librarianship institutions), play an important role in the development of the library school throughout the nineteen thirties.

In 1931, the one-year post-graduate sessional program was accredited by the ALA.

The faculty of the 1930s was small but dedicated, typically consisting of three to four instructors. As is the current case, the program was enhanced by sessional instructors and guest lecturers who were practitioners in the field of information and librarianship.

The fact that Professor Lomer was University Librarian as well as Director of the School, created a synergy between the School, the McGill library system, and the University as a whole. Lomer was the mainstay of the staff, concentrating on teaching courses in the areas of library administration, library history, and college libraries.

Of course, there were other full-time dedicated instructors, mostly from professional librarianship backgrounds, who taught during the decade. For example, the 1930-31 faculty roster listed Mary Duncan Carter who taught in the areas of book selection, children's librarianship, and special libraries, Margaret Herdman who taught classification and cataloguing, and Marion Higgins who specialized in reference work and bibliography.

In keeping with McGill's close ties with the American library system, the ALA conference was held in Montreal in 1934. The McGill Library School was instrumental in the conference's planning and success.

Summer school students in British Columbia 1931 JPG (19kb)
McGill library school summer students in British Columbia in 1931 (McGill University Archives pr009330) Enlarge

In parallel with the ALA conference, the program was re-accredited in 1934 under the 1933 standards revision.

At the same time as the one-year sessional program grew, the summer program continued to be offered as well offering much needed professional development for the library workers of Canada. Most often the course was held in Montreal. However, in its efforts to promote librarianship in the rest of Canada, McGill's Summer Library School often went further afield to places such as Prince Edward Island, British Columbia, and Alberta.

Throughout the thirties, the Summer Library School offered a standard fare of "traditional" librarianship courses such as the familiar - "Classification and Cataloguing", "Reference Work and Bibliography", and "History of Books and Printing" - and the now discontinued - "Binding" and "Library Buildings and Equipment" (from the 1933-34 Announcement ).

Lomer and Carter would continue to teach throughout most of the 1930s with Vernon Ross, a summer session alumna and future director of the School, replacing Carter in 1937 and specializing in reference and bibliography.

In 1940 the Carnegie grants were discontinued for North American library schools. Thereafter, McGill took over responsibility for the funding of the Library School program.

During the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s the Library School program became more focused. While the course offerings remained relatively unchanged more effort was made to identify specific areas and to categorize groups of courses. For example, the 1942 Announcement highlighted five specific course groupings:

  • Organization and Administration of Libraries

  • Acquisition and Care of Library Materials

  • Selection and Use of Library Materials

  • Elective Subjects (only two were offered)

  • Library Practice

The last entry, Library Practice, emphasizes the professional and practical approach of the Library School program.

Library School students at NBC in New York 1947 JPG (20kb)
McGill Library School students at NBC library in New York c. 1947 (McGill University Archives pr009295) Enlarge

In fact, the School required laboratory work, visits to local libraries, visits to libraries in other cities (a trip to New York, Brooklyn, and Newark during 1945-1946 was featured in the Announcement), and a two-week practicum for all students after the year's academic work was finished. These were required and would continue to be an integral part of the curriculum through the mid-1960s.

1949 would see the retirement of Professor Lomer. He would be the last director of the School to concurrently hold the post of McGill University Librarian. His post would be taken up by Dorothy Vernon Ross, a former graduate of the Library Summer School and lecturer in library administration.

Dorothy Vernon Ross, Director of the McGill School of Library Science from 1949 to 1966 JPG (7Kb)
Dorothy Vernon Ross, Director of the McGill School of Library Science, 1949 to 1966 (McGill University Archives pr013090) Enlarge

The late 1940s and early 1950s would see an evolution of the School's program as new blood entered the faculty including Effie Astbury (to become a director and Professor Emerita), Richard Pennington (McGill University Librarian), and Violet Coughlin (who would also go on to become director of the School.

New ideas blossomed and a Master of Library Science degree was unveiled for the 1956-57 academic year (degree requirements PDF (519 kb) ). This graduate degree would be one-year program and required a BLS. The theory of librarianship would be emphasized and guest lecturers would be the norm. The list included such notables as Marie Tremaine, Mortimer Taube, William Kaye Lambe, and Andrew Osborn.

The master's program fell under the new Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research rather than the Faculty of Arts and Science. The School's tenure in the Faculty of Arts and Science would be nearing an end.

In 1957 the BLS program was re-accredited under ALA's 1951 Standards of Accreditation.

Administration of the School was transferred from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to the newly formed Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research in 1964 as was administration of all McGill professional schools. It was the first of several major changes for the School over the next several years.

The BLS and the MLS programs continued to run in parallel until 1964. However, enrollment for the the one-year MLS degree was never high and students usually opted for part-time study which lowered the number of yearly graduates.

The BLS was suffering somewhat as well since the curriculum was becoming very intensive as the number of information resources skyrocketed and employers began to demand specialization. In other words, it became more difficult to cover core requirements under the one-year BLS structure.

Therefore, in 1964 a decision was made to drop the the one-year BLS and the one-year MLS and essentially combine their requirements into a two-year MLS degree which prescribed a "core" curriculum in the first year while allowing room for specialization in the second year. The second year of the program would also require a research paper but no thesis. The introduction of the new program would also bring the School in line with other professional programs at McGill.

This innovative model would be one upon which all information studies programs in Canada (and many in the United States) would be based. It would commence in the fall of 1965. In that same year the School was renamed the Graduate School of Library Science.

Virgina E. Murray, Director of the McGill School of Library Science from 1966 to 1970 JPG (11kb)
Virginia E. Murray, Director of the McGill School of Library Science, 1966 to 1970 (GSLIS) Enlarge

The last graduating class in the degree of Bachelor of Library Science convocated in the Spring of 1966.

Also in 1966, due to a lack of space in the Redpath Library, the School moved to temporary premises in an older building on the side of Mount Royal, the same building known in 2004 as Martlet House. It would be three years before the School would move to a permanent home in the new McLennan Library Building.

1966 would also see the end of the Ross era as she would be succeeded by Dr. Virginia E. Murray as Director.

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Engineers anyone? A course description for Library Buildings and Equipment (1938)

"In this course the following subjects are discussed: basic principles and fundamentals in library planning; small libraries, county and branch; reading of architect's plans; college and university libraries; special libraries and private collections; furniture and equipment; heating, ventilation, and lighting; . . ."

"In my day the schedule was
tougher . . ."

Tougher? Perhaps. In the 1930s a typical week consisted of 15 hours of instruction in seven separate subject areas. Included was a four hour helping of cataloguing. More

Those over the age of 35 need not apply

Through the early 1960s "elderly" students were discouraged from entering the Library School. For example, item 3 under "Requirements for Admission" in the 1950-51 Announcement states that "Experience has shown that applicants over thirty-five years of age should not be encouraged to enter the School... They usually find intensive work difficult and are at a disadvantage in applying for a position."


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