Dr Beheshti

Roch Carrier begins his speech


Dr. Carrier presents his vision for the National Library

Photos by D. Gwyn

Author Becomes National Librarian

Roch Carrier brings his literary vision to the National Library of Canada

by David Kemper

On November 12, 1999, the McGill Graduate School of Library and Information Studies proudly welcomed Canada's newest National Librarian, the acclaimed author Roch Carrier. Library School Director Dr. Jamshid Beheshti briefly spoke about Dr. Carrier's literary accomplishments (in particular, The Hockey Sweater, a Canadian classic) before introducing him to a packed classroom.

Dressed from head to toe in black, the salt-and-pepper haired Dr. Carrier, who became National Librarian on October 1st, 1999, after being chosen by Canadian Heritage Minister Sheila Copps, walked to the podium engulfed in applause. He confidently stood behind the podium and comfortably expressed his vision for the National Library of Canada with the style and wit of a storyteller.

The future begins today

Dr. Carrier began his speech by explaining to the attentive audience that the future of the National Library of Canada (NLC) must start to take shape today. He outlined several goals that he hoped to achieve during his term.

One item of importance to Dr. Carrier is the preservation of Canada's national memory. He recommended renovating current preservation facilities and also proposed the construction of an entirely new building specially designed to realize this massive preservation goal. The construction of a new government building, however, will require public approval. Understanding this, Dr. Carrier hopes to persuade Canadians to support his plan by explaining to them that if they do not preserve their own cultural and historical identity, other individuals, namely heavily funded Americans and their vast institutions, will record, perhaps incorrectly, Canada's past.

Another goal Dr. Carrier put forward would see the strengthening of the NLC's access to information system. Calling the current system a "wonderful and good" system, he encouraged the continual evolution of the dissemination process so as to better serve patrons at home and abroad.

Finally, Dr Carrier expressed his wish to raise the profile of the NLC and its professional staff. "We have a beautiful product," he said, looking at the librarians who had accompanied him on his visit to Montreal. "We must learn to sell it."

Some concerns arise

Dr. Carrier presented some very interesting goals that, if accomplished during his term, will certainly have a positive effect on the National Library of Canada. Such ambitious goals, however, elicit mixed feelings from some members in the library field. One issue that stands against Dr. Carrier is the fact that he has a non-librarian background. Some feel that this might hinder rather than help the growth of the National Library. But despite these legitimate concerns, Dr. Carrier seems determined to fulfill his goals, admitting to the audience that he afraid of the challenges ahead but is not ashamed to admit his fears because he feels ready to do the job.

Librarians living in revolutionary times

Speaking about our information age, Dr. Carrier explained that we are living in revolutionary times similar in terms of societal impact to when Johanne Gutenberg invented the printing press. A world flooded with information is emerging; that there is no question. But Dr. Carrier wonders if people will overdose on so much information? Will people collapse from this information explosion? And how will information professionals organize and preserve and, above all, disseminate this information? And should everything be preserved?

These questions are merely a snapshot of the momentous challenges and responsibilities librarians will face in the 21st century. Simply put, these are not the days for librarians to be complacent, because these are the days when new challenges, and opportunities, are emerging for librarians and information professionals around the globe.

While computers and other telecommunication devices are enhancing, as well as complicating, the libraries of the world, Dr. Carrier advised librarians to remain true to the social and educational responsibilities entrusted to them--that is, to select, organize, retrieve and transmit information in order to fulfill people's information needs.

"Anything is possible"

Perhaps the most profound statement of the afternoon came when Dr. Carrier expressed his surprise at being selected the new National Librarian of Canada. Reflecting on his past growing up in the small Quebec town of Sainte-Justine, Dr. Carrier recalled that most boys his age aspired to become lumberjacks, while he dreamt of becoming a writer, an unusual dream for a small town boy, to say the least. Yet, who knew that in the course of time, after much diligent work, he would become an internationally successful author? And today he is Canada's new National Librarian. Sensing something more than mere randomness to his life, Dr. Carrier encouraged those studying library studies (or, for that matter, any field) to never give up on their dreams because exciting times lie ahead. "Life is not a plan," Dr. Carrier said near the end of his speech. "Life is a daily invention. Anything is possible."

Let's hope he will pursue his role as National Librarian with a similar positive outlook.