Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Grand Opening of Québec's Grande Bibliothèque

I was one of the close to twenty thousand people who lined up over the weekend in the rain to visit the new Grande Bibliothèque megalibrary in Montreal's famous bohemian Latin Quarter.

The Grande Bibliothèque (Great Library) combines the collections of Quebec's National Library with those of the old central library of the City of Montreal. The National Library, or Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, is the legal depository of all works created in the province and the repository of Quebec's patrimonial collections going back to the 1760s.

This combination of a central public lending library and "national" historical and research library is quite unique. About half the collection will be available for lending. Rare, historical and government document collections will have to be consulted on location, but everyone will have access nonetheless. This open stack concept for even the rare document collections was quite a surprise to some of the official European delegates who were invited for the occasion.

The new GB collection includes 1.2 million books, 1.2 million periodicals, newspapers, DVDs, CD-ROMs, videocassettes, 1.6 million microforms... The provincially funded project cost $97.6-million to build and another $44-million to stock and equip.

The monument lifts Montreal into the growing list of cities, from Seattle and Vancouver to Paris, that have made large central libraries central elements of urban redesign and cultural investment.

The Grande Bibliothèque building itself is a modernist delight covered in glacier-green polished glass on the outside, bathing two huge wood-panelled interior chambers in natural light. Well, OK, some people have called it yukky hospital-green, but everyone who has visited the new digs has fallen in love with the spacious light-filled interior spread over 6 levels surrounding a central stairwell. Open spaces, and inviting open vistas in many directions welcome the visitor.

The official inauguration of this major public cultural investment was held Friday night in front of the literati, glitterati, and local politicians and foreign friends.

But the weekend belonged to we of the great unwashed who came en masse to roam freely through the new facilities, listen to concerts by members of the Music Conservatory, be entertained by roving poets and other cultural "animateurs", check out the comfy chairs, chat up the many cute and friendly librarians on hand, watch movies on the "making of the Grande Bibliothèque", sit in on live radio cultural talk shows, and just sniff around the new "people's library".

Everyone is hoping that the opening of the new megalibrary, with its province-wide mandate, will help spur reading in Quebec.

As the Globe and Mail reported last Friday, "The library is earning kudos in a city that takes culture seriously, yet hasn't built a major public project related to culture since the early 1990s. Still, the nagging question is whether one grand monument will help create a province of book lovers".

"Public libraries across the province stock 2.5 books for each Quebec user, compared with three in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta. Quebeckers borrow 5.9 library books a year compared with 10.1 in the other three provinces. Quebec has about one-quarter the number of librarians in its public system that Ontario does".

"The poor showing is often called a legacy of the Catholic Church; according to popular lore, when advocates obtained a $150,000 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation for a new Montreal library in the early 1900s, church authorities forced them to refuse it".

" 'For the Catholic Church, books were very dangerous,' said Réjean Savard, a professor of library sciences at the University of Montreal. 'The truth wasn't supposed to be found in books, but in the priest. So the church blocked libraries' development. You can understand why we're behind today'."

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 6:22 pm


Blogger Unknown said...

Interesting stuff -- I guess I never realized that about the Catholic Church. I'm trying to find out how libraries got their books back in the 1900s -- history of libraries (not just scientific).

4:57 pm  

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