Biblio Files

24 August 2017

Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library
Edited by Susan Birley, Anne Campbell, and Jeannie Mah
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Keith Foster
$39.95 ISBN 978-0-88977-482-7

When is a library more than a library? When it contains not only a wealth of books but CDs, DVDs, art gallery, film theatre, historical archive, computer access, and multiple programs. Biblio Files: A History of the Regina Public Library, edited by Susan Birley, Anne Campbell, and Jeannie Mah, explores these aspects of the Regina Public Library over more than a century.

This book covers the gamut of Regina’s chief librarians from the first, J.R.C. Honeyman, to the current, Jeff Barber. All brought notable achievements. Ron Yeo, for instance, convinced the library board to purchase Canadian books directly from Canadian publishers rather than American and British ones, and Ken Jensen brought automation to the Regina Public Library, making it a forerunner in library automation in Canada.

According to editor Anne Campbell, Yeo’s ambition was to make the Regina Public Library the “biggest, best, and first.” Among many firsts, the Regina Public Library’s writer-in-residence program, established in 1978, was the first of its kind in Canada.

The library had its share of odd characters, such as “the dictionary lady” who would call the reference desk just before quitting time to ask for the definition of a word. Then there was the delinquent borrower. It took persistent staff more than seven months to retrieve his overdue books.

Current and former library staff contributed their experiences. As a youth, Margaret Bessai lived for the arrival of the book trailer. A budding visual artist, she looked at anything with drawings in it, including romance novels – “you know, the paperbacks with the spine broken in just a few special places.” She still has her first library card, made of paper, somewhere.

Prairie History Room curator Dorothy Hayden collected and organized books, newspaper clippings, maps, and photographs, providing an invaluable arsenal of material relating to the Prairies. Using these resources, she oversaw the production of the 1979 library publication, Regina: The Street Where You Live, a history of the origins of Regina’s street names.

According to former Prairie History Librarian May P. Chan, “the Prairie History Room became the largest and most comprehensive research centre for both Prairie and family history in the entire province.” In the interest of full disclosure, I worked in the Prairie History Room from 1976 to 1978, and my article on Honeyman appears in this book.

To cut costs in 2003, the library board proposed closing three branch libraries, the Prairie History Room, and the Dunlop Art Gallery, named after former Chief Librarian Marjorie Dunlop. The Friends of the Regina Public Library was formed, drew up a petition opposing the cuts, and the board retracted its proposal.

Biblio Files has more than three dozen black and white photos, a bibliography, index, notes on sources, brief biographies of contributors, and three appendices including lists of board members since 1908 and writers-in-residence.

For anyone wanting to know the inner workings of the Regina Public Library over the past 100 years, Biblio Files is the book for you.


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