Counting down to the end of research leave

Incredulity would definitely be a good word to describe my current state.  With less than three months of research leave to go, and less than two months before I present a short version of my research paper at the Canadian Historical Association annual meeting (part of Congress 2018), there is still so much to do.  I now understand why faculty and librarians who have gone on sabbatical/research leave often say that the last couple of months is when everything shifts into high gear.

Here’s the abstract for the paper that I will be presenting at CHA, for those who are interested in library history:

Title:  Story Hours in the ‘Slums’: Re-examining the Toronto Public Library’s Participation in the Settlement House Movement, 1910-1959


In the popular discourse, Canadian public libraries are frequently represented as the great social equalizer — a description shaped by the library’s history as a gathering place for diverse peoples and mythicized by the legacy of Andrew Carnegie.  Public libraries, from the Victorian to Edwardian era, symbolized cultural and intellectual progress.  They were meaningful to a young immigrant country that was seeking to establish a national identity.  Nonetheless, social equality was not an intrinsic goal for municipalities that erected free libraries.  Using Toronto as a case study, this paper argues that the public library’s role in furthering social equality was the result of a deliberate course of action and risk-taking, driven by the desire for growth and professional recognition.  Although the Toronto Public Library (TPL) opened under fiscally and socially conservative municipal leadership, its expansion was made possible because it re-positioned itself from being an “apostle of culture”[1] to becoming one of Toronto’s modern public social services.  One such tactic was the TPL’s participation in the settlement house movement, significant for being TPL’s debut into services for immigrants and the poor.  By piecing together archival records from three settlement houses and the TPL, this paper re-examines the motivations behind the library’s settlement work.  Several themes emerge from this study: women’s professional struggles; competing views on immigration and social welfare; and finally, the challenges of maintaining public support in a socially conservative landscape.

[1] Dee Garrison, Apostles of Culture: The Public Librarian and American Society, 1876-1920 (New York: Free Press, 1979).


And now, an aside.

When I started my research leave last July, I had entertained high hopes of accomplishing more during my time away from the library.  I had even expected to do a preliminary literature review for a second research project that would continue as my ongoing research when I returned to my regular posting at my library.

That second project was supposed to investigate how cataloguers talk about their work in order to advocate for the profession.  Ironically, as my research leave progressed, real life began to mirror my research interests.  Suddenly, I wasn’t just thinking about advocacy for cataloguers, but advocacy for academic librarianship more generally.  I pondered over questions related to access, equity, power, professional practice, and the ethics and values of librarianship, not only within the scope of my research paper on settlement house libraries, but more broadly, across specialized libraries such as my own.  Following advocacy campaigns such as Save the UT Libraries felt strangely surreal given the timing.

I am still processing it all.  No conclusions yet.