Eva Raby Accepts the 2011 Anne Galler Award

Imageby Eva Roskies Raby
This is a very great honour for me.  First, I would like to thank the members of the Anne Galler Awards Committee for choosing me as this year’s recipient.  This award has so many layers of meaning for me:

At the end of a very long, diverse and rewarding career, there can be no greater thrill than to be acknowledged by one’s peers. As I look around the room and see the many wonderful friends and colleagues I have worked with over the years – in QLA, as library colleagues, and in the workplace – I am grateful for your support, friendship and appreciation.

I also feel humbled, because this award is named for a very great lady and dear colleague, Anne Galler of blessed memory.  I first met Anne when we both served on the library committee of our synagogue and her energy, vision and ability to get things done was evident even in that modest setting.  Her immense contribution to the advancement of school librarianship and the wonderful librarians whose education she oversaw have served as a model to all of us, and I am proud to be considered worthy of an award in her name.  It is also a great personal pleasure because in recent years I have come to know Mark Galler.

Many of you already know that I will be retiring in September. In looking back over the years I consider myself to be among the most fortunate people on earth, because I chose a profession I loved, one in which I could reinvent myself time and time again.  I have loved going to work almost every single day of my career for forty five years.  How many people can say that?

ImageThe first seventeen years were spent at McGill University and latterly at Vanier College. Working in an academic environment I had constant interaction with other librarians, professionals with whom I could explore ideas, discuss issues, and implement programs.

Then, in mid-life, I changed the course of my career by becoming a children’s librarian, going from an academic environment to serving a diverse public.  Although I had wonderful colleagues at the Jewish Public Library, there I was, all alone in the children’s department, its first full-time professional librarian – thankfully with one part time assistant – and charged with expanding its mandate.  Where to start? Whom to ask?

This was the point in my life when I discovered the Quebec Library Association. I clearly recall my first encounter at the annual conference, being directed to the table for the youth section.

By the time I stood up from that table, I was its new Vice-President.  And so began over ten wonderful years with QLA, serving as Vice-President and later President of the Youth Section, then as a Board member, leading up to Vice-President, President and Past President of the Association.  I was no longer alone, but part of a cadre of exceptional professionals. It was at QLA that I met Maria Varvarikos, whose children’s literature course I quickly registered in at McGill.  Being President between the terms of two exceptional leaders – the late Susan Perles and Frances Ackerman – was a privilege. What fun we had planning the conferences, how stimulating it was to determine how to advocate for our profession around the board table!  It was at QLA that I met the colleagues with whom I would work for the rest of my career.  The connections I have made here with you – my colleagues – have made me a better librarian and hopefully, a good leader. My one regret in becoming Director of the Jewish Public Library was that there were now limitations on my time that prevented me from closer involvement with this organization.

And so I reinvented myself once again, this time morphing from a children’s librarian into a CEO. It has been an exhilarating experience to make things happen – to shape the direction of an institution and to realize a vision.

ImageThe decisions I have made over the past eleven years have been informed by my professional knowledge, experience and contacts, even though I am no longer a practicing librarian. In fact, so much have information delivery tools changed in this past decade that I constantly require the expert help of my staff to find things, or even to check out books!    Back in 1964-65, we students at Simmons College School of Library Science in Boston (where I received my MLS degree) dreamt of a time when periodical articles could magically be sent from one city to another – that became the fax machine, who could have imagined the Web and e-mail? The role of libraries and librarians has changed dramatically during this time, so much so that the need for our profession and our institutions has been called into question. If we can get all the information we want online, who needs the library? Who needs librarians? Despite all the agonizing, I find myself optimistic and energized by the possibilities in store for both.  There'ss such a glut of information out there in the virtual world that someone has to determine provenance and help separate the chaff from the wheat.  Someone has to be able to zero in on exactly what is required.  Who better than the professional librarian?

The ongoing need for library professionals was re-affirmed last month by information guru Michael Shatzkin, who then proceeded depress everyone who attended his lecture at the Atwater Library with his predictions for the demise of bookstores and libraries.  I respectfully disagree with his, and so many others’, view of the future of libraries, and for that I draw on the history and vision of the 96 year-old institution with which I have been associated for the past 28 years.

From its beginning in 1914, the Jewish Public Library was not only a place where one could read and from which one could borrow books, it was a place where  you could get together to discuss those books, meet the authors, argue about ideas, and benefit from ongoing learning. Then, as now, JPL members not only wanted to read the books, but also to debate them and engage their authors. When I descended the stairs to the lower level of the JPL, 28 years ago, and entered the cramped space of the children’s department, there was no one there.  All week I sat there, orientating myself, organizing materials, getting to know the collections, but there were no more than a handful of patrons.  I was seriously concerned.

And then on my first Sunday morning, the place began to fill: it was storytime with Claire, and young families enlivened the space, listened raptly as she read, and then borrowed as many titles as they could.  That was all the lesson I needed. If we wanted children and families to come to the library, to discover the treasures within and the joy of story, we had better make sure that there were programs to connect with families, enchant children and engage mothers and caregivers.  As far as I am concerned outreach programs are the primary way in which we will draw the members of our diverse communities – spread out as they are throughout the Island of Montreal and beyond – to our institution. Once there, they will discover the treasures within, and benefit from the wise counsel of our staff, whether it is guidance to a mother struggling to help a learning disabled child, a senior looking for a great read, or a scholar tracking down an obscure reference.  I sometimes have differences of opinion with some of my staff, whether we spend too much of our meager resources on programs and outreach, possibly to the detriment of our collections.  But I feel very strongly that this is the future of libraries, of how they can flourish. We cannot exist connected to each other solely through our iPhone or computer.  It is a marvel that we now have such easy access to information in a virtual world, but we need the human connection.

The library is a community centre, a place to browse and engage in serendipitous discovery; it is where seniors can peruse the daily newspapers and then grouse about the day’s news with the person sitting next to them; it is where the job seeker can access the Internet and get help filling out a CV; or a child discover an entire world though books, while her mother can get answers to tough parenting problems from the librarian.  It is where authors meet readers and ideas are debated; where informal learning can open new worlds for all.

100 years ago the founders of my institution found a formula that is relevant today. I still love going to work every morning, and I think most librarians feel the same.  Let us embrace the technologies that fulfill our dreams and reinvent ourselves in ways that connect people to each other, to vast bodies of knowledge and the imaginations of writers.

Thank you and good luck to us all in our ongoing adventure.