How about a new, modern, accessible Legislative Library?

May 3, 2007

The present Director of the Legislative Library makes a good argument for building a brand new library within the legislative precinct:

Save the library, in a new location

April 20, 2007

There has been much in the press lately about the fate of the legislative library. I want to acknowledge the concerns of the library community.

It is important for the library to maintain its collection, services and a location near the legislative chamber, not necessarily in the present location.

A new legislative library would be a welcome asset to the legislature and the province. It would provide for the long-term preservation of the collection, which has rightly been described as an irreplaceable provincial resource, the record of government from the earliest days, and the best collection of B.C. history under one roof.

The present building, though undeniably historic and beautiful, lacks climate control and any method of fire suppression and puts this remarkable treasure at risk.

The physical limitations of the present building present barriers to those with disabilities and access is heavily restricted during legislative sittings. Both restrictions would disappear in a new facility.

A modern, state of the art library building is a way to achieve all of these worthwhile goals: Preservation, service and access.

Jane Taylor, Director, B.C. Legislative Library.

I think the public would wholeheartedly support the building of a new Legislative Library next to the Legislature. If taxpayers can afford to give MLAs a 29% pay raise, surely we can afford a new library. If you haven’t already, do contact some of these people to suggest that this government has an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy for future generations of British Columbians while at the same time getting the prestige office space they so desire.


A Portrait of a Librarian

March 29, 2007

One of the strongest voices against the current government’s plans for the Legislative Library is that of Joan Barton, former Director of the library for over 30 years. Ms. Barton speaks with an authority that few people concerned with this issue possess and a frankness that current Library employees are not permitted to employ. Victoria columnists Jim and Nic Hume have written a short biography of this outspoken and admirable public servant:

Protecting our books, our history

Jim and Nic Hume
Times Colonist 

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Joan Barton
CREDIT: Times Colonist file
Retired legislature librarian Joan Barton: “It’s pretty obvious the politicians covet the historic spot for their own comforts.”

It is the calm in the eye of the storm. A few metres away hot winds of rhetoric may blow and angry shouts echo in the great debating chamber of the B.C. legislature. Sometimes political wrath has spilled beyond the chamber with physical altercations in the Speaker’s corridor.

But always, just beyond the tumult and the shouting, the legislative library offered the calm of a monastery’s cloisters. Under its own domed ceiling, overlooked by gargoyles designed to ward off evil spirits, the keepers of British Columbia’s political history and heritage ply their trade in close to silence.

Their place of work is where it is by statute that states: “The [legislative] library must be kept conveniently near the legislative chamber.”

It is a statute Premier Gordon Campbell appears prepared to ignore as he — via Speaker Bill Barisoff, who has jurisdiction over the library — plans to “make space” for more politicians and create a new area for fancy receptions and celebrations. It is a proposal that moves former legislative library director Joan Barton to uncharacteristic anger.

Born in Browns Town, Jamaica, on June 16, 1941, to Mervyn and Hyacinth Wright, Barton grew up with lively siblings, brother Anthony and sister Patricia. Her father was in charge of gasoline rationing during the Second World War. After the war, he became the government’s chief inspector of produce. Her brother and mother, now 92, still live in Jamaica, as do several aunts and uncles.

Barton’s early education was in the Jamaican private school system and at University College of the West Indies. She left the university college with a diploma in education and joined the teaching staff at Jamaica College. While at West Indies she met and later married a medical student who, on graduation, found a position in Vancouver where Barton joined the staff of the Greater Vancouver Library as children’s librarian. The marriage ended in divorce as she took the first steps on a long road that led to the directorship of the legislative library, a position she held for many years until retirement a few years ago.

Along the way, she added a bachelor’s of arts from the University of London, a master of public administration from the University of Victoria, a master’s of library science from the University of B.C. and a certificate for teaching English as a second language from Camosun College. In 1993 and 1996, Barton was the recipient of the award of merit from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, in 2001 she received a citation from the Certified General Accountants of B.C. and in 2002 she was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth Royal Jubilee Medal for outstanding public service.

As befits a woman who has spent her working life in the muted world of libraries, Barton is soft-spoken, with a whisper of the Caribbean in her phrases — until you mention the Campbell plan to pack rare books and documents in boxes and store the documents in a warehouse in Saanich and the books in a makeshift library that is less than “conveniently near the legislative chamber.”

Then dark eyes flash and her voice takes on a hard edge as she challenges government thinking. She doesn’t trust promises easily made but without written guarantees.

“They say the library and records collection will be displaced only temporarily for a couple of years while earthquake protection work is carried out,” Barton says. “But if you ask for a guaranteed date for a return, you won’t get a response. It’s pretty obvious the politicians covet the historic spot for their own comforts. Once they get the library out I have the feeling it won’t be coming back. You have to wonder what will be next when they need more space. The provincial archives, maybe?”

The legislative library has been the carefully catalogued depository of all things political, provincially and federally since 1863 — eight years before Vancouver Island became part of British Columbia. Joan says the government suggestion that the vast reservoir of accrued knowledge is available on the Internet is ridiculous. And she shudders at the thought of reports and reference works being stuffed in boxes and warehoused for years.

“Maybe,” she adds with a twinkle in her eye, knowing she’s talking to a life member, “they could find some extra room by evicting the press gallery.”

(The press gallery is located on the third floor of the main legislature with private access from the working gallery to the legislative chamber. Like the library, it is under the jurisdiction of the Speaker’s office. It was arbitrarily “evicted” by Speaker’s orders from its traditional place on the Speaker’s corridor in 1975 and kicked upstairs one floor to make office space available for legislative clerks.)

The righteous indignation of this 65-year-old, now retired but still a fierce protector of her old books and records, softens when she talks of other work, past and present — of Silver Threads, the Swan Lake-

Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary, Saanich advisory planning commission, the Institute of Public Administration and half a dozen other organizations ranging from being a lay member on the board of governors for the Certified General Accountants of B.C. to president of the Association of Parliamentary Librarians in Canada.

Some of those positions are in the past but her community activity calendar remains, well, active. Her trim condo in the high Quadra, which survived the leaky condo era at enormous personal expense, is as orderly as her libraries always were and as bright as a Caribbean summer day. I ask her what it cost to fix the leaks. “Let’s just say I bought the condo twice and haven’t — yet — received a penny in compensation.”

Several times a week she works out at Cedar Hill Recreation Centre and cheerfully admits becoming a late addict to golf. She says one day she picked up a leaflet advertising golf lessons. “I phoned the pro and he said come over and give it a try. So I did — and I’m addicted.”

We leave with the impression that the next time Joan tees off, the golf ball will have Campbell or Barisoff scratched on it — and the drive could make the Guinness World Records.

Is a Library Without Books Still a Library?

March 28, 2007

In anticipation of April Fool’s Day the University of Michigan student newspaper has lampooned the current trend towards replacing library books and journals with electronic media:

Mardigian Library to remove all books; students won’t notice

Asinusim Inlitteratus
Issue date: 3/27/07 Section: April Fools’

Students visiting UM-D’s newly-renovated Mardigian Library will find plenty of room to study and hang out, now that the books are gone.

Library administrators undertook the renovations in response to a Student Government petition, removing all books and shelving and installing a state-of-the-art sound system and night club-style lighting. According to the SG petition, the books and shelves were “taking up a lot of unnecessary space that might be better utilized by students who want to see their tuition used to serve their needs.”

He added that library administrators had made the changes with the best interests of students in mind. “We took a good hard look at how best to meet students’ needs. We figured no one was using the books, so why not get rid of them? I mean, come on, we all know that students really come here to surf the Internet and make out on the second floor. And with these new innovations, they’ll be able to do so much more efficiently.”

Although the response to the changes has been mostly positive, Richards explained that there was some initial hesitance on the part of some faculty members. “Yeah, a couple of the professors weren’t down, they wanted to make waves. It was cool, though. I just had to let them know what’s up,” said the former Navy Seal, cracking his knuckles menacingly.

If only the Provincial Government was joking as it suggests that the Legislative Library can continue to function with half the staff and most of its collection in a warehouse half an hour outside of the city. Who do they think they’re kidding?

What happens when a government values its library

March 23, 2007

Restored Library of Parliament, Ottawa.

The Government of Canada recently spent $136 million restoring and upgrading our national parliamentary library. (See a video of the entire process here.) Like B.C.’s Legislative Library, the Library of Parliament is located in its own wing of the parliament buildings and boasts spectacular architecture. Unlike B.C.’s Legislative Library, the Library of Parliament is valued by its caretakers for its role in providing vital information to lawmakers and for its beauty and heritage value.

Not only was the Library of Parliament restored architecturally, it was upgraded to modern archival standards to ensure that its contents would be preserved for future generations. Workers cut through the bedrock to expand the library’s basements and new systems were installed to provide a climate-controlled environment for the collection. The result is a more secure, more efficient library that continues to be the jewel of Parliament Hill.

There is no reason why B.C. shouldn’t attempt a similar project. Our Legislative Library was built during a boom time. We are experiencing another such boom, with large budget surpluses every year and more on the horizon. This is the time to talk about expanding the library, not downsizing it.

Why we need librarians

March 23, 2007

Why we need librarians

Discover your Legislative Library

March 22, 2007

From the Legislature website’s Discover your Legislature: Place

Legislative Library

The Legislative Library occupies its own wing of the Parliament Buildings, an addition to the original building that was completed in 1915.

The first Legislative Library was founded in 1863 to serve the colonial Legislative Assembly of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. The early collection included material related to the history of British Columbia, which later became the British Columbia Archives. By 1893, R.E.Gosnell had been appointed the first permanent librarian.

The one room used for the library in the Parliament Buildings was totally inadequate for an institution intended to serve the Legislative Assembly and all British Columbians and to house the many valuable historical documents and artifacts of the library.

His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada laid the foundation stone for the library wing in 1912, a time of relative prosperity in B.C. It was praised as the first “modern” building designed specifically to house a library in any of the provinces of Canada.

The library continues to provide reference and research services to the Members of the Legislative Assembly, their research staff, the officers of the House and legislative support staff. It no longer houses the British Columbia Archives, that moved to its own building in 1970.

The Legislative Library maintains a core collection of materials on political science, parliamentary procedure, law, public administration, economics and Canadian history. It also serves as the official depository library for British Columbia government publications and has extensive holdings of Canadian federal and provincial publications.


The library is located adjacent to the Speaker’s corridor, just behind the legislative Chamber, on the second floor of the Parliament Buildings. As one proceeds down the hallway, the library rotunda and reference desk become increasingly visible, and there is growing anticipation about the splendour to be revealed. The library rotunda is three storeys high, with gallery openings on the second floor. It is finished in Italian Carrara marble and punctuated with eight giant columns, a perfect complement to the classic architectural features of the rest of the building. The walls are panelled in marble and the rotunda’s impressive eight columns are made from scagliola, an Italian neo-classical revival of stone and plaster intended to imitate marble. One architectural critic humorously noted that the impression upon entering the library was “not that you’ve come to study, but that you have drowned in a Roman bathhouse.” However, most visitors agree that the rotunda reflects the dramatic splendour and decadence of the late imperial age. One striking feature of the rotunda is the eight large heraldic beasts that peer down over librarians and library users.

The two reading rooms adjacent to the library rotunda are panelled in mahogany and decorated with elaborate wood carvings. The Members’ Reading Room features a fine example of hand-carved limewood in the style of 17th century English sculptor Grinling Gibbons. They were carved for the library by H.H. Martyn & Co., of Cheltenham, England, also known as the “Cheltenham School.” The vast library collection is spread out over seven floors, accessed by the staff using stairways, a dumbwaiter and the second-oldest working elevator in Victoria. The oldest is reportedly at the former law courts building in Bastion Square, now the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.


The east, west and south wing additions to the Parliament Buildings were completed in 1915. Like the original 1898 buildings, the additions were designed by F.M. Rattenbury. His first plans for the library’s south wing called for an impressive chateau-style design, but this was thought to be too grandiose and earned the disapproval of the Legislative Librarian, E.O.S. Scholefield. Although the final plans were a compromise, the library wing still emerged as the most ornate portion of the buildings. The addition of the three wings cost almost $1.2 million, considerably more than the $928,000 cost of the original buildings in 1898. However, little opposition was raised about the addition costs since the province was enjoying an economic boom at that time.

Among the library’s interesting features are the portico entrance and the sculptures of historical and mythological figures adorning the outer walls. The portico entrance features the original gates from the pre-1915 south entrance to the Parliament Buildings. Rattenbury never intended this library entrance to be used. It was added primarily for architectural effect. Scholefield himself chose the historical and mythical figures represented in the sculptures adorning the exterior of the Library.

Visitors first notice the fourteen tall statutes 2.74 metres (9 feet), that grace the exterior walls. Each one is connected in some way to British Columbia’s early history. The female figures represent the arts of painting, music, sculpture and architecture. Six literary medallions depict Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Socrates, Milton and Sophocles. Two craftsmen, Charles Marega and Bernard Carrier, sculpted these classical statues from the same Haddington Island stone used in the construction of the buildings.

The Exterior Statues:

Beginning on the east side and moving westward, the figures include:

Chief Maquinna, the Nootka chief who welcomed the first white explorers who landed on Vancouver Island in 1778.

Captain George Vancouver, the explorer who is credited with first circumnavigating Vancouver

Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, the first Chief Justice of British Columbia.

Dr. John McLoughlin, a Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Dr. J.S. Helmcken, an early Victoria surgeon and politician who helped negotiate British Columbia’s terms of Confederation.

Captain James Cook, the British naval Captain who discovered and named Nootka Sound in 1778.

Sir James Douglas, the founder of Fort Victoria and Governor of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

Sir Frances Drake, the 16th-century explorer and the first Englishman in the North Pacific, in 1579.

Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the North West Company explorer who, in 1793, was the first white man to traverse the continent north of Mexico.

Simon Fraser, the early fur trader and explorer who followed the Fraser River to its mouth in 1808.

Lord Lytton, the British Colonial Secretary who created the mainland colony of British Columbia in 1858.

Sir Anthony Musgrave, British Columbia’s first colonial Governor, who expedited the province’s entry into Confederation in 1871.

David Thompson, an early 19th-century fur trader and explorer who charted British Columbia’s

Colonel R.C. Moody, a Commander of the Royal Engineers who surveyed many of the province’s