The importance of books
National librarian visits Iqaluit to build library network

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Dec 06/99) - Roch Carrier was 11 years old before a book made its way into his house.

That event profoundly affected him and continues to do so even today.

"My dad decided to make a deal and trade some tires for an encyclopedia. That really changed my life," said Carrier, an accomplished novelist, playwright and the former director of the Canada Council of the Arts.

"I spent hours dreaming in front of those photographs and I want to underline how important it is to give our youth books," he said, adding that on Oct. 1 of this year -- more than 50 years after he first cracked the cover of that encyclopedia -- he was appointed as the country's national librarian. He is the fourth person to be awarded the job.

Given a mandate in 1953 to collect, preserve and disseminate all information printed in Canada, the National Library houses documents up to 250 years old and helps to keep the national memory.

To achieve that mandate, it's important for Carrier to keep apprised of the issues that currently face the country's librarians.

"I want to hear what people have to say about the National Library and how it could work better. The first step of the process is knowing what people want," he said.

To that end, he's been travelling to each of the territories and provinces and plans to use the information he gleans to develop a strategic plan of action by the end of February.

"We want to see what we are doing, what we are not doing and what we should do, how we can build this network," he said.

Part of that tour included a two-day stop in Nunavut last weekend where, after a tour of the capital's libraries and a reception with a group of about 70 librarians, educators and politicians, he participated in a conference call with the 20 members of the Nunavut Library Association.

The participants were expected to tell Carrier how the National Library could support the 10 libraries that currently exist in Nunavut in their efforts to promote literacy and continued learning.

Carrier also expected the issue of funding cuts to libraries to surface, an issue that he said needed to be dealt with if youth were to benefit in the same way he did from books.

"It's money invested in the future generations and it's money invested in the development that's occurring today. You have to provide the young generation with the means to be part of what's coming -- globalization."