The Caring Gardener

“Now ‘tis the spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted; Suffer them now and they’ll o’ergrow the garden.”
-William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)

I write in response to the letter which appeared in the Chronicle Telegraph of August 6, 2008 regarding the silent auction being held at the venerable Literary and Historical Society, Canada’s oldest and most vibrant learned Society

Preserving and sharing heritage has always been at the heart of the Society’s mission. For this reason, about 10 years ago, the Society embarked on its most important preservation action ever: the restoration of its 200-year-old home to create the Morrin Centre, an English-language cultural centre showcasing the contribution of English-speakers to the history of this beautiful city. This project has involved an incredible commitment from staff and volunteers and has repositioned the Society and the building in the forefront of the city’s cultural scene.

At the heart of this project lies our Library, which has been a major part of the Society’s commitment to its members and to the community since its creation in 1824, over 184 years ago. We continue to meet the needs and interests of users by regularly adding new material to our collections. Like other lending libraries, the Society also regularly weeds its collections. In recent years, our extra efforts have allowed us to substantially increase both our membership and library book circulation.

Our commitment to preserving heritage is showcased through our Special Collections (often referred to as the Canadiana Collection), where our most significant books are kept. Books within these collections focus on the history of Canada and the former British Empire. The collections contain many first-person travel narratives that are difficult to find in other libraries. The Society also retains all books linked to its own history and to the Quebec City region. For example, we are committed to preserving the Quebec Library Association book collection in its entirety, which contains books from Canada’s first public library. These are the jewels of our collection and are not considered in any of our weeding processes.

The books to be sold in the upcoming auction were removed according to principles similar to those used in other small historic libraries. Weeding criteria were established with the help of two experienced librarians with master’s degrees in Library Science, and later approved by our fifteen-member council as well as by the honourary librarian. One of our devoted members, who managed a historic collection in Maine for several decades, personally went though every book removed from our collection to ensure we were respecting our mission.

The main objective of this book auction is not to raise funds, nor to free up space. Our objective is rather to provide members and visitors alike with a Library that preserves the finest items from its past while remaining a relevant resource for the present. All proceeds will directly benefit the collections. They will ensure that the Library is a relevant cultural resource that complements other libraries in the region. They will also go towards the conservation of significant books that deserve our care and respect, many of which have lain forgotten and neglected among weeds for decades. A library is like a garden, we need to tend it carefully to make sure it continues to grow and to enlighten.

I may assure you that this is no “mindless” sale but the result of a well thought out process.

I encourage you all to visit our magnificent library and to join the Society if you are not already a member.


President of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec