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Margaret Laing, librarian

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Margaret Laing, librarian
First name Margaret
Last name Laing
Community Paris


Story

This interview has been contributed by the Paris Museum and Historical Society. It was taken on June 28, 1977, by a volunteer for the Paris Public Library.

Introduction

After coming to Paris in 1947, Miss Margaret Laing worked at the Paris Public Library from 1948 to 1971, at which time she retired. Miss Laing was a great help to the library and her contributions were numerous.

Miss Laing originally lived in Brantford and was employed there. Her parents, who lived in Paris, were not well and consequently Miss Laing moved to Paris. Mrs. Muir who was chief librarian at this time, was to take a month's leave of absence from the library to complete a course in Library Training. Miss Laing helped at the library during this time and continued with her work long after Mrs. Muir's return.

Interview

Interviewer: Miss Laing, how long did you work at the library and during this time did you work full-time?

Miss Laing: I worked for close to twenty-five years but I never worked full-time. It was more like three-quarter time. I would have liked to have worked full-time but I had responsibilities at home to take care of.

Interviewer: You must have seen a lot of changes during the time you worked at the library.

Miss Laing: Oh, there were a tot of changes over my years of work. When I first went to the library we were open from 2:00 to 5:00 and 6:30 to 9:00. We chose these hours to work and couldn't stay open longer hours because of a lack of staff. Mrs. Muir carried on by herself for a long time with very little help. Later, Mr. Haire who was chairman of the Board got the Town to give a government grant of $20,60O. with which they renovated the library. They put the mezzanine where the children's room is and steel beams and what-not. We were closed all one summer while they were doing that. They generally brought it up to date. That was twenty years ago. All the time Mrs. Muir was building up the library from quite a small affair. At this time our grants were not very large and our salaries were not very large either. Then a chance came along to take courses for librarians in small libraries from the Department of Education and I went and took that course and I think Mrs. Muir thought that I would take on the library but no way was I going to. So Mrs. Cesnulis applied to work in the library and she was very keen so she went and took a full library course. She was a University Graduate with a full library course and she has taken it on ever since and I must say it has grown tremendously since she started.

Interviewer: When you took the Library Service courses I understand that the library received extra grants because of this? Is this correct?

Miss Laing: Yes, that is correct. It was not very much. I think it was for $25.00 but all the grants we ever got helped.

Interviewer: In 1965 the library became a member of The South Central Regional Library System. Did you notice any changes in the library then?

Miss Laing: Oh my yes! The Region gave us lots of money and all this equipment and things that we never had before. We just used to get along with the very bare essentials.

Interviewer: What was the library budget like at this time?

Miss Laing: I think it was about $10,000. or $12,000. and that included books. It also included $1,500. for payment of the loan and all sores of things so we did not have much to come and go on. But the S.C.R.L.S. has done wonders for the small libraries and now we can get books from all over. If people want any books they can get them from Inter-Library Loan.. And people can also get records and films and all that. The films are very good.

Interviewer: In 1954 the library had its fiftieth anniversary as a Free Public Library. Were you there for these celebrations?

Miss Laing: Yes, these were big celebrations for the fiftieth anniversary. And then we had a big thing when Paris had its centennial as a Town. This was in 1956 and we ran the float in the parade.

Interviewer: Do you remember hearing any stories about Mr. Kirkpatrick? He was the librarian at the Paris Library from 1916 to 1940.

Miss Laing: I heard lots of stories about him, but I never knew the gentleman. He died before I came. He was a terror to evil doers. The books were all in behind the cage and you had to ask for the books that you wanted. If he approved he would give it to you and if he didn't he wouldn't and the children that came in, they walked in terror of him. I didn't know him personally. Then Mr. Kirkpatrick took sick and died and Mr. Haire took over the library for awhile. Then there was Miss McConkey. Now this is just hearsay on my part. Miss McConkey was a graduate librarian and she is now in Toronto somewhere. She was at the Paris Library about a year or more and I don't know what the story was but anyway she had sort of a breakdown or something. I think it was some family matters or something so she asked for a year's leave of absence so they advertised for somebody to take over and Mrs. Muir answered. Now this was before I came to Paris. She used to be a school teacher down in Florida where she was brought up and on that basis she was appointed temporary librarian. Well when Miss McConkey was to come back I don't know if she wanted to come back or what. I think there was a little shmozzle there, I'm not sure what. Anyway Mrs. Mure got the appointment on Mr. Haire's recommendation because they were good friends. I must say she worked very hard. It was a new field to her and she went away and took a month's course and that is when I went in.

Interviewer: I understand that Mr. Haire was a well known man around the library and contributed much to the library.

Miss Laing: He was chairman of the board for I don't know how many years and he was interested in the library. It was his baby. He was a very interested man in getting the money to ppdate the library. He wanted to update the library with the loan they got from the Town. Now he was perhaps a little old-fashioned but he had the library's heart and the Town's heart. The people who lived through the Depression years weren't quite so free with money as they are nowadays. He was always saying that we couldn't afford that and we can't ask the Town Council for more money because they haven't got it to give. Well that whole philosophy has changed now. Everybody seems to have lots of money now.

Interviewer: DO you remember anything about the censoring of books? When you worked there, how exactly did they censor books?

Miss Laing: Well I wouldn't say they censored books at all, in the sense that we had such a limited budget to buy books with, I can't remember how much it was, but it was a small amount. So we had to buy books with a popular appeal. I mean there was no use in buying a book that was going to be a very good book but was going to sit on the shelf for a year and never looked at. So it was not a case so much of censoring in the sense of pornography or anything like that. It was more what would attract people into the library. We tried to run light fiction and detective stories and heavier fiction, but we didn't begin to be able to buy the books that would have appealed to some people. But of course the circulation has grown so much now. We had to go easy on books with pictures and that sort of thing and at that time we didn't have many travel books and that sort of thing. I would say that Mrs. Muir was very liberal on her censorship as it was governed by monetary means mostly. And then we didn't have this Inter-Library Loans and these Large Print Books like they do now. It was just so different it was unbelievable.

Interviewer: Did you find that there was a lot of over-time working in the library?

Miss Laing: No, not really. The only time I did much work at home was when 1 was taking this library course and I had to read many books and do essays and things, but not over time, I just didn't have time for it, that's all. Neither Mrs. Muir or I had time. She had a husband who was very demanding and working full time at the library she just had no time at home to read very much and I didn't have time to read very much either. Anyway I'm afraid that I'm the kind of person that if I like a book I'll read it and if I don't I won't read it at all.

Interviewer: Can you tell me any of the special events that the library put on or the staff members attended?

Miss Laing: When Mrs. Muir was there we belonged to the South Western Library Association and we had the circulation meeting here one time and we had the luncheon in one of the churches and the meeting afterwards. Then we had people to our children's section and they came from all over Western Ontario. That was two events we had. Then we had the Grand River Valley Library Association which included Kitchener, Gait and up as far as New Hamburg and we had them for lunch one day, just sandwiches and coffee and we had a very nice talk, but that disintegrated with putting us into the Hamilton section. We were up at Kitchener for the opening of their new library. I was down at Hamilton at a couple of meetings of the Library Association. We were up at London, Mrs. Barren and I went to a dinner up there: And '^o we got around quite a bit to the different Library Associations. Mrs. Muir got more out of it than I dia as she was responsible for the thing and I was just along.

Interviewer: So the library became a place that was not just for borrowing books.

Miss Laing: No it was not just a place to borrow books. They were trying to broaden the basis. How when I went to the library none of that basement was finished at all. It was just an earthen floor with a great big hot air furnace right in the centre and there was a stair down where the stairs go now but there was nothing down there at all. Then they had a few thousand dollars left over from renovating the library so they made that big room. It is called the H.J.Haire room. They finished that off but then you had to go through an ordinary cellar to get to that room so there was a Miss Ealand who was on the board for a long time and she left a couple of thousand of dollars to the library. I said to Mrs. Cesnulis, "Why don't you get the board to use that money and fix up that entrance-way so that the basement could be used for something?" What was the use of a nice looking room at the end when you had to go through .a basement to get to it? So that is what they did. They got that fixed up and since that they put a carpet on the floor. We had a carpet on the floor before that and we got the carpet from the J.M.Hall house when it was sold. That's the cobblestone house up opposite the Anglican Church. It was an old, old carpet, dirty as anything you have ever seen but they gave it to the library and we put it down and it covered the floor. Some of the board members came and cleaned it. But now they have got that nice carpet and I think that room is used a lot now. It is a beautiful room.

Interviewer: Miss Laing, did you work very much with children at all?

Miss Laing: No more than I had to. I liked the little children but when the school-age children began to come in I was just lost entirely. I preferred to work with the adults. I had to work with the children a bit particularly after they began to do so much school work but I was long too far out of school to know what they were even talking about. In closing I think that a great deal of credit is due to Mrs. Muir in the early days of getting the library going because I think that before she came in, I can't say because I wasn't here, but my impressions that she did a great deal to start the library on its course now. There was no cataloguing done, there was no record kept of books, no record of anything like that. She had start in from scratch rand do all that. And it's come a long, long way since that.

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