Thursday 16 June 2011

Ontario Public Library bookplates

Middlesex County Public Library
As I continue to explore the history of Ontario's public libraries, I've also started looking for bookplates related to this subject as well.  So far things are progressing nicely.  A few pokes into the fundraiser sale book bins at nearby libraries produced some quick finds.  Others have come from the $1 piles in various local second hand shops and flea markets.  It seems the good thing about public library ex libris is that they are plentiful.  The simple fact is these libraries tend to have large holdings, which means, lots of bookplates produced.

As I previously mentioned these plates tend to be functional more than artistic but thankfully this isn't always the case.  One attractive bookplate I recently found was for the Middlesex County Library Association.  Unfortunately I have no idea when this bookplate was created, but it is signed by the artist Robert Muma (1907-1993), a notable Canadian bookbinder and restorer.  Printed in blue ink, I really like his combination of landscape over the book pile/ bookshelf.

A book for all seasons
Trees seem to be a common theme with Ontario public library ex libris.  For example, the Frontenac County Public Library at one time also employed a modernist looking tree motif in its bookplate.  The motto 'A book at any time' is reinforced in the iconography of this ex libris by having the tree's leaves quartered into the four seasons of the year.  This bookplate may also reflect a time before the amalgamation of Kingston's libraries under a single administration.  What started with the Kingston Mechanic's Institute Library in 1834 eventually grew into a 16-branch modern library system dispersed across several villages and neighbourhoods.  Interestingly, this public library system replaced a much older one where citizens could borrow books from private libraries for a small fee.

Of course, "lending rules" is something that commonly appears on public library bookplates.  Take for example this old bookplate from the Carnegie Public Library of Ottawa.  Originally sponsored by Andrew Carnegie and opened in 1906, the initial onslaught of 'borrowers' apparently created such a stir in getting at the stacks that they left the place in complete disarray, forcing the library to open several hours later than expected on its second day of business.  Needless to say, it's not often that people rush into public libraries like that today.

Rules, rules, rules ...
As I was mentioning before, these functional bookplates actually provide a lot of good historical detail about the library in question.  For example, this bookplate not only tells us when the library was open to the public - 9 to 9 except Sundays and holidays (better hours in fact than most libraries offer today) - but also how many books could be taken out, of what type they could be (1 fiction, 2 non-fiction), and for how long they could be kept.  We also learn from this bookplate the penalty of overdue fines (1 cent per book per day), as well as what might happen if a borrower damaged or destroyed a book.  "Losses or injuries must be promptly adjusted" the bookplate reminds the reader.  I wonder how often a book was declared "injured" by some judicious and protective librarian at the Carnegie...

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