Ahead of the Storm:
Research Libraries and
the Future of the Research
University
Heather Munroe-Blum, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University
Bwith
ooks were incredibly important for me growing up. They were my
escape—my safe harbor. And this is because, as a child, I was blessed
supportive librarians who fed my insatiable appetite for reading.
But in the presence of this multitude of distinguished university librarians,
I have a confession to make: at one point, my family had so many books overdue
from the local public library that the entire family was blacklisted until we
gathered up our massive collection of overdue books, and, hanging our heads in
shame, all seven of us carried the books back to the library. Penitent sinners that
we were, we threw ourselves on the mercy of the chief librarian, who bade us to
rise, to begin our new, cleansed and more “book responsible” lives. The woman
was a saint.
From my very earliest experiences, I saw libraries as portals to new worlds,
with librarians opening the doors to the hidden treasures of the imagination.
Even today I feel a tingle of excitement when I walk into a library, and my
favorite gift to give someone is to give in their name, on a special occasion, a
book restoration from our wonderful rare book collection. From a university
perspective, libraries are, and always have been, at the heart of our mission.
When I came to McGill, one of my first projects, with our provost, was to
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SEPTEMBER 2011 RESEARCH LIBRARY ISSUES: A QUARTERLY REPORT FROM ARL, CNI, AND SPARC
Editor’s note: Below is the lightly edited text of a speech delivered by Heather Munroe-Blum
on May 5, 2011, at the 158th ARL Membership Meeting in Montréal, Québec. The meeting
was jointly convened with the Canadian Association of Research Libraries.