Library Treasures: Library ABC’s by Mary Mustard

Mary Mustard’s Library ABCs
Published in 1948 by Longmans, Green and Co.

In the course of my research on the history of women’s contributions to Canadian librarianship, I am sometimes fortunate to discover bibliographic treasures. The delightful, small book (which measures 13.5 inches by 20 inches) and has eighty-three pages, was published in 1946. The monograph is concise and to the point. It is intended for high school students and aims to demystify the library by familiarizing them with the arrangement of materials, the basics of the research process, and the proper handling of books and other printed materials. Judging from the order in which the chapters are organized, in Miss Mustard’s library, proper book handling took precedence over knowing how to use the venerable card catalogue. Miss Mustard did not allow her students to wonder the mysterious realm of the stacks unless they knew how to handle the books without destroying them.

Some parts of the book are undeniably outdated, but others are still relevant within the context of library instruction: the difference between a preface and an introduction in print sources, the importance of using an index, and the usefulness of reference sources.

The monograph is also an historical document that provides a glimpse into a high school library in Ontario in the late 1940s and describes the functions of the card catalogue, a once ubiquitous research tool, which is now fashionably regarded as an object of nostalgia rather than as an artifact within the historical context of women’s professional labour and library technology. By illustrating the organization of the catalogue in detail, Mustard demonstrates that maintaining it was quite labour intensive—each book need three separate cards that had to be typed, filed, and updated as needed: a title card, author card, and a subject card.  

Mary Mustard, the author (and a proud holder of a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Library Science degrees as indicated on the title page), was a school librarian at Brantford Collegiate Institute. She was a graduate of the University of Toronto Library School—she acknowledges the guidance that Professors Bertha Bassam (1896–1989) and Mary Silverthorn (1902–2001) provided to her in the writing of the book. Both women were instructors there. 

Mustard was a prolific school librarian. Her first book, A Short Course in Library Science, was published in 1938. In 1968, she jointly published, with Doris Fennell, a review of school library service across the Canadian provinces. Their findings, entitled “Libraries in Canadian Schools,” appeared in Librarianship in Canada, 1946 to 1967: Essays in Honour of Elizabeth Homer Morton. Mustard retired in.  

Working as a Librarian in the 1960s

Storytime at the Library with Margaret McPherson (Children’s Librarian).
Canterbury Public Library, May 1968.
Christchurch Star Collection, CCL-Star-525.

In the golden age of advertising, depicted on the small screen in the scenes of Mad Men, women’s career choices were limited. Vocational advice handbooks urged the female reader to pursue a career as a secretary, a teacher, a nurse, and, less commonly, as a librarian (at least until she married, as marriage and family were perceived to be her primary responsibility). A young woman in the early 1960s considering librarianship as a career may have come across So You Want to Be a Librarian, written by Sarah Leslie Wallace and published in 1963. 

The book offers the standard fare associated with vocational guidance: information about library science programs, the nature and the functions of library work, the various types of libraries, etc. What is remarkable is that Wallace (who also authored Patrons are People: How to Be a Model Librarian in 1945) very carefully considered her audience while composing the text, which is a detailed portrait of the profession and the librarians of the 1960s.

Quite briefly (but unusually for that decade), Wallace subtly describes the difficulties faced by ambitious women who desired to climb the ranks in their field, in a small section entitled Man vs. Woman.” She explains that men command higher salaries and predominate in administrative posts, but not wanting to discourage women from entering the profession, she concludes the section in the following manner:

Women do hold responsible and well-paid positions in libraries, however. They are listened to in professional associations and are important in the shaping of goals of librarianship.

Wallaces experiences in the course of her professional career may have influenced her writing. She begun her outstanding career as a reference librarian at Minneapolis Public Library (MPL), taught several courses at the College of St. Catherine Library School, published extensively in professional journals (including Library Journal and Wilson Library Bulletin). In her later years she was appointed as the public relations officer at the MPL, but was never promoted to a senior administrative position.    

For me, reading So You Want to Be a Librarian over forty years later was an illuminating—albeit dated—introduction to the profession. I first read it in 2008, having found the book among other titles on library and information science of the thirteenth floor of the John P. Robarts Library. I consider it to be a cherished discovery—amidst the quiet stacks of “Fort Book,” I was introduced to the long history of a profession that appeared to be distinctively hospitable to women yet struggled to reconcile their numerical dominance with claims to professional status and prestige.