Remembering David Sinclair (1942–1974)

The New World Journal of Alexander Graham Dunlop, 1845, edited by David Sinclair and Germaine Warkentin. 

Published by Dundurn Press, 1976. 

David Sinclair (born in Toronto in 1942) was a bibliographer, scholar, and librarian who was employed at E.J. Pratt Library, Victoria College (University of Toronto) between 1968 and 1973. He joined the library staff when Lorna Fraser, the chief librarian, appointed him to the position of a rare book and special collections librarian, to catalogue the library’s manuscript and rare books collections, and to make them accessible for consultation by scholars and other researchers. 

Sinclair’s comparatively short but accomplished career in academic librarianship exemplified the increasing importance of subject specialization of librarians to the institutional prestige of university libraries. His scholarly contributions to the library and Victoria College represent the type of academic professionalism that is evident in the work of many university librarians. 

Sinclair held a Bachelor of Library Science (a professional degree), as well as a Master of Arts degree in English literature (his graduate dissertation was a study of ). In addition to his daily responsibilities in the bibliographical services department of the library, which involved cataloging rare books and creating detailed finding aids for special collections, Sinclair also researched and published extensively, and taught several upper-year undergraduate courses at the College on Canadian literature. He was also the first Bibliographical Fellow of the Cenre for Renaissance and Reformation Studies and was responsible for organizing the Cenre’s rare books collection.  

Sinclair’s edited volume, Nineteenth-Century Canadian Poems was not widely reviewed after it was published, but Janet Friskney praised the quality of his editorial work on the poems by Isabella Vallancy Crawford, Oliver Goldsmith, and other Canadian poets who were not widely studied in the sixties. In New Canadian Library: The Ross–McClelland Years, 1952–1978, Friskney writes, 

A notable exception was David Sinclair... A brief comment in his introduction, as well as his notes on each text, provide a sense of Sinclair’s editorial effort. In his notes, the editor offered information about variant versions, indicated the source texts he had selected, and provided a rationale for emendations and corrections that were made to them. Influenced by the touchstone “authorial intention that animated the textual practices of his say, Sinclair sought out versions of the poems that were published during the author’s lifetimes

In 1972, he requested a leave and absence and relocated to London, England and begun postgraduate work in bibliography at the University of London. Sinclair died unexpectedly following a street accident in London. His manuscripts, photographs, and correspondence are gathered in the David Sinclair special collection. 

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.