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Some parts of the book are undeniably outdated, but others are still relevant within the context of library instruction: the difference between a preface and an introduction in print sources, the importance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The monograph is also an historical document that provides a glimpse into a high school library in Ontario in the late 1940s and describes the functions of the card catalogue, a once ubiquitous research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.