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Dates of existence
The first Dalhousie library was established by order of the University Senate on 24 April 1867. Housed in the “new” Dalhousie College (renamed the Forrest Building in 1919), the library was beset by financial difficulties during the early decades, especially after the Board’s 1890 decision to withdraw all library funding. During this period the collection grew only through gifts in kind and sporadic donations by faculty and alumni, although 1894 witnessed both the advent of class memorial book gifts and the hiring of paid library staff, which led to expanded service hours, from two to seven hours per day, five days each week.
In 1916 a library was built on the new Studley Campus, thanks to the generosity of Professor Charles Macdonald. On his death in 1906, the former Chair of Mathematics bequeathed $2000 to the university for books, a gesture that triggered an eponymous fundraising campaign. Despite several renovations and later additions, eventually the collection and its user population outgrew the space, and in 1971 the Killam Library was opened.
From 1867 until the 1952 appointment of Douglas G. Lockhead, the library's operations were overseen by a Senate-appointed committee, which appointed an acting librarian, usually from the ranks of newly arrived junior faculty. Their responsibilities were limited to collecting fines, providing access to the library's limited book collection, and placing orders approved by Senate. Faculty librarians included James DeMille (1868-1875); Professor Liechti (1875-1876); Reverend Dr. William Lyall (1876-1881); John Forrest (1881-1885); Jacob Schurman (1885-1886); William Alexander (1886-1889); James Seth (1889-1892); Walter Murray (1892-1902); Daniel Murray (1902-1906); and Archibald MacMechan (1906-1931).
The first paid assistant librarian was Zillah Macdonald in 1894, followed by a series of part-time student assistants and finally, in 1907, a full-time assistant. In 1915 Francis Jean Lindsay was hired as a cataloguer. She was the main library's first trained librarian and in her three years at Dalhousie she reclassified the entire collection according to the new Library of Congress system, increased the library's opening hours to 44 hours a week, initiated circulation procedures and wrote a column in the Gazette. President MacKenzie referred to her as being in charge of the library, albeit without authority over policies, collections or budget, and her low salary led to her resignation in 1919. Her work was continued by a series of untrained library assistants.
During the tenure of C.L. Bennett (1931-1950), who was the last Library Committee faculty member to oversee the library, operations were in the hands of librarians Ivy Prickler (1940-47); Dorothy MacKay (1947-1951); and Jean Carter (1951-1952). Douglas G. Lochhead (1952-1960) was Dalhousie's first University Librarian, appointed with faculty status and directly responsible to the university president. He was followed by J.P. Wilkinson (1960-1966); Louis G. Vagianos (1966-1969) and as Director of Libraries (1976-1973); Dorothy Louise Cooke (1970-1981); William F. Birdsall (1981-1997); and William R. Maes (1998-2010). During the tenure of Donna Bourne-Tyson (2010-2022), the position of University Librarian changed to Dean of Libraries.The second Dean of Libraries, Michael Vandenberg, was appointed in August 2022.
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The University Libraries encompass five distinct units, including the Sir James Dunn Law Library; the Kellogg Health Sciences Library; the Sexton Design & Technology Library; the MacRae Library, at the Faculty of Agriculture in Truro; and the Killam Library, which remains the administrative heart of the Libraries and houses the office of the Dean of Libraries.
Each library has its own head librarian, who also serves as an associate dean across service areas including scholarly communications, data management, access services, learning and curriculum support, discovery, and resources. Much of the Libraries’ work is accomplished through committees and working groups created to deal with initiatives and issues pertaining to particular library functions.