22 Nov A Report to Members Concerning the Library of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada
A Report to Members Concerning the Library of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada
The purpose of this letter, as many members are not aware of the changes that have occurred
more recently around the library’s purpose and function, is fourfold:
-to bring you up to date on the current situation of the Society’s library
-to provide a sketch of its history
-to open the question of its future in our changing world
-to send out a call to members to step up to this opportunity for shaping the next
chapter in its history
The Current Situation
The library of the Society is located in a small and pleasant room at Hesperus Fellowship Community in Vaughan, north of Toronto. The space is rented from Hesperus by the national Society and used as storage space for the administration and is the pick-up location for the Society’s book-keeper.
The library’s holdings include books by Steiner in English and German, titles in English by other anthroposophical authors and a small number of journals and newsletters. It has no budget for new acquisitions, members are no longer invited to include library donations on the annual contribution form and it does not solicit book donations due to limited space.
Its holdings are not available online, but it does have a hand written card catalogue from an earlier phase of its history. Most materials circulate, and circulation records are kept. Before Covid, it was open a few hours a week and was served by a small group of local volunteers. Since Covid, access is by appointment only.
Accessibility is very limited for anyone not living at Hesperus, as the building and library are always locked. It is not reachable by telephone, email or online. The current team looking after it temporarily is reduced to only two, reachable by their private telephones or emails.
A Sketch of its History
The work of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada began in the 1950s. In 1957 Hill House in Toronto became its home and head office. Through donations by members, augmented by a generous gift from a foundation in Germany (the Hausserstiftung), a small library in German and English was made available to members and the public. It was open regularly and was looked after by a librarian. Members continued to support it with book and financial contributions, and the librarian shared regular reports through the Society’s newsletter and at the AGMs. The relationship to the Council was collegial. When in 1996 Hill House was sold, the library together with the head office moved to a rented space in North Toronto. There it grew consistently in its role as national library.
It developed its collections of Steiner’s books in English and German as well as other works by
anthroposophical authors in both languages. Donations by members continued, augmented by a small budget and income from its sale of new books. It became a place of study, outreach activities and festival celebrations and sought to establish connections to other societies in the world. It was served by a team of five local volunteers, open to the public two days a week and published and sent a small newsletter to members. Books were loaned to members and friends throughout Canada, and surplus books were donated to groups. Around 2005 the then Council of the Anthroposophical Society in Canada closed the Head Office and moved the library to a much cheaper space in the basement of Hesperus Fellowship Community, with the thought that it would metamorphose from a national to a local library. The members, who are its owners, and the library team were not involved in the decision regarding this change of direction.
The library no longer had a budget and was much less visible from the road. But it was reachable by phone and email and had access, through its computer, to digitized collections, notably the Rudolf Steiner Archive in the US. It also had received a sizable donation from a member in the form of Steiner’s GA collection (Steiner’s collected works in German). The members of the team agreed to stay on.
Soon another change occurred initiated by the Council resulting in the existing team members resigning, and three new volunteers came forward. Shortly after, two more moves occurred into ever smaller spaces: first to a room in Hesperus’s new wing and shortly after to its present location in the old wing of Hesperus, where it has silently slipped into an almost archival existence with no real purpose and life. As before, the space is rented from Hesperus; but the collection has been greatly diminished: with the move to Hesperus’s new wing, duplicates were withdrawn, along with most periodicals; books by other authors in German were relegated to a member’s basement; the archival collection and other materials went to a locker in Hesperus; and the GA collection was donated to Hesperus for its library.
The Question of its Future
Summing up the library’s development highlights the changes from a cosmopolitan, outward looking philosophy with hopes for growth, modernizing and supported by members across Canada, to a local, more inward-looking purpose, almost withdrawn from the world, and with an uncertain vision of itself. Much of the changes that happened had to do with the growth of the initiatives and the move north of the Greater Toronto Area by ever more members. Also, elsewhere in Canada active centres had formed, several of them with their own member’s libraries; likewise, in the GTA, the various initiatives – the Toronto Waldorf School, Rudolf Steiner College, The Christian Community, Hesperus, and also the Toronto Branch – each developed their own libraries for their clientele.
Given this situation as it has developed and the increasing availability, versatility and attractiveness of what is available on the internet, what could or should the next step forward be for the library? Can the former national library find a new purpose and function again? Or could something else take place?
Among the possible options three could be considered first:
1. Could it become a local members library remaining in the GTA, even though there are already a number of collections in the area? It would be taken on by one of the two branches – the Polaris, or the Toronto Branch. They would either leave it in its present location which would mean paying the rent to Hesperus and negotiating with Hesperus better accessibility, physically as well as by phone and internet; or find a new location.
2. It is also conceivable that another branch elsewhere in the province or even the country could take it on as a new service in their area or as an augmentation to their existing collections.
3. It could be a metamorphosis of the former national library to a place of confluence:
-where Rudolf Steiner’s far reaching gift to humanity remains safeguarded and is made available across the country in printed and in all of today’ multi-media ways
-where all people at the crossroads of their lives would find an oasis, even a sanctuary
-where people can meet and where outreach to the broader community happens
through cultural activities
-where networking with initiatives libraries and the public library system is fostered
To embark upon such a project some questions would have to be addressed:
Do today’s people really need a physical space to truly meet?
Technology offers us everything we search for, and can also endanger our physical and
mental health. Is the book a better alternative?
How do we fund such a place? Is our will strong enough to find a way? Here the Rudolf
Steiner Library in Hudson, N.Y. can be an inspiration. Whatever path is taken, it has to include a full presence on the digital platform – at least with regard to its holdings, if not its circulation records. A question has occurred here: since most of the titles, at least in English, already exist digitally through the work of others, could a contract be worked out with one of these to create a link to our holdings?
Call to Members
With this long overdue report and background, a call is going out to all members herewith: Might there be a new team of dedicated book lovers waiting in the wings for just such an opportunity to serve Anthroposophy – to develop a new vision for our library and to bring it into a new relevance and life? It would be a golden opportunity for a team of a bibliophile, an online expert and an entrepreneur. If you feel yourself called to this wonderful task, please contact Catarina Burisch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many people have served our members’ library as volunteers since the early 1950’s – too many to all be named. Here are some of them: Isabel Grieve, our first librarian, who founded it and later handed it over to librarian Barbara Gunther, followed by many helpers over the years: Helen Marr, Tony Marques, Allan Perun, Irene Mayerhofer, Ingrid Belenson, Mark McAlister, Kathy Grant, and most recently, Christine Tansley, Susan Richard and Lidia-Marie Gionet. All of them are thanked for their contributions and faithful service over many years.
Thornhill, Nov. 2022