Toronto’s chief librarian a remarkable fellow (1913)

From the Toronto Star Weekly, July 5, 1913

IMG_1865-librarian-photoEmphatically the right man in the right place is Dr. George H. Locke as Toronto’s chief librarian. Possibly he does not look quite look the part, for there is a notable absence of “mustiness” about him. And “mustiness,” to many people’s minds, should be the lot of him who dwells among books.

Nor does he deem that his position renders it incumbent on him to cultivate a monumental knitting of heavily spectacled brows. But he has made the public library a live, up-to-date institution of the city — one that is run on sound and sane, and “withal,” and economic lines.

Dr. Locke is a book lover, rather than what would strictly be called a bookish man. He has literature, indeed, and much literature, but he wears it lightly and brightly like a flower, not as a burden over-grievous to be borne.

And in literature, as in so much else, his tastes are catholic. It is his general catholicity of taste which helps to make him the man of the world that he is — without any of that narrowness which that phrase so often imports.

He could not be dull if he tried. The odd, whimsical expression comes as readily to his lips as does the original view to his active mind. For converse, whether of grave or of gay, one has need to be a wary verbal wrestler who would try a dialectical fall with Dr. Locke.

System and Liberty

Perhaps the secret of his success in his present post may mainly be found in two directions. First there is his system of efficiency, and his efficiency of system. Whether in arranging, cataloguing, indexing, or what not, that efficiency is easily observable. One cannot be much in the library without realizing that here is a machine which works with a smoothness, quite out of the common, and one need see very little of Dr. Locke at work to recognize that that smoothness is attributable to the shrewd methods of a master mind.

In the second place, under his regime the public have been treated as friends and not as potential malefactors.

It was his idea to allow the public to have free access to the shelves, a privilege which . . . has not been substantially abused.

Later he devised a plan whereby a person wishing to read a special book may make special application for it. Then came the juvenile department of the library, the children’s book club, the national story hour, and all the rest of the carefully thought-out devices for making the library a place of interest and fascination for children.

The special privilege of taking a number of books at once when going on holiday, which is so greatly appreciated by holiday-makers, is due to his care for, and trust in, book-loving humanity.

His Accessibility

As has been hinted, Dr. Locke is a delightful companion. If in his heart he does not suffer fools gladly, he is at least scrupulously careful that the fool shall not see that his folly irks him. And he is accessible to all the wise and the unwise alike. Indeed, he probably gets a little amusement out of some of the “cranks” who waste his time.

For he is a champion in the art of “jollying.” And contact with his nimble wits has been known temporarily so to brighten a dullard that he has left the chief librarian’s room in fine fettle with himself as a shrewd and sprightly fellow.

Dr. Locke is not merely a good raconteur — the appropriate anecdote always leaps to his mind at the appropriate moment — but he is a remarkably good public speaker, whether in light or more serious vein.

As an educationalist, it is doubtful whether he has an equal in the Dominion. But he is the last man in the world to allow his very real enthusiasm in this direction to render him boresome to others — as is too often the way of specialists in this particular branch.

A professor is sometimes a prig, but Dr. Locke is a living and moving proof that he need not necessarily be one. Both as librarian and as educationalist, he is esteemed very highly by some of the most progressive minds in England, while in the United States (where he has filled many highly important educational positions) his reputation for clear-headedness is inferior to that of few educational specialists on this continent. ♦

Photo: Dr. Locke, Toronto’s chief librarian, a man with a nationwide reputation