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NLS Press Release

Major Plans for Library Service to Blind Canadians

For immediate release
August 20, 2001
Contact: Robert E. Fistick
(202) 707-9279 or [email protected]

Canadian National Librarian Roch Carrier announced major plans to develop new and improved services to 3.1 million blind, visually impaired, and print-handicapped Canadians, at a reception and dinner held in his honor at the Library of Congress on August 15, 2001, in conjunction with the International Federation of Library Associations' Section of Libraries for the Blind Pre-conference 2001.

Speaking to an international audience of leaders and directors of blind organizations, Carrier spelled out his efforts to develop plans "to serve this group of Canadians that has not been represented in the program of the National Library of Canada." Carrier became Canada's fourth National Librarian on October 1, 1999.

Carrier was introduced by Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Library of Congress, host for the dinner held in the Thomas Jefferson Building. In his introduction, Cylke noted one of Carrier's more famous books, The Hockey Sweater, first published in 1979, and asked if Carrier might read his well- known children's book to the audience, each of whom received a copy. "[The Hockey Sweater] documents a Canadian boy's upbringing, education, and growing sense of cultural alienation from his community," according to Contemporary Literary Criticism. The book is described as "an illustrated story for primary graders, [and] exhibits Carrier's characteristic political overtones on such topics as French Canadian nationalism and the English-French language barrier." In the story, "a disastrous boyhood episode is fondly recreated," according to one reviewer. Growing up in rural Quebec, young Roch and all of his friends idolize the beloved Montreal Canadiens. Roch is understandably mortified when his mother presents him with a new jersey that of the hated rival Toronto Maple Leafs. To make matters worse, Roch is expected to wear the dreaded blue-and-white in public. "The Hockey Sweater is a funny story," asserted School Library Journal contributor Joan McGrath, "but it is the fun of an adult looking indulgently back to remember a horrible childhood humiliation from the tranquil plateau of adulthood."

Carrier provided an anecdote-filled rendition of The Hockey Sweater. In setting the scene, Carrier said, "The story took place a long time ago [in] Quebec. A very small town...there were less than 2,000 people living there, all white and Roman Catholic." Especially interesting was an anecdote about the Montreal Canadien's star player, Maurice "Rocket" Richard. Carrier interrupted his narration when he read about his team all wearing number nine on our backs Rocket Richard's number. Carrier said, "At the beginning of his career, Richard was number fifteen, and one day this very shy, non-talkative man went to see his boss, Frank Selke, and said 'Boss, no more fifteen, I want nine.' 'How come?' Selke asked. 'I want nine because last night I got a daughter...nine I want nine!'"

After reading The Hockey Sweater, Carrier elaborated on his plans to develop library services for the blind in Canada. He noted that after first becoming national librarian, he developed a national task force report in concert with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) and its executive director Euclid Herie. "With less than $20,000 shared equally by CNIB and the National Library a national survey demonstrated the need for the National Library to make accessibility a major program." Carrier noted that a major finding of the task force was that "3.1 million Canadians cannot read conventional print as a result of a visual, physical, or learning disability; they do not have equitable and free access to technology and information; their trainers don't have the training; Canada relies heavily on the Library of Congress and Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic in the United States; language materials other than English are scarce; timeliness of information is a problem; Canada has a number of programs, but it seems they are not well coordinated and they lack funding; and Canadians want to be served locally." In summing up the task force report, Carrier said, "Perhaps it's not great news to you, but to us it was very well articulated. We had a document that we could go with and talk with to a number of people who we wish to become our partners." He said he distributed the task force report to the media, the medical profession, the government and its various offices, as well as industries in Canada.

As a result of the task-force effort with CNIB, Carrier said he created a national council on access "made from a number of people including publishers, consumer groups, of course...people with print handicaps, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. We created a group who will advise us on what to do. This national council now has a work plan. The most urgent issues include:

Carrier noted, "These national council recommendations are now part to the National Library of Canada's Strategic Plan... My next step is to present this plan to the Prime Minister and the Canadian government."

Cylke presented Carrier with a Library of Congress Bicentennial paperweight. A brief discussion with the audience on strategies of libraries for the blind and physically handicapped around the world followed. A lively conversation about the new age of digital talking books captivated guests from the United Kingdom, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Russia, and the United States. A commemorative dinner program booklet featuring Carrier's career highlights was distributed, and Carrier held a book-signing of The Hockey Sweater at the close of the evening's festivities.

An internationally acclaimed writer and author, Carrier is well known for several novels that are considered classics and are used in schools and universities around the world, in both French and English. Some have been translated into other languages. His plays have been produced both in Canada and abroad. He has also written screenplays, including Le martien de Noël and Le chandail.

Roch Carrier was born in Sainte-Justine, Quebec, on May 13, 1937. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the Université Saint-Louis in Edmundston, New Brunswick, a master of arts degree from the Université de Montréal, and a doctorat ès lettres degres from the Université de Paris.

In 1964, he joined the French Department of the Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean (CMR), where he taught literature until 1970. In search of new challenges, he continued his teaching career at the Université de Montreal through 1971. He was appointed secretary general of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in 1971. He returned to CMR as director of the French Department (1973-1980) and was coordinator of the undergraduate program in Canadian studies.

In 1986, he became dean of the Faculty of Administration and Humanities. In August 1989, he was named acting rector, and in March 1990, he was appointed rector. From 1994 to 1997, he was director of the Canada Council for the Arts. He traveled, studied, and wrote before becoming Canada's National Librarian in October 1999.

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Posted on 2011-01-10