08 May 2011

Whitton is a questionable choice

Ottawa City Council appears ready to name of the new Central Archives and Ottawa Public Library Technical Services Facility as the “Charlotte Whitton Archives and Library Building."

It is an unfortunate choice.

In an editorial on 23 July 1954 the Ottawa Citizen commented that Mayor Whitton had "running battles" with the Library Board, "starting with her ill-informed opposition to a bookmobile." These had included her opposing the Library Board choice for City Librarian.

On April 22 1969 there is an article "New Library Stalled by Whitton" reporting on her move for reconsideration by Council of a decision to move ahead on the Main Library.

Whitton was a divisive figure in City politics, an advocate for neither library nor archives. Her sharp tongue, as in her well known quote “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult” was hurtful. In a facility which is seeing welcome cooperation between those two parts of the city administration which have not always worked cooperatively, it would be unfortunate if the facility were encumbered with a name that fails to engender a cooperative spirit.

It's as if the city built a recreation centre for OCTranspo drivers, and then insisted on naming it after Larry O"Brien.

The facility name should better be one that celebrates the city heritage and cultural achievements, not another monument to a City politician whose contributions to the activities of the organizations housed therein are at best dubious.


Glenn W. said...

I agree wholeheartedly and I am glad that you found good solid (and cultural) reasons why the new facility should not be named after Charlotte Whitton. I would suggest Lawrence J. Burpee as a possible selection. Born in 1873, Burpee was a federal civil servant when he was appointed city librarian in 1905. He was the author of numerous books and articles on historical themes, was active in the Ontario Library Association and the American Library Association. He worked closely with Sir Arthur Doughty, then Dominion Archivist, and in 1919 he advocated the establishment of a national library.

Mike More said...

While I agree that Charlotte Whitton is the wrong choice for the building, I'd like to see it named for somebody on the Archives side. The City Library has numerous building which could be names after a former librarian. This will be the sole building of the City of Archives and the name should represent the heritage community. The Friends of the City Archives made a proposal that the building honour William Pittman Lett, the first City Clerk of the new City of Ottawa and, in effect, the first archivist of the city. But he was far more than a simple bureacrat. I don't have the space to include his full resume.

Mary Anne said...

What about naming it after the first archivist and the first librarian?

DWP said...

For a different opinion see Dave Brown's column in today's (June 27th's) Ottawa Citizen
"COlumn of the day
Dave Brown: Silent majority must speak up"

I don't know which opinion is fair, probably neither, but I think it is worth considering the facts that Brown puts forth.