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French-Canadian Collections

The British Library acquires extensively from the published output of French Canada.

Historical note

Acquisition from this area began in 1764 (immediately after the printing press arrived in Quebec in the wake of the British conquest) but items obtained were very few in number and remained so until the 1850s when organised rather than sporadic acquisition became possible. From then onwards, progress was sustained, if somewhat restrained, until the early 1950s when greatly increased resources, the enormous growth and better bibliographic documentation of new French-Canadian publications as well as the steady development of an antiquarian market in French-Canadian imprints made possible the creation of the collections currently held by the British Library.

Its predecessor organisation - the British Museum Library - had already been doubly fortunate in that the Imperial Copyright Act of 1842 and then the revised Canadian Copyright Act of 1895 (lapsing in 1924), which had both named that library as a recipient of one copy of every new Canadian publication, had thereby established the firm basis and scope of the collections. Even though these acts contained no enforcement measures, they were relatively effective, but this very deficiency required that contact should be established directly with suppliers in Canada so that gaps could be filled by purchase. This is now the means by which approximately 95% off the annual intake of French-Canadian imprints are acquired and have been since the 1920s. It is also the means by which the Library sustains contact with a substantial network of book-dealers for both new and older publications and maintains control over its acquisitions policy. However, it should be noted that there is a steady flow of donations, either individually from French-Canadian authors or corporately, from learned bodies and especially from the Quebec Delegation in London which has been exceptionally generous in the past. The British Library also maintains a modest exchange programme with the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec.

Nature of the collections

However acquired, about 80% of these publications come from the Province of Quebec. Although Canada is officially bi-lingual throughout its territory, the Francophone population is overwhelmingly concentrated in the eastern part of the country. Quebec is the stronghold of French-Canadian society and more than 80% of its population is French-speaking. Outside of Quebec, important monographs and monograph series are acquired from organisations based in the Federal capital of Ottawa. Some monographs are purchased from the Francophone communities of the Eastern Canadian seaboard and the Western Provinces, to reflect the life of the communities in these regions.

French-Canadian publishing does not compete with publishing in metropolitan France. Instead, its focus, and therefore the focus of the British Library's French-Canadian collections, is French Canada's relationship with itself, its investigation of all aspects of its past and present and its articulation of its specific cultural identity. Equally important are its political and cultural relationship with Anglophone Canada, its role in North America and its relationship with the Francophone world. Moreover, French Canada and particularly Quebec embody a culture with several unique or important features. It is the only former French colony to base itself almost exclusively on its French inheritance. It is a small but linguistically successful society set in on overwhelmingly Anglophone continent. Within Quebec's borders there live certain ethnic groups of Indians and Inuit about whom information is available principally in the French language. Quebec itself is a numerically and linguistically minor partner within a federal system of nationhood, and the Canadian federal experiment offers important lessons in the effort to create a European Union.

Collection policy

The current collection policy for French-Canadian publications bears these factors in mind and attempts to create and sustain a corpus of scholarly works of lasting value where each new acquisition makes a visible contribution and is clearly related to the purposes of the collection. Collection policy also attempts to recognise new trends in French-Canadian writing such as the growing importance of the study of New France and the greater frequency of co-editions between publishers in France and Quebec. Material describing French Canada is also acquired from other countries and through British legal deposit.

As the acquisitions policy is necessarily selective, certain categories of material are excluded. They are most children's literature, general textbooks and introductory works to abstract or concrete questions, guidebooks, translations from other languages (except Inuit, Indian and certain Classical languages), cooking, clothing and simple reprints.

Access to the collections

The French-language holdings from Quebec have been partly described in: French Quebec: imprints in French from Quebec 1764-1990 in the British Library / a catalogue compiled, with an introduction, by D.J. McTernan. 2 vols. London: British Library; Montreal: Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 1992-1993.

An open-access copy of this work is held in the Humanities Reading Room at shelfmark HLR011.241 There is a stack copy at shelfmark 2725.g.2157.

This catalogue describes just over 10,000 separate titles. As a whole, the French-Canadian collections comprise approximately 18,000 titles. They are all described in Explore the British Library.

Material published before 1851 can be consulted only in the Rare Books and Music Reading Room. All other material may be consulted in the Humanities Reading Room except for the publications of the Federal and Provincial governments of Canada which are available in the Official Publications and Social Sciences Reading Area of Science 2 reading room, Maps of Canada, or published in Canada are available in the Map Library. All of these Reading Rooms are in the British Library building at St Pancras, London. French-Canadian newspapers are held at British Library Newspapers.

Internet resources

It is the case that the British Library's holdings in this field will always be representative. For access to exhaustive holdings, the potential user should contact the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec which includes a very extensive Répertoire des sites web de référence du Québec on its home page, and the National Library of Canada. Both also offer numerous links to other Canadian libraries and organisations, and to libraries with French-Canadian holdings.

Early Canadiana on line / Notre mémoire en ligne
Offers a full-text, on-line collection of more than 3000 books and pamphlets documenting Canadian history from the first European contact to the late 19th century. The collection is particularly strong in literature, women's history, native studies, travel and exploration and the history of French Canada.
Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique française
The main organisation of historians working in the field of French North America and has many links to related fields.
Parliamentary Internet parlementaire
The site of the Federal Government of Canada, offering access to the full range of its activities and intending to offer access to the Parliamentary Library.
Assemblée nationale du Québec
Offers information on the range and function of the Provincial government of Quebec.
Bibliothèque Cécile-Rouleau
Serves the Quebec Government, offers a range of services to its citizens.
Université de Montréal
Hosts many valuable research bodies on its website including the Centre de recherche en droit public.


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