Ralph Pickard Bell Library
A Library Planning Committee was set up in January 1966 when it became obvious that a new library was necessary at Mount Allison. By May 1969, construction had begun1 and the date stone containing various official university documents was laid on September 26, 1969 by Governor General Roland Michener. The Library was named for Mount Allison University’s first Chancellor and great benefactor, and the official opening of the $2 million Ralph Pickard Bell Library was held on 22 October 1970 with 300 guests in attendance.2

In a speech delivered at the opening ceremony3, Chief Librarian Eleanor Magee described the objectives of the Planning Committee and how the objectives resulted in the R P Bell Library. She noted that decisions were “based on the University’s declared aim of remaining a small, predominantly undergraduate university, with a probable maximum enrolment of 1,500 students for the foreseeable future” and that the Library would “continue to grow at its present pace of ten to twelve thousand volumes a year”. The Planning Committee planned seating on the basis of one-third of the students being in the building at any given time – i.e. 500 seats. Recognizing that future developments in communication would require adaptability, accommodation for closed circuit television or other developments was provided for by conduits through the ceilings. The Committee estimated that in this way “no further expansion would have to occur before 1995”. 

The result was a five-storey octagonal building of approximately 82,000 square feet.  A film theatre with 59 seats, a microfilm room equipped with readers and a listening room equipped with individual booths for record players and four tape recorders completed the modern accoutrements.  There were specially designed rooms for the holdings of Special Collections, including secure space for the Edgar and Dorothy Davidson Collection of Canadiana, a room for the W. P. Bell Acadiana collection, and three areas assigned to the Mary Mellish Archibald Memorial Library collection which contained over 25,000 volumes, numerous periodicals, and over 4,000 recordings. The new Archives Section was assigned an office on the third floor and a storage area in the basement.

When the building opened, the holdings stood at 160,000 volumes and there were thirty full-time staff members - seven librarians and 23 support staff.  Currently the building holds half a million (500,000) volumes. There are seven librarians and 20 support staff.  University enrolment stands at approximately 2450 students. In 2004, the official name of the unit was changed to Ralph Pickard Bell Libraries and Archives, to reflect the growing holdings and importance of the University Archives and the Music Library.

Over the years, “communication” in the form of information delivery has indeed changed, but far beyond that envisioned by the Planning Committee.  Card catalogues largely have been replaced by an On-line Public Access Catalogue (OPAC).  Because many journals are now available through on-line databases, the number of print journals acquired has dropped from 2,000 to 500, while approximately 33,000 journals are available online.

1 Designed by Brown Brisley Brown, Toronto, ON.  Built by Tantramar Contractors  Ltd.

2 Sackville Tribune-Post, Mount Allison Opens New Ralph Pickard Bell Library, 28 October 1970, p9

3 Address of Eleanor E. Magee, Chief Librarian at the Formal Opening of the Ralph Pickard Bell Library, October 22nd, 1970.

Ralph Pickard Bell Library under construction, May 1969.

Mount Allison Archives, Picture Collection. 2007.07/682

Ralph Pickard Bell Library
under construction ca 1970

Mount Allison Archives, Picture Collection. 2007.07/688

Ralph Pickard Bell Library

Photo Credit: Jamie Smith

Ralph Pickard Bell Library, 2009

Photo credit: Jamie Smith