Margaret was the Chief Librarian at the University of Guelph from 1971 to 1984. She hired me into my first professional job and was an important mentor to me. But all this has nothing to do with her coat.
Before Guelph, Margaret worked at the University of Waterloo Library in the Technical Services area. This was the time before automation in libraries; before computers were used in any way. Think card catalogues, typewriters, and mimeograph machines (some of you will have to Google that last one).
Margaret saw the possibilities of computers in libraries and began to advocate for them at Waterloo. Now “advocate” in Margaret’s terms really meant an all-out campaign to convince people. The word “assertive” doesn’t even come close to describe her. To know her was to know her opinions on just about everything.
Apparently Waterloo wasn’t so enamoured and fired her.
After a bit of negotiation, Margaret received a severance cheque from UW. And she immediately spent the entire sum on a flashy, quite ostentatious, fur coat. It was an act of defiance and rebellion. That coat was the symbol of her independence and the clarity of her vision.
Margaret was hired at Guelph in the Technical Services area and eventually became Chief Librarian. At every opportunity she wore that coat when she visited UW or was at meetings with the UW Chief Librarian.
Her coat became a fixture at the Guelph Library too. It was hard to miss (and in current terms, very politically incorrect). She continued to wear it proudly. And, of course, that’s why some ne’re-do-wells in the Library had to do something about it.
As you know, libraries put “detect” strips in all their books which are “desensitized” when you check the book out (it’s a security feature; an alarm rings if this is not done). The books that aren’t allowed to circulate have strips in them that are permanently sensitized; you can’t turn them off.
Some people (names hidden to protect the guilty) put one of these permanently sensitized strips in the lining of Margaret’s fur coat. Every time, and I mean every time, she left the Library wearing that coat, the alarm would go off. We thought it was hilarious; Margaret was pissed.
She thought the detection system was broken, and those responsible were never able to confess to the crime. The alarms went off until she finally retired the coat. She never knew.
I know it bothered Margaret but I’ve always felt that in one way the coat and the alarm were reminders of how significant a force she was in the field of librarianship. Her presence was larger than life, her voice a ringing bell among her colleagues and those she mentored. The coat was the story of her impact on the profession.