Librarian’s bibliography offers research treasure trove

Success in university is often a happy marriage of good research and writing skills. Now students and researchers investigating Canadian authors who hail from the Caribbean and South Asia can access a new resource designed with their needs in mind.

York University reference librarian Mary Kandiuk (right) has recently published a comprehensive bibliographic reference book on 27 selected Caribbean or South Asian writers who have lived in Canada for at least part of their writing careers. In Caribbean and South Asian Writers in Canada: A Bibliography of Their Works and of English-Language Criticism (Scarecrow Press, 2007), Kandiuk has created a treasure trove of information for researchers. The book is the first of its kind.

In it, Kandiuk provides a comprehensive overview , with a brief biography and an exhaustive chronological list of each writer’s monograph fictions. She complements this information with a list by author of books, parts of books, periodical articles, book reviews and dissertations that critique their work. Kandiuk’s extensive knowledge of research comes into play with her penchant for accuracy, and while her purpose is to provide a source of academic material, she also cites other sources, including popular print, that include in-depth treatment of the author’s life or work.

Her focus on accuracy in this project has its roots in Kandiuk’s life, her day job as a reference librarian at York University’s Scott Library and her own personal passion for literature. "The writers that excite me are those who come from the Caribbean or South Asian countries," said Kandiuk. "As I developed the concept for the book, I considered my own responsibilities and the needs I came across as a reference librarian. This book is the result of a perceived need by students working in these areas. It was created with two key criteria, specifically what is it they are looking for and what do they need to find?"

The writers included in this volume, says Kandiuk, are responsible for some of the most interesting writing coming out of Canada today. While the work of these writers is attracting worldwide attention and acclaim, literary criticism relating to their work is often scarce and difficult to locate.

By citing critical source material on the works of these 27 significant poets, novelists, and dramatists, Kandiuk has filled a gap in existing bibliographical tools. The figures included in this bibliography are celebrated established authors such as York’s own Michael Ondaatje (a professor at Glendon), Austin C. Clarke, Bharati Mukherjee and Rohinton Mistry, as well as exciting newcomers like Dionne Brand and Marlene Nourbese Philip.

For Kandiuk, preparing Caribbean and South Asian Writers in Canada was a painstaking labour of love. "This was a project that was four years in the making, from start to finish. I began on my sabbatical and started research. I started to collect information and import it into bibliographic software from different databases, from library catalogues," said Kandiuk. "One thing I felt strongly about when doing this project is that it is not enough just to collect it and put it out there, you need to take a look at it to see if the information is actually correct. Is the article actually on the page? Is it truly there, in that journal and on that date? What tends to happen with the Internet is that mistakes are made and they get repeated. Someone will write something and it will be incorrect and the next person picks it up and the next person and it is out there and it is wrong."

Experience is the best teacher, and for Kandiuk, the process she went through to compile her first bibliographic reference French Canadian Authors: A Bibliography of Their Works and of English-Language Criticism (Scarecrow, 1990), provided a perfect primer for her new book.

"Publishers like to have annotations and a little more than just the citation. What I did in both my books was I would indicate the subject matter of the work. This is important because sometimes it is difficult to tell from the title. As a result, a student can discover ahead of time that if they were doing an essay on Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient that the article cited has information that is relevant to their essay.

Kandiuk also applied for a minor research grant from the library and was able to hire Jennifer Wentworth, a research assistant who happened to be a York part-time librarian. "I owe her a huge debt," says Kandiuk. "She was very committed and dedicated to the project.

‘We had these weird librarian talks," chuckles Kandiuk. "We would whisper and ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over new citations. I scanned the bibliographies for everything we found. It is like being a detective, we would find un-indexed references and work through the web of material to find more un-indexed material that was not in the databases or catalogues."

The level of detail was very involved, said Kandiuk. "By the end of the project, my son was calling it the ‘evil book’."

She says the project was made possible because of the unique status that librarians have at York University. "We are not cloistered here. York librarians have a wonderful and dynamic research life and there are many opportunities for growth here at York that librarians in other academic institutions do not experience," says Kandiuk. "At York, librarians are involved in the life of the University’s community. I am involved with the York University Faculty Association and librarians serve on numerous University-wide committees. It puts us in touch with the University."

For more information on Caribbean and South Asian Writers in Canada: A Bibliography of Their Works and of English-Language Criticism, visit the Scarecrow Press Web site.

Story by Jenny Pitt-Clark, YFile editor