Friday, October 10, 2014

Alfred Fitzpatrick and the Beginning of Ontario's Travelling Libraries in 1900

Ontario's Travelling Libraries began modestly and developed over six decades before the system was wound down in the 1960s when new ways to reach rural and isolated readers became prevalent. Although travelling libraries were not uncommon at the turn of the twentieth century, the Ontario Department of Education was at first reluctant to engage in this type of work. Its officials preferred to reach rural localities through schools and encourage "association" libraries (requiring small fees for membership) for adults. However, a new Minister, Richard Harcourt, struck out on a new course in 1900, influenced by Alfred Fitzpatrick, the founder of Frontier College. Fitzpatrick was a force to be reckoned with and almost single-handedly was responsible for the inauguration of this type of service in Ontario, first in the region of "New Ontario," the vast area north of Muskoka and Lake Superior that extended to the Manitoba border before the First World War.

You can read about Fitzpatrick's drive to establish "reading camps" in Northern Ontario and his interaction with Harcourt's department in my article just published in Historical Studies in Education / Revue d'histoire de l'├ęducation. After a half decade, Fitzpatrick reoriented his efforts to eventually establish Frontier College, but small libraries remained part of his broader vision to provide learning opportunities for adults along Canadian frontier areas. A pr├ęcis follows and the complete article is available for consultation online at Historical Studies in Education.

In 1900, the Ontario Department of Education and Alfred Fitzpatrick engaged in an experiment to supply books to reading camps for lumber, mining, and railway workers in Northern Ontario. The center-periphery interplay between education officials and Fitzpatrick gave birth to two important adult education agencies: Frontier College and Ontario’s travelling library system. Although the Department partially accepted Fitzpatrick’s original plan for library extension, he garnered enough public support and employer endorsements to leverage government action on key issues related to a systematic book supply, the reduction of illiteracy, and non-formal adult learning techniques. This paper uses primary sources to examine the differing objectives held by Fitzpatrick and the Department during their initial joint venture prior to the Ontario election of 1905. The study highlights why travelling libraries became a provincial responsibility; as well, it shows Fitzpatrick reshaped his original plans by practical interactions with resource workers that led to new approaches for adult learning at the outset of the 20th century.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Review - Three British Columbia Public Library Commission reports, 1927-41

British Columbia Public Library Commission. British Columbia Library Survey 1927-28, Conducted Under the Auspices of British Columbia Public Library Commission. Victoria:  Printed by C. F. Banfield, Printer to the King, 1929.

British Columbia Public Library Commission. Libraries in British Columbia 1940; a Reconsideration of the Library Survey of 1927-28. Victoria:  Printed by C. F. Banfield, Printer to the King, 1941.

British Columbia Public Library Commission. A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941.  A Contribution to the Problem. Prepared  by a Special Committee of the Public Library Commission: H. Norman Lidster, C. K. Morison, John  Ridington, E. S. Robinson, Chairman. Victoria: 1942.

While I have concentrated on national and regional library surveys during the Great Depression in the past few blogs, it would be gross omission if the efforts of the British Columbia Public Library Commission throughout this period was not highlighted. In 1919, a revision of the BC Public Libraries Act provided for a three-member commission to supervise public library services and to administer the Province's library grant to libraries. The relatively independent commission form of library oversight was not uncommon in the United States, but in Canada, where the Ontario Library Association had failed to develop a similar scheme before WWI, it was unique. The Commission conduced a travelling library service and a books by mail (open shelf) service to individuals. By the 1920s the Commission was operating a small budget of about $20,000. It was at this point that the commissioners, led by Dr. Norman F. Black, set out to discover the state of province-wide library service. With a generous $6,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the commission employed Clarence B. Lester, from the Wisconsin library commission, as an adviser for a thorough study--the first of its kind in twentieth century Canada.

The British Columbia Library Survey 1927-28 provided a detailed report of more than 100 pages on library conditions and responses from residents. More than twenty appendices recorded information on issues such as sea-coast libraries, the open shelf system, services for the blind, school libraries, vocational services, and library training. The key recommendations focused on direct services, namely (a) the use of library districts, created specially for this purpose, in rural communities and (b) the provision of school library service as part of a unified library system. In this scenario, regional library systems would provide services for a combination of school districts, municipalities, unorganized rural communities, and even individuals. When the report was tabled in 1929, it was an obvious that the potential of regional/district library service (the "union library" concept) could only be demonstrated through an actual project. The 1927-28 survey findings were used to secure $100,000 from the Carnegie Corporation and to employ Helen Gordon Stewart, Victoria's chief librarian, to conduct a demonstration in the Fraser Valley beginning in 1930. This project is ably described and analyzed by Maxine Rochester, "Bringing Librarianship to Rural Canada in the 1930s: Demonstrations by Carnegie Corporation of New York," Libraries & Culture: a Journal of Library History 30 (1995): 366-90. But it was the report itself that was the crucial catalyst for action because it contained copious factual information, especially statistics, which could not be garnered elsewhere (even in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics publication, Survey of Libraries) that bolstered its conclusions and recommendations. The Fraser Valley experiment served as precedent  that led to further Carnegie grants on the Atlantic coast in the mid-1930s. This "second wave" of Carnegie library grants in the 1930s encouraged the growth of libraries at a time when public funding for libraries edged towards impoverishment rather than improvement across Canada.

After four years of successful operation and after Carnegie funding ended in 1934, BC residents in twenty communities voted to continue the Fraser Valley project with local taxes. With the success of the Fraser Valley demonstration came the need to expand and upgrade library services. The Commission was able to promote the development of two more "union library" systems as they were known on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan Valley. As the effects of the Depression lessened in 1938, the Commission began to review progress on a five-year basis. It undertook an extensive review of the 1927-28 report with a view of identifying successes and problems that had occurred during the intervening decade. On balance, the new report, Libraries in British Columbia 1940, concluded the original principles and policies of the first report should continue to constitute the foundation of provincial organization to further book service in BC. The 1940 report, however, emphasized the idea of centralized coordination for professional library training, standards of service for different sized communities, and enlarged powers for the Library Commission to distribute grants to all libraries achieving standard provincial requirements. The report lamented that libraries in larger centres--Burnaby and North Vancouver--were being operated and funded by voluntary associations and located in downtown shops. With Canada at war against the Axis powers, the report intoned that library services should be mandated and that "democracy must be intelligent" to succeed in "winning the peace" as well as the war. But wartime austerity and priorities pushed the commission report onto the shelf rather than the field of action.

Not to be idle and considering that postwar planning was essential, the same commissioners (Norman Lidster, C. K. Morison, the indefatigable John  Ridington, and E. S. Robinson) undertook another wartime study, A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941 for the Minister of Education. They were charged to survey the existing state of adult education across BC and to submit suggestions and recommendations for its development. The Commission studied formal provincial, federal, and municipal agencies working with adults in various capacities--boards of health, departments of agriculture, educational bodies, police schools, museums, forestry programs, and youth training--as well as the Extension Department of the University of British Columbia which was praised by the commissioners. Numerous civil society organizations were mailed questionnaires: art galleries, musical and literary societies, boards of trade, cooperatives, credit unions, student and study groups, newspapers, radio stations, crafts organizations, etc. National organizations, e.g. the Workers' Educational Association and CNIB were noted although Frontier College was a notable omission. The study called for a provincial program of Adult Education comparable to the public school system. The potential of radio broadcasting was highlighted. The work of public libraries also received favourable comment--the public library was designated as a  "principle agency."  The survey's basic recommendation: the need for the provincial government to authorize a coordinating authority, the Department of Education, to establish a central adult education division under a director. Then, it would be possible to form a Council of Adult Education to determine policy with the Director for appropriate plans, standards, grants, advisory work, and necessary operating services for the entire province. An underlying wartime ideal of democratic progress once peace was attained often appeared in the study's pages. It was a broad appeal, but one that did not stimulate the government to take immediate action. As a result, the linkage between libraries and adult education remained tenuous in the postwar period, a situation not uncommon in the rest of Canada. In postwar BC, the extension service of UBC would head up adult education efforts.

Nonetheless, the three studies encompassing the Depression years standout as positive statements for the development of libraries and their connection with the emerging field of adult education. At a time when Canadians' appreciation for the arts, adult education, and library science was influenced more by parsimonious economic considerations and wartime challenges, the reports and work of the Library Commission were vital statements of "what should be" infused with bold rhetoric and factual material that fortified its arguments. On the Canadian library stage in the first part of the twentieth century, they stand out as important historical markers in the development of libraries and librarianship.


A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941 is available for viewing via the Hathi Trust.

Marjorie C . Holmes, Library Service in British Columbia; a Brief History of its Development (Victoria, 1959)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review - Canadian Maritime Library Surveys during the Great Depression

Gerhard Lomer, Report on a Proposed Three-year Demonstration of Library Service for Prince Edward Island. Montreal: McGill University Library, 1932. 52 p., illus, folding plan.

Nora Bateson, The Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1933-1936. Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island Libraries, 1936. 52 p., illus. with an Appendix: The Public Library Act (assented to April 4, 1935; p. 50-52).

Nora Bateson, Library Survey of Nova Scotia. Halifax, Department of Education, 1938. 40 p., map; with an Appendix: An act to provide for the support of regional libraries: p. 40.

Nova Scotia Regional Libraries Commission,  Libraries for Nova Scotia, 2nd rev. ed. Halifax: the Commission, 1940.12 p.


The Depression in Maritime Canada presented enormous obstacles to library development. This period did, however, spur important new thinking about how public library services could be established and maintained by public funds and management. As the national survey and report funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Libraries in Canada, proceeded after 1930, it became evident that regional demonstrations might better serve as a stimulus and program for future courses of action. The commissioners, John Ridington, George Locke, and Mary J.L. Black, suggested that Prince Edward Island would an ideal area for such a testing ground for public library service.

Accordingly, The Corporation, under the presidency of Frederick P. Keppel, requested Dr. Gerhard Lomer, the library director of McGill University, to visit P.E.I. and give a second opinion on the issue. Although Lomer only spent a short time on the island in September 1932, he produced a detailed typewritten assessment of current services and facilities, talked with a variety of officials, critiqued operations such as the provincial School Days program for libraries, indicated potential sites for development, and even provided an up-to-date bibliography of regional services. While his work was not as extensive as an earlier Canadian report, British Columbia Library Service 1927-1928 (Victoria, 1929), Lomer provided practical details on organization and offered a program suited to Islanders' needs which explained regional service and showed how it could be put into action by a three-year demonstration of province-wide public library service. His report recommended that provincial education department take the lead in organizing a demonstration and training branch personnel. Part of Prince of Wales College could be used as headquarters. Lomer's astute observations, plus personal interest on the part of P.E.I.'s premier, W.J.P. MacMillan, were persuasive factors in the subsequent announcement by the Carnegie Corporation in January 1933 that it would grant $75,000 for an endowment for the Prince of Wales College (destroyed by fire in 1931) and also $60,000 to start up a provincial library demonstration. Nora Bateson, M.A., a staff member at the McGill library school, who had worked in Canada's first regional demonstration in the Fraser Valley, B.C., got the nod to head the demonstration in P.E.I.

Bateson's activities from 1933 to 1936 were later documented in her report, Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island. She began work out of Charlottetown in June 1933. A few branches were set up; then, Bateson began the arduous task of promoting services at group meetings and presentations across the island. She drove a modified car that could carry 300 books in shelves fitted onto the rear of her auto to give people a sense of the type of books that could be provided by a central service. Her report details how coordinated action functioned to establish branch libraries, create book lists, and refresh school libraries with good reading. It also highlights the parts played by the two main libraries at Charlottetown and Summerside as well as Women's Institutes in remoter area. Throughout the first years, Bateson was the catalyst for improved services.

There were 41,000 volumes in the main collection by 1935 with 23,517 registered borrowers--about 35% of the population. The 1935 annual circulation was 261,029. Because of the success of the demonstration, The Corporation provided additional funds and the government authorized library legislation creating a provincial library commission in April 1935. However, after the next provincial election, this Act was repealed by the new government, partly on the grounds that funding should be administered directly instead of by an appointed Commission. The report deals with legislative activity at the end (pp. 38-42).

The Prince Edward Island Libraries demonstration showed the potential for success of a province-wide library service. As well, the report offered interesting insights on the relationship of libraries and adult education. Nora Bateson had become acquainted with the library extension efforts of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, and begun to apply similar methods with the demonstration's study groups. A short chapter on this work indicates the variety of meetings and activities in particular Island subjects such as fox-farming, oyster culture, co-operation, and fishing. As well, the report concluded with comments on regional libraries that might be applied in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In June 1936, the demonstration ended and the libraries that had been created came under the direction of the Dept. of Education with limited funding in succeeding years. Unpublished records relating to the reading habits of participants in the successful creation of branches to reach people were digested and reported later in 1940. In retrospect, The Carnegie Library Demonstration documented a systematic scheme of library promotion and provided a blueprint for action as well as data that could be used for research purposes in A Regional Library and Its Readers issued in 1940. Nevertheless, Bateson's report became the basis for library development on the Island until the 1960s ushered in change.

In the adjacent province of Nova Scotia, the Superintendent of Education, Henry F. Munro, and Dr. James Tompkins, the founder of the Antigonish Movement, were anxious to establish better library service, especially in Cape Breton. Father Tompkins, together with Nora Bateson, issued a pamphlet--Why Not a Co-operative Library?--to convince Nova Scotians that a public library system could be built at a reasonable cost and operate effectively. In 1938, the province agreed to sponsor a provincial survey targeting existing conditions, facilities, regional systems, and suggesting a plan for future service. Nora Bateson was the logical choice to conduct the survey. A half-decade before, Libraries in Canada had scant praise for Nova Scotia libraries. In September-October 1937, Bateson found little change. The Citizens Free Library in Halifax lacked staff, finances, accommodation, and needed to be run on "up-to-date professional lines." She found much the same situation in Sydney. The majority of colleges and universities had less than 500 students and small collections. Library extension programs at Acadia and St. Francis Xavier were bright spots. There were 300,000 books in school libraries. Bateson concluded: "It seems reasonable to suppose that when the possibilities of public library service ... is made known, the numerous organizations which have already shown their interest will combine to lift libraries in Nova Scotia out of the amateur class and put them on an efficient professional basis."

To complete her report, Bateson highlighted the state of current library issues--adult readers, children's services, the need for trained librarians and staff, typical service costs, and county and regional organization that had been demonstrated in B.C. and P.E.I. A suggested plan for public library service was put forward: (1) appointed public library commissioners with authority to hire a director and oversee library development; (2) county or regional libraries funded locally with provincial aid and managed by district boards; (3) a library system for Cape Breton with headquarters at Sydney' and (4) improved provincial public library legislation. Nova Scotia already had an enabling Act (1937) to permit regional libraries, but no provision for commissioners, a library director, or designated powers. After considering the report, a new Act was passed in summer 1938 and Bateson hired as library Director of Libraries for Nova Scotia.

To promote and establish libraries, Bateson realized public relations and accurate information was essential. Thus, the small pamphlet, Libraries for Nova Scotia, began to make a regular appearance in hamlets, villages, and towns across the province. This booklet went through various printings before 1945. It included brief outlines on topics such as "Why We Need Libraries," "Information," "Books as Wage Earners," "Leisure-Time Reading," "Country-Wide Library Services," and "Nova Scotia." Because the Second World War intervened, Bateson and her staff spent years assisting the Canadian Legion in providing books to the armed forces in the Maritime region.  Library expansion in Nova Scotia would have to wait another decade for the plans formulated in Library Survey of Nova Scotia could be realized.

The regional surveys conducted in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia during the hard years of the Great Depression showed the success of coordinated library services and value of mobilizing public acceptance to advance libraries. The Carnegie funded projects presented a regional perspective in contrast to the national study, Libraries in Canada, which had detected little interest in libraries. The two studies clearly indicated there was a latent need and potential for public support when energetic efforts were made to introduce better collections and services on a regional scale. Unfortunately, economic conditions and the realities of wartime Canada blunted immediate efforts to implement the ideas presented by Nora Bateson and others. Associated library legislation was incomplete or lacking to permit the formation of county or regional entities for libraries. Potential aids, such as bookmobiles, were ruled out due to transportation difficulties during winter and were not available at this point. Yet, these reports were vital additions that charted library development and served as a basis for eventual library improvements in the Maritimes after the Second World War. Together, with other studies in the west and at the national level, they marked a new era in planning for library service.

Further reading:

Violet L. Coughlin, Larger Units of Public Library Service in Canada; With Particular Reference to the Provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1968

Sue Adams, "Our Activist Past: Nora Bateson, Champion of Regional Libraries," Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 4, no. 1 (2009). [accessed 2014-06-24]

Maxine K. Rochester, "Bringing Librarianship to Rural Canada in the 1930s: Demonstrations by Carnegie Corporation of New York," Libraries & Culture: a Journal of Library History 30 (1995): 366-90.

Nora Bateson : Biographies of Librarians and Information Professionals at the Ex Libris Association site [accessed 2014-06-24]

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Angus Mowat and Ontario's Rural Libraries, 1937-40

Well, after years of research, I have published something on Angus Mowat, Ontario's irrepressible Inspector (later Director) of Public Libraries for three decades. And in the latest issue of Ontario History, a favourite regional journal for professional and local historians alike. The tweet just came out --> Great news! The Spring 2014 issue of ONTARIO HISTORY has been printed and is now available! More info: http://bit.ly/13AA8xu

"An Inspector Calls: Angus Mowat and Ontario's Rural Libraries, 1937-40" Ontario History (Spring 2014, vol. CVI, no. 1) covers a short period just before the Second World War when Mowat began his lengthy career in the Ontario civil service. Mowat was an inspirational voice for public library work during the Great Depression. In 1937, after he became the Inspector of Public Libraries in the Ontario Department of Education, he helped revive spirits and raise service ambitions in smaller libraries. Building on the "modern library" concept popularized after World War I, he re-energized trustees, librarians, and library workers with hundreds of visits to promote local efforts in the immediate prewar period. His inspections encompassed the advisement of trustees on management and financial processes; the promotion of librarianship and staff training; the development of adult and children’s collections; the reorganization of functional building space; the formation of county systems; and support for new school curriculum reading reforms. Mowat’s wide-ranging inspection method not only brought renewed optimism it laid the groundwork for genuine progress in the provincial public library system after 1945.

During the waning depression era, Mowat travelled to all parts of the province encouraging library development and making many friends. Unquestionably, he stimulated thought about enhanced services and helped libraries cope at a critical time. When his army duty (1940-44) ended, he resumed inspections with his usual enthusiasm; however, his term as Inspector ended when he became Director of Public Libraries in 1948. The regime of library inspections lingered into the 1950s, but Mowat’s new title signified his expanded role in advancing provincial policies, financing, and legislation for Ontario’s public library "system." By the time he retired in 1960, a colourful, personal period in Ontario’s public library organization had given way to more systematic, modern administration.

The article covers (1) Depression Era Public Library Service; (2) The Beginning of Inspections in Summer 1937; (3) Library Boards and Trusteeship; (4) Librarianship and Collections; (5) Library Accommodation and Buildings; (6) Library Cooperation; and (7) The End of Inspections in Summer 1940. Mowat's ups and downs in rural Ontario took many turns! Mowat was a library enthusiast for sure -- an administrator with an eye to the irreverent, but always able to cast a serious judgement or offer sage advice when necessary. By the time of his retirement party in 1960 at the Park Plaza, public libraries had undergone many changes and, although he retained many older ideas about how to do things, he was not adverse to try something new.

In recognition of Mowat's efforts, a provincial award, the Angus Mowat Award of Excellence, recognizes a commitment to excellence in the delivery of Ontario public library service. The award is made annually for services that can be old, new, and ongoing.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Library History Network of the Canadian Library Association Annual Meeting, 2014

The program for the Library History Network of the Canadian Library Association is now set for the end of May as follows:

“LIBRARIES & HERITAGE: NEW RESEARCH in LIBRARY HISTORY”
Victoria, British Columbia
Conference Centre
Saturday, May 31, 2014
8:30 to 10:00 am

“The Canadian IFLA Adventure: a Journey of Discovery, 1927-2012.” -- Judith Saltman, Dan Gillean, Jamie McCarthy, Myron Groover, Justin Unrau, and Rachel Balko. (University of British Columbia)

“Libraries and the Establishment of Canadian Public Lending Rights in the1970s and 80s.” -- Robert Tiessen (University of Calgary)

“The Business and Economics Division of Vancouver Public Library under Aileen Tufts, 1951-1978.” -- Frank Winter (University of Saskatchewan)

Discussion and Business Meeting

For further information please contact
Prof. Peter F. McNally, Convenor
McLennan Library
McGill University
TEL: 514-398-7460
EMAIL: peter.mcnally@mcgill.ca

Don't forget to visit the FACEBOOK group for the Library History Network.
If you want to contribute ideas or questions on various aspects of Canadian library history--people, libraries, book history, adult education, historical methodology or emerging trends--be sure and add your comments.