Wednesday, August 22, 2018


After 1980 library mechanization gave way to more rapid changes. Computers and management information software began to make possible the term “knowledge workers.” Public libraries started using computers to circulate books, track patron overdues, and provide instant information on the status of books. North York offered the New York Times in on-line format. For some time, the University of Toronto Library Automated System (UTLAS) provided libraries across Canada a computerized system with catalogue copy for books and a database of holdings that could be used for resource sharing and conversion to computer output microfilm catalogues. It was an exciting time for users and a complex one for administrators and trustees.

With the advent of automated systems, the potential of networking for cooperative projects was broadened. Over the course of two years, the Ontario government funded two important technological related library conferences. The first, a futures symposium, Libraries 2000, was held at Toronto in 1985. Speakers ranged across a wide territory to explore the society, economy, and technology that Canadians would likely experience in the years ahead. Frank Feather, who often elaborated the theme “Thinking Globally, Acting Locally,” spoke to the issue of the need to transition to an electronic environment. The American futurist, Marvin Cetron, predicted that information would become more expensive and possibly the preserve of large corporations charging fees. However, he was optimistic about the public library’s future. Two years later, in 1987, the Province planned another conference at Toronto: The Electronic Library, a deliberation on “second-generation” products for library automation. The era for upgrading or purchasing more sophisticated, expensive, integrated successors to “first-generation” equipment had arrived. Conference topics were quite technical: online catalogs, information searching, public access, and the right to information were more nuanced library issues beyond the public library sector itself. One speaker talked about the intelligent catalog of the future, one that could perform a search and offer a suggestion for the searcher to consider, “Give me more like this!”

The success of Libraries 2000 and The Electronic Library served to highlight the concepts of “paperless systems” or “information age.” A major theme was the need for an effective system to organize information on a community basis with a view to free electronic retrieval and distribution. “Information” was becoming an ubiquitous term used interchangeably with concepts long associated with print culture, i.e., knowledge and ideas. Advocates insisted that it could empower people by supplying resources for better decision making. Pessimists believed that the global economic structure that information supported could ultimately displace individuals and communities with authoritarian structures. The capacity to strengthen both administrative centralization and decentralized production of content seemed to be taking place. New groups and audiences were in the process of creation, e.g., electronic mail groups or the MTV generation.

Towards the end of the 1980s, librarians and trustees from local municipal libraries and the Ontario Library Association (OLA) began to think in terms of devising a strategic plan for all Ontario. It was now possible to think realistically about the creation of a provincial database—an inventory of public library holdings for access and use at the local level which could be used directly by patrons with minimal assistance from staff. Thus, the concept of One Place to Look, published in 1990 by the Ontario Strategic Directions Council shortly before the Internet’s rapid development, talked about regional library clusters becoming part of a larger “information grid.” When the word-wide “network of networks,” the Information Highway, began to come into prominence in the early 1990s, it revolutionized global high-speed communications systems. The Internet included computer networks, electronic mail and data files, fiber-optic cable television systems, the World Wide Web, Gopher searching, newsgroups, bulletin board systems, relay chat, and many interactive features. One Place to Look was visionary, but perhaps arrived to early to be a catalyst for planning because the technical infrastructure funding for collaborative projects actually was a federal responsibility.

A few years later, the federal government established its Community Access Program (CAP) for rural Canadians, “Connecting Canadians,” beginning in 1994. One of the aims was to eliminate a “digital divide” in Canada by permitting rural electronic access to government services and online learning resources. Typically, during this transition, a public library would first connect to the Internet through program-sponsored computers and eventually launch its own web site. Later, in 1999, the Ontario government provided money for ten digital library projects worth $250,000 from its Library Strategic Development Fund. Toronto Public Library's “Virtual Reference Library” commenced in October 1999; it offered packaged Internet resources, such as “Science Net” for students, and e-mail service for requests beyond the Metro Toronto area.

The Internet’s impact on public libraries was far-reaching after the mid-1990s and newer technologies, such as the wireless smartphone, would continue to revolutionize that way information was distributed and formatted. The Ontario Strategic Directions Council, in its Building Value Together, published in 2002, advocated formation of a single agency, the “Ontario Public Library,” as the primary agency to lead public libraries into the future. This Library could provide province-wide licensing of electronic resources, conduct market research, plan consortia purchases, develop partnerships, and provide effective central leadership to harness the collective capacity of the public library community. Again, the concept was tied to technological ability and increasing use of digitally produced data.

From the perspective of the user, the Twenty-first century “Digital Library” was a place where resources were available without recourse to visiting a library, service was 24 by 7, staff members could offer assistance in a virtual environment, and their personal library accounts were accessible electronically. As the concept of “Library 2.0” evolved, it was evident that ideas about user-centered change, community participation, and adoption of new technologies would be the keys to future development. In 2005, the provincial government provided funding to implement a new province-wide framework, “Knowledge Ontario.” With funding of $8 million, Knowledge Ontario expanded to include “Our Ontario,” “Resource Ontario,” “Ask Ontario” and “Connect Ontario” projects. Now it was possible for public libraries to ally with schools, archives, museums, and post-secondary institutions in a virtual setting. Technical infrastructure and broadband access were important to achieving the long-term goal of equity of access via a full range of technology. Futurists conceiving ideas about “Library 3.0” or the “Third Generation Library” viewed libraries as adaptive services and flexible structures designed with a community’s involvement and delivered with the participation of library staff and community members. When Knowledge Ontario ceased operation in 2012, OurDigitalWorld carried on the work of open access to digitized historic materials.

It seems the Digital Library will continue to rely on technological developments and collaborative efforts. The integration of public libraries with other public sector heritage and information institutions—public, school, government, post-secondary, and special libraries as well as archives and museums—in formal linkages would ultimately benefit a wide-ranging clientele wishing to invest in an information rich universe. Of course, the Digital Library presents problems of its own: storage, preservation, and copyright are just a few of the challenges.  However, the potential for users to access vast ranges of information in many formats is a goal that the library has embraced because it is an institution that can help people find information and how to evaluate it.

An earlier blog post on the Information Highway given in 1995.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


The new 1966 Public Libraries Act formed the structure for rapid, and conflicting, developments into the mid-1980s when this act was greatly modified. This was an era of continuous change in local government at a period of time when municipal regional government replaced older county structures. Expanded provincial jurisdiction over municipalities in Ontario became common. As well, federal/provincial centennial financing--$38.7 million net cost in Ontario--became available to assist the largest construction program since the Carnegie grant era. Almost seventy public library buildings were renovated or constructed in Ontario on a cost-shared basis with municipalities. The 1966 Act modernized local board structures and funding. As well, the Act introduced quasi-independent regional library systems governed by trustees in an effort to equalize services and coordinate planning across cities, towns, older counties and districts in Ontario.

The entire philosophy and administrative apparatus of library service was in flux. Living and Learning, a 1968 report, proposed integrating school and public libraries: it was received coolly in the public library sector. In 1972, the Provincial Library Service (PLS) in Toronto was transferred from the Department of Education to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, partly to reinforce efforts in the field of continuing education. Provincial library board grants were doubled and a report, The Learning Society, followed. However, within two years libraries were shifted to a new Ministry of Culture. These administrative changes were made without extensive studies or preparations and reinforced a sense of drift towards recreational library services.

Throughout this turbulent period, the size of the PLS remained mostly unchanged and it continued to publish communication pieces in the Ontario Library Review and also added In Review; Canadian Books for Young People in summer 1967. In Review was edited by Irma (McDonough) Milnes, who later helped create the Canadian Children's Book Centre in 1976. To signal a new beginning, provincial travelling libraries were phased out and certification for librarians ended in 1972. Gradually, the PLS mandate was shifted to coordination through fourteen regional systems rather than inspection and supervision. Although the new regional systems did not normally directly serve Ontarians (except Metro Toronto and the northern regions that provided books and services) provincial aid to these bodies increased from $67,000 in 1959 to $8,384,000 in 1981. By 1980, 99% of Ontarians had direct access to municipal tax supported public library service.

Year    Population 000s    Population Served 000s    Circulation 000s    Volumes 000s
1965         6,788                     5,303                                  44,736               10,060
1970         7,551                     6,667                                  50,277               12,495
1975         8,172                     7,937                                  53,128               17,645
1980         8,754                     8,524                                  56,917               23,291
Table I: Public library expansion, 1965-80 (Sources: Ontario Library Review, Public Library Statistics, and Report of the Minister of Education)

After 1970, total expenditures (both municipal and provincial) rose rapidly as well, although inflation accounted for more a major portion of this increase in the following table.

Year    Library Boards*    Population Served 000s    Expenditure** 000s    Per Capita Expenses
1960          309 (201)                  4,178                               $ 10,442                 $ 2.50
1965          311 (220)                  5,303                                  17,888                    3.37
1970          347                           6,667                                  39,172                    5.88
1975          463                           7,937                                  80,979                   10.20
1980          546                           8,524                                 139,009                  16.31

* Association libraries in brackets (abolished in 1966)
** does not include provincial library agencies, e.g. regional systems
Table II: Public library boards and expenditures, 1960-80 (Sources: Ontario Library Review, Public Library Statistics, and Report of the Minister of Education)

Regionalization of library services in the province presented opportunities to provide improved services and new ways to achieve them. But, on balance, the record of the 1970s was mixed. The 14 library regions had differing resources and financial bases to work with. They were successful in instituting better communication patterns, e.g. telex, that aided inter-library loan. Metro Toronto created a centralized metropolitan reference collection by assuming Toronto Public Library's reference collection in 1968 and eventually opening a much-heralded central reference library in 1977. Two regions, Niagara and Midwestern, developed centralized processing operations where publishers' books could be displayed, purchased, and catalogued at greater discounts but Niagara was forced to close at the end of 1979 due to debt. Three northern regions created a computer produced book catalogue of holdings for users. Across Ontario, regional film "pools" and union catalogues of audio-visual resources were created for local libraries, groups, and individuals to access for programs and entertainment that proved popular.

But, by the mid-1970s, there were signs of discontent and the province funded the “Bowron Report” to investigate options. Unfortunately, consensus on its main recommendations could not be achieved and with the Niagara closure the provincial minister in charge of public libraries decided to embark on a thorough multi-year study of regional systems and public library service. Eventually, in 1984 a new Public Libraries Act was passed to take effect for 1985. It reduced the number of regions, standardized their services, and shifted their focus to networking and technological improvements without making direct major changes to local services. Rather than quasi-independent boards operating regions, the province introduced eight Ontario Library Service areas and retained control and funding for these.

The long-term review and introduction of a new Act came at a time--the late 1970s and early 1980s--when automation and telecommunications were beginning to transform the way library service was delivered to the public and the way in which books and periodicals were published. The Random House Electronic Thesaurus first appeared in 1981 and already, from 1977 on, the full-text of the Toronto Globe and Mail was available in database form when it became the first newspaper to publish electronically and in print on the same day. In libraries, computerized output was becoming a viable alternative to the traditional card catalogue. Indeed, the PLS was actively investigating computer applications and networking in Ontario through an office established at the Metro Toronto Library by the regional systems.

The potential of computer-based information technologies on library resources and library administrative functions (especially circulation, cataloguing, and communication) were studied extensively for the subsequent half-decade. This activity signaled the end of librarians’ and trustees’ preoccupation with administrative units of service and the need to extend services to unserved populations. Instead, they were obliged to reconsider the status of non-print collections as "secondary" in budgeting and planning and to prepare for an automated future. In 1980 it was quite possible to speculate on “electronic libraries,” as Henry Campbell, Toronto's chief librarian (1956-78) did, but, by 1985, when the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture sponsored a provincial symposium, "Libraries 2000," new technological possibilities were becoming practical realities. The dominance of print culture, which Marshall McLuhan had challenged in the 1960s, was in decline and electronic modes of communication on the rise. Regional telex equipment had forged links in the 1970s, but now fax and electronic networks connected by computer workstations in offices and homes were transforming ideas about the delivery of library services. Libraries could not escape this trend: both the Ontario Library Review and In Review ceased publication in 1982.

Between 1965 and 1985 there were many changes in public administration, technology, demographics, economic development, and social conventions, but the idea of improving modern library service and distribution reading and literature to the reading public, developing bibliographic systems and information, and making librarians important elements in linking citizens with information, remained constant in Ontario’s “public library community.” Progressive changes in the model of service to communities, advances in technology, the growth of the liberal “welfare state” in the public services sector, multiculturalism, and bilingualism, had provided the framework for library promoters to innovate and adapt in Ontario. Across Canada, new directions were clear by the third quarter of the twentieth century: as libraries united in cooperative efforts to share resources and to apply automation in daily operations the old relationship with printed resources were in decline and the electronic future raised many new challenges that required further study and action.

Saturday, August 04, 2018


The idea of the modern public library as an energetic influence promoting its services to the entire community arrived in Ontario after most Carnegie buildings were in place. Of course, the service ethic had existed before 1920, but the value of stewardship--the library as guardian or storehouse of treasures--had loomed larger for decades. As the service value progressed into the 1950s, the public library served as a place for collecting the best books and for making them useful to as many children and adults as possible. The library became a more accessible community resource and an active force: books were conveniently arranged on "open" shelves and the librarian became a guide or intermediary to assist patrons. The modern library was an engaging idea (one not completely accepted in some of Ontario's hundreds of municipalities) that successfully prevailed despite the austerities of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

Following the First World War, Ontario's tax-supported public libraries were in the forefront of a growing national movement to supply reading materials in local communities. In a nation-wide survey by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics for 1920-21, almost 90% of free public libraries were located in Ontario (186 of 210) and respectively held 75% of the total volumes, provided 67% of the total circulation, and spent about 68% of Canada's current total. At this time, just over 50% of Ontario’s 2.9 million population was served by free libraries. Of course, many librarians were not satisfied with the status quo: members of the Ontario Library Association (OLA) and the office of the provincial Inspector of Public Libraries were formulating ideas to improve library service along "modern" lines. A new publication, Ontario Library Review, founded in 1916 by the Department of Education, gave voice to these ideas.

The new Public Libraries of Act of 1920 created a stable framework for Ontario library development for more than four decades. The Inspector of Public Libraries from 1916-29, William O. Carson, favoured per capita funding for libraries based on local community size, improved support from the provincial agency in the Department of Education, and better training for libraries to improve administration, services, and book selection. Carson, an influential leader in the library community, often stated that trained personnel and improved book stocks were the key to library development and he pursued this course until his untimely death in 1929. In 1920, his department published an important treatise on reference work and information sources that could be used in public services. For smaller communities the Inspector’s office provided basic training courses in librarianship in the Ontario Library School in Toronto from 1916-27. This school evolved on the University of Toronto campus and provided hundreds of students with a bachelor's degree that became the basic entry into librarianship. Carson also was actively involved in promoting library services in adult education and developing Ontario’s traveling library service for rural and northern areas. As a result of his leadership, there was a surge in library output during the boom years of the 1920s.

Year    Prov Grant    Expenses     Book Expenses     Vols           Circulation      Pop Served
1920    $ 27,686      $  738,010     $ 120,131          1,537,517       6,316,340      1,523,873
1930    $ 39,079      $1,239,798    $ 243,145           2,142,445     11,433,208     1,976,678
Gain    41.2%            68%             102.4%                44%                   81%           29.7%
Table I: Public library growth 1920-30 (Source: Ontario Report of the Minister of Education)

At the local level, the major city libraries--Windsor, London, Hamilton, and Ottawa--were prepared to emulate the work of Toronto Public Library. Toronto opened Boys and Girls House in 1922, the first children's library building in the British Empire. During the same period there was a conscious effort by public librarians to support efforts on the literary front was well. Librarians, such as George Locke, promoted library ideas and supported reading and writing by publishing in the Canadian Bookman and inviting authors to contribute to the Ontario Library Review and by supporting activities for the newly formed Canadian Book Week organized by the Canadian Authors Association from 1921-57. However, both the OLA and the CAA were small organizations and local efforts were often sporadic. Dr. Locke, of course, published When Canada was New France in 1919, a work that became a provincial school text. Other librarians, such as B. Mabel Dunham and Fred Dela Fosse, published historical novels.

With the death of William Carson in 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression, library expansion in Ontario halted. Between 1929/30 and 1934/35 free public libraries reduced their expenditures from $1.25 million to $ 1.01 before the totals trended up to $1.28 million in 1939/40. In the Depression era, survival, even in the largest libraries, was the mark of success. At Toronto, book circulation increased to 4.5 million while finances eroded: there was an emphasis on nonfiction and technical works as the jobless read books on careers and employment. In rural areas, Ontario communities began to experiment with co-operative library systems based on county jurisdictions despite the absence of enabling legislation—the first recognition that the traditional Ontario model library serving one community (however small and impoverished) was not adequate for its users. Only a few new buildings were constructed, Ottawa’s branch (Rideau) being a notable exception. Throughout these difficult years, Ontario libraries continued to promote reading.

At Windsor, a community that briefly went into bankruptcy and amalgamated with neighbouring municipalities, the chief librarian, Anne Hume, continued to emphasize linkages with adult education but had to suspend issuing the Canadian Periodical Index in 1933 five years after its inception by her library; this ground-breaking endeavor resumed in 1938 centered at the University of Toronto. Toronto’s new chief librarian, Charles R. Sanderson, promoted collections via radio and TPL's Marie Tremaine began publishing works on Canadian bibliography and printing. The landmark national 1933 report on Canadian libraries headed by John Ridington, George Locke, and Mary Black, Libraries in Canada, applauded the development of bilingual collections at Ottawa and collections in German at Kitchener. As well, Ontario librarians became more conscious of the need to plan systematically and create provincial or national schemes for services that the Ridington report had recommended. The OLA organized joint conferences with Quebec and Maritime librarians at Ottawa in 1937 and then Montreal in 1939 where the Canadian Children's Library Association was formed to promote reading on a national scale. In 1938, the OLA present a Brief to the Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations advocating better coordination across Canada and foundation of a national library at Ottawa.

With the onset of WWII, public libraries turned attention to providing reading materials for the armed forces and to supporting efforts on the home front. The new Inspector of libraries, Angus Mowat, entered the service and encouraged book camp libraries. Upon his return he turned his attention to post-war planning and revision of the provincial library act. The war years were lean ones, the major highlight being the opening of the new London Public Library, with its modern architectural style and open design, in 1941. Literary efforts, such as the celebration of 500 years of printing, continued, but the war effort limited activities. Charles Sanderson worked with other Canadian librarians to form the Canadian Library Council, and develop a national approach to library issues.

As the war drew to a close, Mowat and other leaders planned a post-war revival. Mowat published a popular pamphlet outlining the need for libraries, the OLA lobbied the province for better legislation and an expanded provincial library service, and efforts to create a national library association finally came to fruition when the first conference of the Canadian Library Association (CLA) met at Hamilton in summer 1946 with Freda Waldon (Hamilton Public Library) elected as first president. In the immediate post-war period plans for library service revolved around larger administrative units, such as cooperative county libraries that had developed in southwestern Ontario and provided bookmobile services to school children and rural populations; efforts to establish a Provincial Library at Toronto; improved legislation to provide for certification of librarians; and better financing. As political circumstances evolved, the concept of a Provincial Library proved unworkable, in part because a parallel effort to lobby the federal government to establish a National Library at Ottawa succeeded in 1953. Consequently, the OLA and Ontario's libraries turned to regional and county systems to service large parts of the province and to develop professional activities and plans at the national level in CLA. Provincial expansion in the post-war period began slowly but accelerated at the end of the 1950s.

Year    Population 000s    Population Served 000s    Circulation 000s    Volumes 000s
1945        4,000                         2,561                               13,253                3,830
1950        4,471                         2,919                               15,802                4,442
1955        5,266                         3,597                               19,310                5,516
1960        6,111                         4,178                                31,962               7,438
1965        6,788                         5,303                                44,736             10,060
Table II: Post-war public library activity, 1945-65 (Source: Ontario Library Review and Ontario Ministry of Treasury, Economics, and Intergovernmental Affairs, Ontario Statistics)

As Ontario’s population increased and became more diverse through post-war immigration, libraries kept pace with growth and expanded their range of services. Larger libraries were beginning to use revenue, formerly reserved for books and periods, to finance film and audio services. Print collections expanded as well and librarians continued to contribute to book fairs, weeks, and publications: Josephine Phelan, who worked at Toronto Public Library, won a Governor General's prize in 1951 for The Arden Exile, a study on Thomas D'Arcy McGee and Lillian Smith published The Unreluctant Years in 1953, a critical work on children’s literature that remains in useful today. The Edgar Osborne collection of early children's books was established at Toronto after 1949. Young Canada Book Week, launched in 1949, was marked each year with readings and story times.

With the increased output in book publishing, particularly realistic fiction, it was not unnatural that public libraries began to face more scrutiny as guardians of public morality. Censorship issues remained mostly in the background because "controversial books" were often kept separate and had to be requested. But after the popular 1959 bestseller Lolita was missed on many library shelves things irrupted in public. Faced with changing literary standards--even the Ontario Legislature was examining complaints about books--and criticism of traditional book selection from Robert Fulford and Pierre Berton in the Toronto Star, librarians and trustees began to accept that social values of behaviour and language required formal policy statements that logically framed the basic issues in terms of their collections. It would take some time, most of the 1960s, before more controversial reading material, such as Playboy, would reach magazine racks. In one area, non-English language collections, there was some progress. Toronto, of course, had well-established "foreign" collections in about 60 languages, but many smaller libraries found difficulty financing these collections and procuring suppliers. For its part, the provincial government long delayed commissioning a study devoted to examining non-English collections until 1980.

As the decade of the 1950s closed, it was obvious that a Provincial Library would not be formed and further planning would be necessary. A report by W. Stewart Wallace on provincial options appeared in 1957; it recommended strengthening the role of the Public Libraries Branch headed by Angus Mowat. In the same year, county library legislation replacing library co-operatives was introduced followed by regional co-operative legislation in 1959. A revamped Provincial Library Service was charged to promote these schemes. In Toronto, where municipal metropolitan government had been enacted in 1953, the 1960 report by the American academic, Ralph Shaw, suggested library amalgamation and centralized services. Five years later, a comprehensive provincial “St. John Report” by an American consulting firm led to systematic changes in the Public Libraries Act in 1966, a thorough review that swept away the long-standing model that had existed since 1920, notably the existence of Association Library boards that were not eligible to receive municipal tax revenue or the per capita support clauses. The new 1966 Public Libraries Act formed the structure for rapid, and conflicting, developments into the mid-1980s. A long era of distinctive public library development was at an end in Ontario.

A few biographies for further reading.

Mary J.L. Black, Fort William Public Library, 1909-37
William O. Carson, Inspector of Public Libraries, 1916-29
B. Mabel Duham, Kitchener Public Library, 1908-44
George H. Locke, Toronto Public Library, 1908-37
Angus Mowat, Director of Public Libraries Branch, 1937-60
Charles Sanderson, Toronto Public Library, 1937-56
Lillian Helena Smith, Toronto Public Library 1912-52
Marie Tremaine, Toronto Public Library, 1927-47

Sunday, March 11, 2018


From 1775 to 1850, small membership subscription libraries acted as public libraries dispensing educational resources and recreational reading to Canadian users on a geographic-community or common-interest reading basis. The variety, number, and collective status of subscription libraries ushered in the persistent nineteenth-century concept of the semi-private public library administered by trustees and populated by members who voluntarily agreed to accept entry charges, annual dues, and fundraising. The collegial space provided by the subscription library fostered a greater sense of publicness in an emerging Canadian nation before 1850. It also forged numerous associative identities in localities for like-minded reading groups. Subscription library development reveals that significant attributes of post-1850 municipal public libraries--especially the public library association which continues today--were inherited from Canada's colonial library era.

Beginning at Quebec City (1779) and Montreal (1796) and spreading to other colonies and the Canadian west, a variety of subscription libraries were established ranging from the exclusive share-holding archetype (e.g., at Halifax) to the more inclusive, general interest library supported by modest entry charges and annual fees in small towns and cites. Over time, these libraries developed on an irregular, parochial basis in differing colonial environments, although common public features are evident, such as claims for societal betterment. It was not unusual for a subscription library to be integrated with the work of specialized societies and associations (esp. in Quebec), or for the library to be aligned with news or reading rooms. This multifaceted public interface helped to bridge reading from the private to the public realm, to improve access to print resources, and to invest libraries with a communal significance in the Victorian period before Confederation. By the mid-point of the nineteenth century, subscription libraries occupied the middle ground between the personal realm and the state where formation of ideas on private liberality, community interests, and governance converged.

In the course of seven decades, subscription type libraries evolved into "library associations" regulated by public statutes stipulating control by the members and an elected a governing board. These libraries were identified less with earlier joint-stock, proprietary, or subscription business terminology and more with the appellation "public library" that was in use throughout the entire period, i.e. a library that was accessible to all residents of a community, but not generally free because it required voluntary personal payments. These small libraries performed a public function but were not state agencies. In some instances, they received token payments from different government levels, but legal sanction for state financial aid did not exist in legislative acts. In the evolution of public libraries in Canada, attempts by subscription managers to achieve a public profile by seeking financial support from colonial parliaments and by staking claims to publicness (the interests of the people as a whole) were significant steps.

At the midway point of the nineteenth century, the Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute Act of 1851 became a critical foundation for the subscription library’s conversion to the Canadian "association library." In accordance with enabling legislation that would become the hallmark of twentieth-century Canadian provincial public library legislation, the 1851 law for the two Canadas (Ontario and Quebec) recognized that a public library association was to be available for persons on a voluntary membership basis. The law established that library associations would be governed by local boards of trustees independent from control by municipal politicians (a "special purpose body" later identified by political commentators and academics on local government). Further, it provided public recognition of association libraries, thereby creating the opportunity for provincial grants which supplemented local fundraising efforts. Similar legislative arrangements in other provinces, such as British Columbia, ensured that the subscription model, re-labelled as a ‘public library association,’ would continue to coexist with its "free library" cousin well into the twentieth century and beyond.

Complete information is available in my article published in Library and Information History, a quarterly journal publishing articles by authors on all subjects and all periods relating to the history of libraries and librarianship and to the history of information. The article can be viewed at:

For access to a free link with a limited number of PDFs, go to

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


The general history of college and university library development in Canada has not been examined extensively. There are few studies that synthesize the entire history of Canadian academic libraries and normally two core themes are emphasized—library growth and progressive advances in librarianship. But these two perspectives can be applied to other types of libraries and do not serve to highlight the distinctiveness of academic libraries or librarians. There are some valuable, informative accounts of Canadian libraries in higher education that are commonly regarded as "institutional history." Because the library is positioned within its parent institution, librarians have understandably chronicled library support for the needs and plans of a particular university or college. Individual libraries, such as those at the Universities of Toronto and Alberta, are notable in this regard: Robert Blackburn’s Evolution of the Heart: A History of the University of Toronto Library up to 1981; and Merill Distad’s The University of Alberta Library: The First Hundred Years, 1908-2008. These institutional histories may be considered the foundation for more general histories that explore particular themes and developments. Added to these local studies are are many other contributions as articles, pamphlets, and theses. Many works concentrate on more recent decades after the 1960s when “growth” and “progress” were central features.

Of course, the development of academic libraries on a national basis as well as the careers of the “college librarian” or the “university librarian” began before the Sixties. I wrote, in 2016, about the contribution of the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) to the development of Canadian university and college libraries during the Great Depression. This was one instance of a change in philosophy of service. From 1932-35, thirty-four institutions of higher education shared in library grants totaling $214,800 in a national (Canada and Newfoundland) project conducted by a Canadian Advisory Group established by the CCNY. George H. Locke, Toronto Public Library, headed the group which awarded Carnegie financial aid for the improvement of undergraduate print collections. The attempts by Canadian administrators to adapt library collections, organization, and staffing to local circumstances to improve interwar undergraduate library services was an unusual step towards national thinking about the role of college and university libraries. For this post, see The Carnegie Corporation Advisory Group on Canadian College Libraries, 1930-35, made on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 with an accompanying link to my article published in the journal, Historical Studies in Education/Revue d'histoire de l'√©ducation.

Another period, the postwar (1945-1960), is another seldom referenced period that is of interest. After the Second World War, the expansion of Canadian post-secondary was notable for several modernizing trends: the infusion of federal funds for academic research, the frequent erection of campus buildings, increased enrollments, the establishment of new universities, the independence of previously affiliated small colleges, and the creation of comprehensive research efforts and graduate programs. In this changing environment, the per-eminence of the humanities and undergraduate teaching gave way to scientific and technological research, business and professional orientations, and graduate studies.

Libraries and librarians responded to these challenges in many similar ways. There are many contemporary accounts in relation to library architecture, the acquisition and organization of collections, administrative library structures and staffing, services for faculty and students, and efforts by librarians to realize professional standing, to achieve recognition as “professional librarians.” The architectural redefinition of libraries, the impetus to establish research collections, the maturation of academic librarianship, and the increasing complexity of library operations were prominent features in the postwar period. The gradual evolution of academic libraries toward more uniform organizational purposes and structures on a national basis following World War II can be considered a period of “mid-century modernization” that preceded the more memorable and better documented decades of the 1960s and later.

The postwar history of academic libraries was deeply influenced not just by local conditions and persons but also by broader trends occurring in the nation’s universities and colleges and the library community across North America. Examination of sources for the period mirror general currents in the Canadian post-secondary sector that made library provision of resources, assistance, and information more integral to the work of students and faculty. Of course, the national pace of change from 1945 to 1960 was moderate compared with the succeeding period, the dynamic 1960s that loom large in the history of Canadian libraries. The Sixties ushered in many educational changes, especially the establishment of provincial systems of higher education and vastly improved funding for libraries in higher education. Nonetheless, library development in the 1960s should not be viewed simply as a break with the past but as an outgrowth of many changes already underway. The national pace of change from 1945 to 1960 was moderate compared with the succeeding period, the dynamic 1960s that loom large in the history of Canadian libraries. The Sixties ushered in many educational changes, especially the  establishment of provincial systems of higher education. Library development in the 1960s should not be viewed simply as a break with the past but as an outgrowth of many changes already underway.

More complete information on the postwar era is in my article, “Postwar Canadian Academic Libraries, 1945–60,” at the Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship website.