Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review—Four 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]