When it first appeared, in 1940, after the outbreak of the Second World War, A Regional Library and Its Readers received little notice in Canadian library circles. Peacetime energies were being redirected to the nation's war effort and the establishment of military-camp libraries. An academic publication by the Director of Prince Edward Island Libraries (Henry Chandler) and a college professor (John Croteau) at Charlottetown's St. Dunstan's University was surely not cause for detailed discussion, especially if it was published in New York. It was an American review in the July issue of Library Quarterly that best recognized this innovative Canadian study's linkage of library circulation with the reading habits of rural Prince Edward Islanders and noted the trend to apply more scientific methodology to library activity.
Already, in the United States, a few library reading studies had appeared, notably an urban study by the Borough of Queen Public Library, New York, Woodside Does Read (1935), that presented statistical tables of responses to many questions posed to library readers. In the United Kingdom, more informal library reading responses were being captured in a few localities by volunteer observers participating in the Mass Observation project that sought to record everyday life in Britain beginning in 1937. In British Columbia, the Fraser Valley regional library demonstration gathered reading information after it commenced operations in 1930, but its results were not published or readily accessible. In retrospect, the data collected and analysis published by Chandler and Croteau compares favourably to its contemporary Anglo-American-Canadian counterparts despite some shortcomings noted by Library Quarterly.
What did Chandler and Croteau set out to do? Following the Carnegie funded regional library demonstration headed by Nora Bateson from 1933-36, the PEI government decided to carry on with the regional (actually provincial) library concept. Bateson's success had certainly given an affirmative reply to questions about the utility of regional libraries. Chandler and Croteau, using data gathered during the project and subsequent years, investigated an entirely different area -- the reading Islanders were doing. About 25,000 people borrowed a million books between 1933-38 and Chandler-Croteau, with the help of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics and PEI news and magazine agents, used the collected data extensively. They asked: who read library books? what did people read? which occupational groups made most use of the library? were there changes in reading habits during the five-year period, 1934-38? All these queries were new areas for exploration in Canadian library research.
Despite the innovative work in PEI, A Regional Library did not receive much attention in library histories until Maxine Rochester, "Bringing Librarianship to Rural Canada in the 1930s," Libraries & Culture 30, 4 (1995), 366-90 revisited library efforts in Depression era rural Canada and provided additional analysis in conjunction with the Fraser Valley project. These library projects were complementary to adult education activities, such as the formation of reading clubs. Rochester concluded:
The demonstrations had shown that there was an enormous book hunger in the rural areas, and that once a library service sufficiently financed and of an adequate population base was developed on a trial basis, the citizens were willing to pay for such a service through their taxes. The demonstrations dispelled any assumptions about reading interests of rural people being less sophisticated than people living in cities.Re-reading A Regional Library can offer many insights. The chapter on Fiction Reading, for example, demonstrated the traditional desire by librarians to circulate the "best books." Library fiction was classed in three categories -- classics and "first-rate modern novels;" modern novels judged to be above the "usual run of fiction;" and lighter reading (mysteries, romances, westerns, etc.). The first two classes comprised 50% of library fiction stock and accounted for 16% of the total fiction circulation. The "lighter" novels (50% of the fiction total) accounted for 84% of the circulation. However, like all lists, one might question the categorization of authors: the book's appendix shows that Lucy Maud Montgomery, Raymond Knister, Joyce Cary, Booth Tarkington, and Jules Verne were just a few of novelists consigned to the lighter class that readers obviously preferred.
A Regional Library provides many interesting facts about rural PEI in the 1930s and adult education activities. Over a period of five years more than a quarter of the total island population registered at libraries to borrow books. Students and housewives comprised the largest number of library card holders -- almost 50 percent but the study concluded that educational attainment, not age or sex, was the prime factor for reading. After five years, total circulation annually reached about 250,000 for a population of 94,000, a significant stimulus to book use in a region where there were few bookstores and formal education usually stopped at junior high school (grades 8-10). Chandler and Croteau's work, in conjunction with Nora Bateson's two provincial east-coast works, The Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1933-1936 (1936) and Library Survey of Nova Scotia (1938), clearly documented that libraries could make important societal contributions when organized in an efficient and cost-effective manner. These studies, together with others conducted during the Depression, formed a foundation for future growth across Canada.
An online full-text version is now available from the Hathi Trust without any restrictions.