Friday, October 10, 2014

ALFRED FITZPATRICK AND THE BEGINNING OF ONTARIO'S TRAVELLING LIBRARIES, 1900-05

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 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.

Libraries in British Columbia 1940; a Reconsideration of the Library Survey of 1927-28 is also available at the Hathi Trust..

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