Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Review—The Public Library in Canada in Relation to the Government (1939) by Jean E. Stewart.

The Public Library in Canada in Relation to the Government by Jean E. Stewart. Chicago: Fellowships and Scholarships Committee of the American Library Association under the direction of the Graduate Library School, University of Chicago, 1939. 106 p. and map.

Following the completion of a number of Canadian library studies during the Great Depression, there was increasing interest in the formation and development of library services, especially for public libraries. The need for better planning at the political level, stable tax-based financing, improved staffing, increased coordination, and a broader perspective applied to services was more evident. Academic interest in library aspects related to the social sciences was also beginning to develop. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics had collected and published information on the growth of library service for a decade-and-a-half. Now, the opportunity to analyze libraries rested on a firmer basis. The observational approach use by John Ridington, George Locke, and Mary Black in their national 1933 report, Libraries in Canada, would no longer satisfy most planning needs.Stewart's work marked the increasing use of statistics in library studies and American interest in Canadian developments.

In 1939, a young graduate from the University of British Columbia, Jean Eileen Stewart, originally from Alberta, undertook a study on the Canadian public library in relation to federal, provincial, and municipal jurisdictions. Stewart had worked for several years as a librarian in British Columbia libraries, becoming the first director of the new Vancouver Island Union Library when it opened in 1936. Although she had trained at the McGill University Library School, to bolster her credentials, she also went to the United States where she sought a scholarship from the American Library Association under the direction of academics at the University of Chicago Graduate Library School, a leading institution in library science research. The resulting report, The Public Library in Relation to Government, appeared exactly when Canada entered the Second World War, September 1939. Consequently, Stewart's report was never really distributed or cited to any extent. In retrospect, however, much of her work remains of value in terms of understanding the Canadian public library in the first part of the 20th century. In 1940, Jean Stewart married a teacher, William J. Mouat, and returned to British Columbia. She died in 1981 at Abborsford, BC.

What did Stewart set out to do? She investigated 37 public libraries across Canada, all over 30,000 population except for Verdun, Three Rivers, and Quebec City for which she was not able to find data. In her own words:

In an analysis of governmental relations of public libraries in Canada, an effort will be made to find answers to certain questions: (1) What is the relationship between the library and the provincial government? (2) What place does the library take in municipal government? (3) What are the advantages and disadvantages or the library board system or control? (4) What are the possibilities in the development of larger units or library service? (p. 7)

In her first chapters, Stewart documented the historical and legal development of public libraries finding that they closely followed British and American patterns, i.e. libraries were enabled, not mandated, by legislative provisions at the local and provincial levels. The Canadian situation was simpler than the US where home rule municipalities and special charters complicated planning at the state level. Later chapters included information on corporate and association libraries (e.g. in Montreal), board managed municipal libraries (especially in Ontario), and larger units of service (the union libraries and regional demonstrations in BC, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island). Stewart relied on DBS data but also received various responses to a questionnaire she mailed out to in 1938. She presented this information in several tables sprinkled in her report. With respect to municipal-library relationships, she found that boards with active members were often influential in promoting services. Only two cities, Westmount and Winnipeg, used committees of council to administer libraries.

The final two chapters summarized most of her findings. With regard to the expansion of regional systems in Canadian provinces Stewart found many basics -- for example public demand for services -- lacking. "The first steps in regionalism in Canada must be to stimulate and integrate existing institutions, and to extend library service to districts where it is completely lacking." (p. 94) The regional model was clearly an important feature for future planning. As well, Stewart commented that "Library affairs should be administered by a distinct branch of a government department, and, according to general opinion, the provincial departments of education should be given this responsibility. A trained staff should be maintained in this department to supervise, co-ordinate, and direct public library affairs in the province." (p. 99) Stewart's findings and assessments would prove accurate for the most part during the postwar era of public library development in Canada.

The Public Library in Canada remained unpublished. Like other Canadian reports that appeared during WWII (e.g., Gordon Gourlay's 1942 University of Michigan AMLS thesis, "The role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education" and the Rockefeller Foundation "Report on Canadian Libraries" in 1941 by Charles F. McCombs, a New York city public librarian) it found a space to rest on some office shelves. Eventually, a few copies made their way into academic libraries. Stewart's work disappeared from view, but it was not entirely forgotten. Today, along with other Depression-era studies, it continues to be an important resource for understanding early twentieth century public libraries in different parts of our country. Stewart's use of national based statistics and her own survey methods marked another step forward in Canadian library studies.