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Wednesday, October 14, 2015


As the National Library of Canada (NLC) moved inexorably to its golden anniversary in 2003, it was still a viable institution despite years of cutback management. In line with neoliberal philosophy, services had been reduced or eliminated (e.g. the popular Multilingual service) but many basic functions remained that made it a recognizable national entity. Although it was aging technology, AMICUS, Canada's national bibliographic database, contained 25,000,000 records for more than 1,000 Canadian libraries. The NLC's Union Catalogue was a reliable source for bibliographic information and library locations for books and periodicals that could be used by other libraries for interloan. The NLC's comprehensive Canadiana collection was largely due to Legal Deposit Provisions whereby Canadian publishers were required by law to send, as a general rule, two copies of all published works in various formats. The Library's Canadian Cataloging in Publication program was a collaborative effort with publishers and other libraries that permitted books to be catalogued per-publication. The Canadian Theses service coordinated the microfiche reproduction and loan of theses on a timely basis. The NLC's Canadian Book Exchange Centre offered a utilitarian service to libraries for the distribution and exchange of surplus publications. These, and other services, aligned the NLC with other major Canadian libraries on a reciprocal basis. Together with the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI), comprehensive national library services from Ottawa were available for Canadians and others working beyond Canadian borders.

For the public at large and researchers the old Public Archives–National Library building on 395 Wellington Street shared with the National Archives remained a valuable service point. The second floor Reading Room allowed for consultation of 'closed-stack' resources from the general collection by retrievals submitted through an on-site AMICUS. The Music and Rare Book Divisions provided in-depth reference, referral, and consultative services to Canadian and foreign researchers, libraries and organizations. The Reference and Information Services Division provided reference in Canadiana and Canadian studies to researchers and libraries within Canada and abroad. Inter-library Loan filled requests for materials by lending a copy, providing a photocopy, or giving referrals to other libraries that might loan items.

The fourth National Librarian, Dr. Roch Carrier, appointed in October 1999, sought various improvements. He encouraged expanding the reach of the NLC to Canadians through travelling exhibitions and the newly formed Digital Library of Canada, an effort to document Canadian heritage and culture and to provide access on the NLC website. Dr. Carrier also advocated for literacy and reading through improved school libraries. His effort to stem the water leaks at 395 Wellington was more successful when the roof was repaired in 2002. Two years earlier, more than 2,500 publications had been damaged after a broken pipe allowed water to enter three floors. The NLC's administration was changing and its staffing attempting to accommodate technical innovations, such as the Internet and the advent of digital publishing. Nevertheless, ominous clouds were gathering. It wasn't just the frequent newspaper stories of water damage that were endangering Canada's national collections at '395' or the atrophied budget NLC was struggling with that were cause for alarm. The NLC's parent body, the Department of Canadian Heritage, a neoliberal creature in search of prominence, continued to take 'fresh looks' at Canada's cultural institutions and heritage.

While some officials, such as Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, stated many federal heritage buildings (including the NLC) were in a poor condition and recommended the government 'do something' before cultural heritage resources might be lost to future generations, Canadian Heritage was developing new concepts. Sheila Copps, the Minister and MP for Hamilton East, preferred to ignore the problems inherent in merging the NLC with the National Archives, something the report by John English released in summer 1999 had emphasized along with his recommendations on updating mandates of the library and archives. In fact, on October 21st, 2002, the minister provided a simplistic, inaccurate rationale to MPs based on current ideas about a knowledge-based economy when she rose to explain the proposed merger in the context of reduced funding for the Canadian Archival Information Network.

"Mr. Speaker, we are of course talking about two different issues when we refer to the National Archives and the National Library. Three years ago, it was decided that it would be a good thing to merge these two institutions to present to the general public everything is part of the wealth of historical information belonging to the National Archives and the National Library. This is what we will do."

During the Parliamentary debates on the merger (Bills C-36 and its successor C-8) a few MPs actually got beyond the political obfuscation and bombastic visionary goals of a long-term plan to combine administration, storage, and preservation work in an area around the former National Archives preservation centre in Gatineau and to establish a national Portrait Gallery of Canada. Critics addressed the most obvious and long-standing problems, lack of funding and intertwined mandates. Also, NLC was a weak player in national information policy development and infrastructure. The general perception that a new administrative entity, Library and Archives Canada, would get enhanced visibility, relevance and accessibility carried the day. A single agency would allow for improved and innovative changes on a collaborative basis for the humanities and social sciences. Alternative schemes, such as combining CISTI (the country's 'other' national library) and the NLC were not considered. "Toward a New Kind of Knowledge Institution" outlined typical promotional views for Canadian heritage operations in Ottawa. All would be well in time: there would be
  • synergy of collections, skills and constituencies;
  • easier access to integrated holdings, both for researchers and for millions of ordinary Canadians;
  • enhanced service delivery to Canadians; and
  • better use of scarce resources.
Later, in summer 2004, LAC released a discussion document, Creating a New Kind of Knowledge Institution, about key future directions and initiatives to be taken. A new era was beginning—Canada proposed to be a leader in new knowledge (or memory) institution implementation with information technology as a major driver. An older era, still viable in other countries and capable of harnessing technology in its own manner (even today in 2015), was out of favour in Canada's capital. Time—perhaps a decade or two?—would reveal the wisdom behind the merger and plans for the future that might be celebrated in their own right.

Further information on post-2004 developments

Library and Archives Canada at Wikipedia
Timeline: Library and Archives Canada Service Decline after 2004 at Ex Libris Association website
Slide History of CISTI, 1924-2009 available on Internet Archive

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


By the time Guy Sylvestre retired at the end of 1983 many ideas crafted in the Future of the National Library (published in 1979) were no longer achievable. In the early 1980s, Canadian political and social life was in a state of flux. The election of a Conservative government in 1984 was a harbinger of change. In western countries the welfare state, often associated with Keynesian economics, had reached its apogee. The era of neoliberal economic reforms, also embraced often by neoconservatives such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, had arrived. For the majority of people, including librarians, this critical change in political decision making was at first slowly perceived. But, by the time Bill Clinton's campaign slogan "It's the economy, stupid!" helped him win the American 1992 Presidential election, everyone began to realize that market issues trumped social and cultural issues in the North America. The success of the Reform Party of Canada in the 1993 election was another indication of new national policy priorities.

The concept of reduced government services--government as an enabler not a provider--and the primacy of economic market-based policies became evident in the 1980s and 90s with the privatization of crown corporations such as Air Canada, Canadian National Railway, and Petro-Canada. Politicians and public servants alike expressed less enthusiasm for the qualitative nature of the 'public good' and more interest in furthering the success of federal institutions in a market economy and the rhetoric of 'free trade.' For a service organization like the National Library (NLC), government restructuring required some different thinking about core services and a reassessment of its activities. When a national study, Report of the Federal Cultural Policy Review Committee (the Applebaum-Hébert Report) appeared in 1982, it had little to recommend about the NLC except that a more suitable building should be provided. Obviously, the new National Librarian, Marianne Scott, faced many challenges after her appointment in 1984. A new building was just one.

On the surface, the budget situation for the NLC did not seem too precarious at the outset of the 1980s. Total funding for fiscal 1981/82 was just over $21 million. By 1991 it was almost $41 million; but, adjustments for a decade of rapid inflation consumed 3/4 of new funding. The 1990s were to prove even more difficult: by 1999 the total budget had been reduced to $38 million. In real terms, over two decades, there had been no revenue growth. As a result, the NLC applied the logic of neoliberal management and businesslike trimming: it streamlined operations, reduced collection building, and approached new developments, such as internet services and new digital initiatives, with caution. The rhetoric of "'Doing more with less!'; 'Empowerment!'; 'Partnerships!'; and 'Right-sizing!" were the order of the day.

The NLC's situation was not unique, all libraries and federal organizations encountered problems, but effectively national leadership was slipping away from the NLC. Although a variety of national and regional reports still emanated from Ottawa, an internal report, Orientations: a Planning Framework for the 1990s, which appeared in 1989, focused on NLC's own core activities: the development of a decentralized Canadian library and information network; resource sharing; preservation; and a commitment to Canadian studies. This short report was very different from The Future of the National Library. It was not a surprise when The Friends of the National Library of Canada was founded in 1991 to raise awareness and encourage public support of the Library. It was a necessity.

A second study--Canadian Information Resource Sharing Strategy, released in 1994--was more consultative and client oriented. It outlined a framework for Canadian libraries to develop coordinated resource sharing systems that would allow Canadians access to information. The NLC was retiring the DOBIS system and replacing it with AMICUS for its collections and union catalogue. However, the report arrived at the very time that the "Information Highway" exploded on the library community and the world. People began to envisage different ways to get rapid, convenient access to information required for research, business or leisure purposes without libraries. Nevertheless, the NLC was one of the first Canadian libraries to establish a website in June 1995. It was 'keeping up with the times' but unable to leverage government support for new identified roles, especially in the digital environment where Industry Canada was playing an important role.

Shortly before Marianne Scott prepared to set down after fifteen years, in April 1997 the NLC submitted a brief, The Role of the National Library of Canada in Support of Culture in Canada, to a committee of the Department of Canadian Heritage, to which it now reported. Scott emphasized the NLC had a vital role to play in the nation's cultural information and communications environment. The preservation of materials in the current building was threatened by water damage in collections areas. Canadiana acquisitions were much reduced. Canadian Heritage, under the minister Sheila Copps, was reviewing its own general role and, of course, applying neoliberal standards to its activities. Ironically, the processes the NLC had assiduously applied to its own internal operations and administration would be applied to the portfolio of cultural agencies in Canadian Heritage.

On 12 March 1998, Sheila Copps announced the launch of consultations on the "future role and structure" of the National Archives of Canada and the NLC. Some people in the cultural field understood the coded language that this entailed: amalgamation. However, the subsequent report, by John English, The Role of the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada, completed in 1999, looked to the future, especially in digital terms, and explicitly rejected the idea of unification. The report had many good ideas, but was obscured--sidelined in political parlance--by the prior announcement of a new appointment. Roch Carrier, an award winning author with minimal library expertise, stepped into the position of National Librarian in July 1999.

"We have to build a vision, but I'm not ready to talk about it yet," Carrier first advised the press. Then he went on a two-week cross-Canada tour to discover ideas and opinions about libraries and the NLC. "My role will be to help them [NLC staff] build the future" he wrote in the National Library Bulletin in November 1999. His 'Bridge to the 21st Century' would prove to be a short span to a barren shore.

Further Reading

The English Report recommendations are available on the web on the wayback machine at the Internet Archive.
Read news about the National Library in the late 1990s archived on the web.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Report on Canadian Libraries (1941) by Charles F. McCombs

Report on Canadian Libraries, 1941, 81 p. Originally unpublished with three appendices, index, letter of transmission, and schedule of Canadian travel by Charles F. McCombs, New York Public Library, on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation. Reprinted photographically with extensive commentary by William J. Buxton and Charles R. Acland, Philanthropy and Canadian Libraries: The Politics of Knowledge and Information Montreal: Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, and The Centre for Research on Canadian Cultural Industries and Institutions, McGill University, 1998. 51 and 88 p.

The Charles McCombs Report was the last of many American philanthropic Canadian studies begun in the 1930s. It was undertaken in 1941 to discover if further assistance might enable Canadian libraries to work with American institutions, especially the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) which previously had not been active on Canada's library scene. At the outset of WWII, the Foundation was exploring the development of international exchanges through librarianship and, with the development of microfilm systems and readers, it was interested in capturing the historic record of countries using this relatively new technology for newspapers, books, and periodicals. But before taking action in a new theatre of operation, the RF needed to explore the state of Canadian libraries and the merits of their newspaper holdings.

The senior administrators at the RF, especially John Marshall, the Assistant Director of the Humanities Division, felt more thorough examination of Canadian libraries (particularly research collections) was necessary in terms of collections, staffing capabilities, and national coordination before recommending courses of action. Accordingly, in May 1941, $2,750 was allocated to allow for the secondment of Charles McCombs from the main reading room of the New York Public Library to conduct at study of Canadian libraries. McCombs was an experienced librarian, born in 1887, noted for his bibliographic talents. In four trips, from June to November 1941, McCombs visited almost seventy libraries in eight provinces (omitting P.E.I.), submitting his report shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the American entry into WWII.

What did Charles McCombs report on? Because his report remained unpublished for almost six decades, its contents were never adequately referenced in postwar Canadian studies. Two researchers, William Buxton and Charles Acland, finally dealt with the context and importance of McCombs' work in their admirable study published in 1998. They took care to reprint the 1941 report in its entirety while at the same time discussing his recommendations and the aftermath of the Rockefeller Foundation's and Carnegie Corporation's subsequent financial aid to Canadian libraries and librarians. They demonstrated that the impact of American philanthropy on Canadian library development in the 1930s and 1940s was directed to particular projects that intersected with Canadian aspirations for progressive steps, coordinated assistance from the American Library Association, and also the policy interests of the two foundations in the immediate postwar period. The intersection of this multiple engagement provided crucial, initial assistance for the formation of the Canadian Library Association in 1946 and the subsequent legislation for a National Library in 1953.

Thus, it can be said that McCombs' work helped advance two vital postwar developments. He observed that the most pressing concern in Canada was "lack of national coordination of activity" and recommended financial aid for the new Canadian Library Council, which had coalesced in June 1941 and held its first meeting later in October with RF financial support. The RF was quick to promise $17,500, funneled through the ALA, for use by the Canadian Library Council in 1942 with the objective to establish microphotography and general advisory services (e.g., fellowships and field visits) for Canadian libraries, another important concern of McCombs. Subsequently, the Carnegie Corporation made five payments from 1944-48 to the Canadian Library Council, through the ALA, totalling $20,000. With this seed money, the CLC transitioned into the Canadian Library Association, hired Elizabeth Morton as executive director, and opened an office in Ottawa. CLA published its first list of microfilmed newspapers in 1948 and championed the cause of a national library.

Buxton and Acland make the case for American influence on Canadian activities in their well documented study. But the McCombs study also is revealing at many points for it was conducted through personal interviews and observations: "I did not submit a questionnaire, or make my visits armed with notebook and pencil" (p. 2). His use of statistics was brief, confined mostly to larger universities and colleges. Many comments appear in his report that otherwise would have been expunged before publication. McCombs seems to have been influenced a good deal by André Siegfried's Canada (translated into English in 1937) which treated the English-French divide, Canada's nascent nationality, our national east-west and north-south economic pull, and our British-European and North American ties. McCombs referenced these points throughout his report, e.g. the regionalism of the "five Canadas," isolation, and absence of cooperation, even amongst libraries on the downtown campus of the University of Toronto (p. 9). He suggested a reorganization of Ottawa's Parliamentary Library (to make it more efficient) and formation of a national library with co-equal French and English speaking directors (p. 74).

Because of the RF interest in the potential of Canadian content for researchers, McCombs spent the most part of his report on larger libraries in universities. On the personal side, he got on well with Toronto Public Library's chief, Charles Sanderson, who was enthusiastic about the prospects of microduplication in libraries. McCombs was disappointed that W.S. Wallace, University of Toronto, did "not show much interest in microphotography." Two female university chief librarians, Elizabeth Dafoe at Manitoba and Mary K. Ingraham at Acadia, were commended for their work. He found that the Citizen's Free Library, Halifax, was "a disgrace." (p.62). He spoke of the need for advanced library training and education--Canada's library schools at McGill and Toronto were a "Type II" ALA category offering only one year of professional education (Type I schools offered advanced work leading to a Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy). McCombs judged the other schools at Montreal and Ottawa would not meet ALA standards for accreditation. He found the provincial legislative libraries lacking: "with the exception of British Columbia, they lack adequate catalogues, and pay little attention to standard library methods, although there are occasional signs of progress" (p. 48). For the most part, his criticisms and compliments were designed to foster improvements in administration, finance, and collections as well as bolstering his own recommendations.

McCombs knew the limitations of his brief travels. In his letter to John Marshall on 1 Dec. 1941 he wrote, "I am acutely aware of the shortcomings of this lengthy document; there is much more that I could have said, but I have tried to give an impartial account of conditions observed, including impressions of personalities." On balance, many of his observations updated the study, Libraries in Canada by Ridington, Locke, and Black published in 1933. McCombs died in May 1947 after a lengthy career as a reference and bibliographic expert spanning more than three decades at the New York Public Library. The CLA continued the newspaper project he had advocated into the early 1980s. The importance of his original proposal was recognized in 1958 when the newly formed Canada Council granted $10,000 to CLA to continue microfilming papers in order to further Canadian research. Some CLA newspapers from the microfilm project are searchable today in the Google digital newspaper archive, e.g. the Toronto World.

Also, Buxton and Acland, "A Neglected Milestone: Charles F. McCombs' Report on Canadian Libraries, 1941," in Peter McNally, ed., Readings in Canadian Library History 2, p. 265-74 (Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 1996).

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Future of the National Library of Canada in the Nineteen Eighties (1979)

National Library of Canada, The future of the National Library of Canada = L'avenir de la Bibliothèque nationale du Canada. Ottawa, 1979; ix, 88, 93, ix p.

At the end of the 1970s the most thoughtful statement about the goals and services of Canada's National Library (NLC) appeared in a short bilingual ninety-page publication, The Future of the National Library of Canada. The culmination of three years of consultation and review, The Future contained various recommendations, eleven in all, about where the NLC might head in the 1980s. Throughout the report's pages, it is clear that the National Librarian, Guy Sylvestre, believed that strengthened programs, better financing, further organizational growth, and cooperative work with Canadian libraries would benefit the country's informational needs on a collective basis. The study recognized that Canadian library resource sharing was taking place in a decentralized national framework with distributed leadership but it sought to strengthen the NLC's role.

The Canadian equivalent of a national library, born in 1953, had been a latecomer on the stage of national development. The NLC had grown slowly and focused on bibliographic work, collections in the humanities-arts-social sciences, and issues such as legal deposit. It was one principal library in the midst of other major research libraries, regional library developments, changing library technology, and shifting priorities. In Ottawa itself, there were other federal libraries--the Library of Parliament, CISTI, the Agriculture Library, and library of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics--with 'national' roles. The growth of university research collections from the mid-1960s had been dramatic and rivaled the NLC's ability to collect and distribute information resources. While the NLC's consultation and review process, 1976-79, was lengthy, the list of contributions was short--just 33 briefs submitted in total (12 from individuals). For some, the report was about the Library reviewing itself.

The Future's eleven recommendations outlined new directions, organization, and objectives. Some were extensions of current activities, others pointed to fresh courses of action. The principal thrusts moved in two directions: networking of resources and bibliographic networking. There was to be an expansion of legal deposit to cover maps and microforms; improved research collections; more emphasis on support for Canadian studies; and improved interloan of NLC holdings across Canada. The report proposed a restructuring of the NLC's duties viz a viz its partner, the Public Archives of Canada: it recommended that musical papers (p. 30-32) should be transferred to the NLC's Music Division; that the Archive's national map collection should become a new section of the NLC; and that literary manuscripts would become the preserve of the NLC. The study called upon the Secretary of State initiate a review to rationalize the functions and responsibilities of the Archives and the Library.

The Future recommendations for bibliographic networking were less developed. It proposed to build a decentralized bibliographic network in conjunction with other computerized centres. The NLC would fund research for development studies and pilot projects and strengthen its own online information retrieval services with new databases. The NLC would be prepared to establish network management and governance groups in a collaborative fashion. It recognized the NLC was underdeveloped in computerized services compared to the National Research Council's CISTI Library and some universities, e.g. Toronto, but was willing to be an important centre in this type of activity.  To this end, it was suggested that the National Research Council Act be amended to allow the incorporation of CISTI into the National Library structure and that its funding be transferred to the NLC. Needless to say, this proposal was contentious and likely doomed to failure from the outset from institutional and client perspectives.

A final section of the report came as no surprise: a separate building for the Public Archives (or equivalent existing spaces) was put forward. The Archives had already drawn up a similar proposal for government scrutiny. Personnel in the two institutions currently were residing in several buildings.

The Future stirred up opposition and unease. The Association of Canadian Archivists criticized some proposals based on archival practice and the threat of removing conservation work to the library. The Public Archives itself opposed recommendations that sought to clarify roles based on faulty distinctions between library and archival work. The reception in the library community was less adversarial but nevertheless skeptical. For example, NLC's selection and testing of the DOBIS system (Dortmunder/Bibliothekssystem), a mainframe computerized library information and management system originally designed by IBM, was thought by some to be less 'user friendly' than alternative North American systems even though the federal government version was designed for Canadian use. The hierarchy of national and regional nodes, linked to individual libraries, remained an elusive, unwelcome goal. Regional groups, such as the Ontario Council of University Libraries, had their own problems: UNICAT/TELICAT, a co-operative cataloguing service enabling shared access to catalogue records across all OCUL members, was dissolved in 1980 after disappointing participation. There were many options on the networking table and connectivity with American research libraries was on the horizon with the development of the Ohio College Library Center after 1978. Nonetheless, NLC recommendations on expanding inter-lending and financing projects were welcomed by library groups and associations, such as the Canadian Library Association.

Although the more controversial recommendations were never implemented, the NLC was able to build upon others. DOBIS proved to be a reliable system and continued in use by federal libraries into the 1990s. Interloan eventually expanded. But development was less a matter of establishing policies and priorities than it was of budgetary considerations. It was clear that federal funding for NLC was ebbing in the early 1980s. An average annual inflation rate of 6% continued to erode increases as the government grappled with rising prices between 1981-90. Guy Sylvestre's national vision for enhanced NLC resources and programs was not to be, partly due to financing and the 'autonomy' that most major Canadian libraries desired.  The bold strokes in The Future of the National Library of Canada were rapidly fading by time Sylvestre's term of office was ending in 1983--things were going in a different trajectory. The wisdom of more pragmatic measures would soon surface in NLC reports and policy directions.

The Future of the National Library of Canada has been digitized and is available to read at the Internet Archives of books.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Canada's centennial, 1967, was not just a time to reflect on the country's past but a time to look forward as well. After the $13 million Public Archives and National Library Building on Wellington Street opened in June, both archivists and librarians had better facilities and more staff to provide their services. The National Library had grown to more than 200 workers. When Dr. W.K. Lamb, the Dominion Archivist and National Librarian, retired in 1968, a decision was made to appoint separate directors for the two institutions. The new National Librarian was Guy Sylvestre, an author, civil servant, and Associate Director of the Library of Parliament from 1956-68. Dr. Sylvestre had worked in Ottawa for a quarter of a century and possessed a good knowledge of library activity across Canada. Now he was in a position to exploit his contacts in the nation's capital and develop ideas about the National Library (NLC) that would make it more relevant in the expanding Canadian information environment.

The first major development on Dr. Sylvestre's watch was a revised National Library Act, which came into force in September 1969. The National Librarian was charged with coordinating the library services of departments, branches, and agencies of the Government and authorized to enter into agreements with libraries, associations, and institutions "in and outside Canada." One positive result from this was the eventual exchange of MARC (MAchine Readable Cataloging) magnetic tape records with the Library of Congress and other national libraries. Automation projects and standards became essential building blocks for library progress after 1970. 'Systems' became a library catchword, spawning many acronyms and a Research and Planning Branch at the NLC staffed by programmers and analysts. Standards were also a priority; thus, the CAN/MARC format was developed for English and French language records and international cataloging activities coordinated by a new Office of Library Standards established in 1973.

 While the NLC explored and developed computerized systems and standards, it also began a fundamental reorganization of its collections and introduced new services for Canadian libraries, the federal government, and the public. Some notable highlights were:
  •  creation of a Music Division in 1970 under the leadership of Dr. Helmut Kallmann, who built an impressive collection of Canadian manuscripts, printed materials, and audio recordings. When he retired in 1987, the NLC's music collection was internationally recognized. Kallmann received the Order of Canada in 1986.
  • establishment of a Library Documentation Centre to capture information on library development for use of Canadian librarians and libraries. The Centre began publishing an annual Directory of Library Associations in Canada in 1974.
  • formation of Canadian Book Exchange Centre (1973) to acquire and distribute government publications to Canada a few foreign countries. By 1975, the Centre was handling a million items annually.
  • beginning of historical bibliographic work on pre-1900 Canadiana emanating from a new Retrospective National Bibliography Division.
  • establishment of a Division for the Visually and Physically Handicapped, which initially attempted to provide reference services and cooperate with libraries and organizations on various projects.
  • start of work by the Federal Libraries Liaison Office (est. 1970) to improve the coordination of Government of Canada library services. After an extensive survey of almost 200 federal libraries, this office recommended formation of a Council of Federal Libraries which came into being in 1976. The Office and Council were key elements in allowing the NLC to coordinate federal library activities and in offering its constituent government members to work on problems on a cooperative basis.
  •  forming of a Rare Books and Manuscripts Division with a reading room in 1973 to organize rare materials, offer reference, develop policies on acquisitions, and preserve collections.
  • initiating a Children's Literature Service to coordinate national activities. It began issuing supplements to Sheila Egoff and Alvine Bélisle's  Notable Canadian Children's Books in 1977.
  • inauguration of a Multilingual Biblioservice in 1973: this multicultural project acquired, cataloged, and loaned books in languages other than French and English to Canadian libraries (mostly public) for two decades.
  • commencement in 1973 of Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) services concentrating on the humanities and social sciences. SDI was designed to offer timely information through the use of burgeoning computerized databases, e.g. Psychological Abstracts and ERIC.
  • establishment of a Collections Development Branch with responsibility to systematize selections for the NLC, collect information on policies of major libraries, and offer assistance in resource development of Canadian libraries.
  • implementation of Canadian Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) a cooperative project which provided publishers with basic cataloging information and reduced original cataloging costs.
  • assignment of standard numbers for serials and books -- ISSN and ISBN -- to register and identify Canadian publications in an international publishing environment.
  •  expansion of its own interlending activities and locational service for libraries
It was a busy and exciting period at the NLC. Legal deposit was expanded, important exhibitions held, international conferences hosted, and many studies published, such as Roll Back the Years, a history of Canadian recorded sound. Staffing expanded dramatically, from about 200 in 1967 to more than 450 by the mid-1970s. Likewise, the operating budget rose from just less than $1.5 million to almost $10 million. However, there were challenges on the horizon. The main building was no longer adequate to house collections and staff. The Public Archives was similarly faced with space problems. Automation of the Union Catalogue was only just beginning. The NLC continued to share its Canadian mandate with the newly formed Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, a creation of the National Research Council, which opened its own building in 1974 for more than a million items and a staff of more than 100. Federal government initiatives were now more explicit about the need for long-range plans and multi-year financing; as a result, incremental change was becoming more difficult to implement in budget requests.

Consequently, Dr. Sylvestre launched a comprehensive review of the NLC's mandate and activities in 1976. He was hoping to develop a consensus about the future of the NLC with broad-based input from the Canadian library community and to provide an appropriate plan of action for the 1980s. Regional initiatives by other library agencies, like UNICAT/TELECAT, a bilingual automated cataloguing system used by libraries in Quebec and Ontario, were in development. The NLC had grown dramatically, but could it sustain its services and continue to expand? A certain amount of skepticism had arisen in the early 1970s about cooperative library projects--these efforts often did not deliver the same benefits to all participants and could engender divisive debates.

In the developing funding climate of governments and public administrators at all levels 'financial restraint' was becoming a byword and 'cutback management' would soon enter the administrative lexicon. Annual inflation rates of 7-11% rapidly eroded revenue increases. Dr. Sylvestre was known on occasion (e.g., at the Canadian Library Association's Edmonton conference in 1978) to lament that NLC funding was inadequate to the many tasks at hand. Was the NLC's glass to be "half full or half empty;" would there be a "silver lining" in the clouds? Much was riding on the results of its consultative assessment and resultant report, The Future of the National Library of Canada which is the subject of another post here in Library History Today.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Amulree Commission Report (1933) and Newfoundland Public Libraries

Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933: Report. William Warrender Mackenzie, 1st Baron Amulree, chair. London. H.M.S.O., 1933. vi, 283 p., maps.

Important advances were made in Canada in the 1930s by the provision of Carnegie grants for library development in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. However, in Newfoundland library development was sparked by a different investigative process. In the bleak depression year, 1933, the Newfoundland government, which had held official Dominion since 1907, requested Great Britain for loans to alleviate its dire financial state. The British government responded by establishing a Royal Commission the following year to examine the future of Newfoundland and make recommendations on the island's finances, fisheries, and political status. For most Newfoundlanders, it marked the end of almost eighty years of "Responsible Government." For the next fifteen years (1934-49) Newfoundland and Labrador would continue to be administered by an appointed Governor and unelected Commission.

The Royal Commission was chaired by Lord Amulree, William Warrender Mackenzie, 1st Baron Amulree, who conducted an extensive (and controversial) survey of Newfoundland's political, economic, and social conditions with a few colleagues. One feature of the Commission report, seldom commented on by library historians in Canadian studies, were observations and suggestions about the island's libraries. In a chapter on subsidiary considerations, the Commission reported:
We were much surprised, on our arrival at St. John's, to find that there was no public library in the capital. The need for such a library need not be stressed. The provision of a public library is wholly beyond the immediate resources of the Government, nor could we expect that an appeal for subscriptions for this purpose could be launched with success at the present time. (p. 221)
Of course, by "public library" the commissioners meant a tax-supported library freely open to the public. Subscription libraries and mechanics' institutes had long been the mainstay of island library provision since the early 19th century. In its concluding sections, the Amulree Report recommended "We understand that arrangements are in view for the establishment of a public library in St. John’s. We think it is important that public libraries should be established in the larger out ports as opportunity offers and that steps should be taken to extend and improve the recently instituted service of travelling subscription libraries." In the 1920s, the Carnegie Corporation had provided $5,000 for the Bureau of Education to establish a rural travelling library service. Deliveries were made to schools and coastal ships provided service to outport communities. However, the service had languished at the outset of the Great Depression after Carnegie resources ceased.

The Amulree Report's comments spurred immediate action in St. John's. A few citizens, headed by the Commissioner for Public Utilities, Thomas Lodge, formed a committee to begin planning for the establishment of a city public library. By January 1935, a Public Libraries Act was passed to allow a Public Libraries Board to establish libraries and services, in effect a system similar to emerging regional library systems that had already been demonstrated in British Columbia. The fourth section of the new Act stated: "It shall be the duty of the Board to establish, conduct and maintain a public libraries or libraries in St. John’s and in other places in Newfoundland as the Board may deem expedient and to establish and maintain travelling or circulating libraries if the Board shall deem it expedient." The Board reported to the Commissioner of Public Utilities.

The St. John’s Gosling Memorial Library (named for William Gilbert Gosling, a popular mayor from 1916-20) opened on 9 January 1936. The Gosling Library was the beginning of an expansion of public library service across Newfoundland and Labrador in the ensuing decades. At this time, the concept of "regional libraries" was more limited on the island. According to Jesse Mifflin, in the 1930s, "it referred to all libraries set up in relatively large towns; libraries were supposed to serve not only the town itself but schools and groups in neighbouring communities, and also to provide some of the bookstock for any small libraries situated in the area, and which were known as Branch Libraries." There was no formal demarcation of regions with Newfoundland at this time.

After the Gosling library opened in downtown St. John's, the Public Libraries Board, headed by Dr. A.C. Hunter and through the work of its Outport Library Committee, eventually established a five-year plan to provide library services to communities with a minimum population of 1,000 people to serve people in its "region." This plan was approved in 1942 by the British appointed Commission, helped with another timely grant of $10,000 from the Carnegie Corporation. This scheme proved to be successful and included larger towns such as Corner Brook. All these activities can be traced back to the Amulree Report, the beneficence of the Carnegie Corporation, and the dedicated work of local citizens.

The Amulree Report was an important motivation for improved public library services. Although it gave only fleeting reference to libraries and did not fit with the typical Canadian library survey or report on the development of services in the 1930s, its impact was evident. As a result, the Commission style government would become an important incubation period for Newfoundland's public library system.

Further reading:

Jesse Mifflen, The Development of Public Library Services in Newfoundland, 1934-1972. Halifax: Dalhousie University Libraries and School of Library Service, 1978.

The entire Amulree Report is available at the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website -- The Newfoundland Royal Commission, 1933

An Act to Create a Public Libraries Board approved in January 1935 is available at the Memorial University Digital Archive (commencing at page 28).