Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review—The Role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education (1942) by Gordon Gourlay

The Role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education, by J. W. Gordon Gourlay. University of Michigan, Department of Library Science, 1942. x, 153 leaves.

The studies of the 1930s on Canadian public libraries were mostly financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Very little funding came from government sources. In the 1940s, more academic degree studies on Canadian libraries begin to be conducted. Some of these were regional or local studies, others explored trends that extended across provincial boundaries. Adult education concerns had emerged as an important area for library work, first in the USA in the 1920s, then to Canada in the 1930s. William Carson, the Ontario Inspector of Public Libraries, had contributed a piece to an American Library Association study, Libraries and Adult Education, published in 1926. More than a decade later, the British Columbia Library Commission issued its Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941. Shortly after, in 1942, a national investigation appeared--one often bypassed in our library historiography.

John Wallace Gordon Gourlay, a native of Lancaster, Ontario, was the author. Gourlay had graduated from Queen's University with a B.A. in English, History, and Economics in 1940. He went on to McGill to get a B.L.S. in 1941 and then to the University of Michigan to receive his A.M.L.S. in 1942. There were no master's library programs in Canada and Michigan's reputation attracted a number of Canadians at this time. Graduating during wartime, Gourlay enlisted and saw service in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force during Second World War. He returned to civilian life as a librarian at three American universities before becoming the director at Clemson University Library from 1954 to his retirement in 1980.

Although Gourlay's questions to Canadian libraries were made during the conflict with Germany and Japan, he got a reasonable good response by twenty public libraries from a mail out of thirty-five questionnaires. The responses were categorized into several groups:
  • library work with outside groups (e.g., YMCA)
  • special services (e.g., vocational assistance)
  • adult education work within the library (e.g., radio programs, book talks)
  • library publicity; and
  • library work during wartime (e.g., sending books to soldiers in training camps).

Gourlay also summarized some groups and programs that stood out in educational programming with adults: the Dominion-Provincial training programs for youths in areas such as forestry, agriculture and home crafts; Extension Departments at the University of Alberta and St. Francis Xavier; and the Canadian Association for Adult Education (established in 1935). Of course, he could not deal with every organization, e.g., he did not mention the activities of either Frontier College or Sir George Williams College in Montreal which began offering degrees in adult education in 1934. Library responses to Gourlay's survey were mostly positive. A future 1955 President of the Canadian Library Association, Anne Hume, replied "We used it at a Department Head Conference the other day. It gave us [Windsor Public Library] a chance to review our sins and omissions. For that we thank you."

Gourlay offered mostly factual evidence gathered in the course of his survey; however, he did provide a limited explanation about the difficulties encountered in the field of adult education that were shared by libraries and related organizations. Through his inquiries he found that there was a lack of co-ordination among the organizations; that distance hindered effective delivery of programs; that provincial regulation of education led to different approaches and funding for programs; and that Canada's heterogeneous, scattered population often was unrecognized and unassisted through want of proper organization for this type of work. Nonetheless, the variety of library programs in large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, and even the contributions of smaller ones in northern or rural settings (e.g., Timmins and Lethbridge) demonstrated that libraries were alive to the need of adult learning. Gourlay's study showed that libraries had continued to develop work in the adult education field compared to an earlier national study by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (Library Cooperation with Adult Study Groups in Survey of Libraries, 1935)

Adult education would continue to be an important topic on the agenda of Canadian libraries in the postwar period and beyond with many studies and plans being conducted at the local, regional, provincial, and federal level. However, as Gourlay discovered, the library as adult educator was a concept not easy to define and put into practice. Working with adults to identify needs, like selecting books from the universe of publications to build collections, could spin off into many directions that required funding beyond the traditional reach of library budgeting.

Further reading

The Role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education is available full text at Hathi Trust.
American Library Association, Libraries and Adult Education (Chicago, 1926) at the Internet Archive site.
 British Columbia Public Library Commission, A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941 (Victoria, 1942) at Hathi Trust site.

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