Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review - A Survey of Montreal Library Facilities and a Proposed Plan for a Library System (1942) by Mary Duncan Carter

A Survey of Montreal Library Facilities and a Proposed Plan for a Library System by Mary Duncan (Colhoun) Carter, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1942. xi, 180 leaves, tables, maps.

In the early 1940s Montreal's public library needs were only partially met by the 'big four,' the Civic Library, the Fraser Institute Library, the Mechanics' Institute Library, and the Westmount Public Library. Other libraries, the Children's Library, the Jewish People's Library, two dozen parish libraries operated by the Catholic Church, and a few special libraries also provided general reading. Compared to Toronto or cities of similar size in the United States--Cleveland, St. Louis, and Baltimore--there was no strong, centralized public library service. It was this particular circumstance that Mary Duncan Carter examined and sought to provide a coherent, systematic plan for metropolitan service in her 1942 dissertation.

Duncan Carter was no stranger to the Montreal situation. A native of St. Paul's, Minnesota, born in 1896, she joined the McGill library school as an assistant professor in 1927 after graduation from the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Philosophy (1917) and then B.L.S. (1923) at the New York State Library School in Albany which later becoming the Columbia University School of Library Service in 1926. She married the Canadian photographer and fine-art dealer, Sidney Carter, in 1924 and taught at the McGill library school for ten years before leaving in 1937 to become the Director of the University of Southern California School of Library Science. Carter rose to prominence at USC and became President of the California Library Association in 1944.

Carter's thesis is a fascinating snapshot of libraries in Canada's metropolitan capital during the 1930s when statistics were available for various types of city libraries. In several chapters Carter reviewed the historical social conditions that underlay contemporary services, the resources available to Montrealers, and usage of a variety of libraries. Twenty-four parish libraries, operated by the Catholic Church, were studied in a separate chapter along with a case study of a special library at the Bell Telephone Company. Although there were an unusual number of rental libraries in Montreal during this period, Carter did not include them in her analysis of a 'public' system.

In 1933 the 'public library system' of Montreal (the four main public libraries) contained approximately 258,000 volumes. This figure was extremely small compared with public library holdings in cities of comparable size. There were 17,384 borrowers of the four main Montreal public libraries. Carter concluded

Perhaps the outstanding feature of the library pattern of Montreal is decentralization. Each of the four public libraries as well as each of the twenty-four parish libraries operates in complete independence and autonomy. Special libraries are by their very nature operated by and for separate groups. In Montreal certain special libraries, like those found in the Bell Telephone Company and the Royal Bank of Canada, even serve as general reading sources for industrial groups as well as sources for special technical material. (p.113)

Carter's plan for metropolitan service mostly worked within existing legislative constraints, e.g. in compliance with provincial and municipal laws and current administrative practices. She outlined three fundamental suggestions to provide city-wide coordination.
1. to continue the present group of libraries with increased municipal aid by removing all restrictions on the use of the libraries (e.g., removal of membership fees for users and non-residents);
2. to develop the Civic Library to fulfill its function as a municipal tax-supported
library of Montreal (e.g., establishing branches throughout the city);
3. to gradually integrate existing libraries with centralized administrative control (e.g., strengthening the collections of parish libraries).

Carter's blueprint for metropolitan service is too lengthy to elaborate in detail, but it included a variety of suggestions that seem, in retrospect, to have been possible to implement in the immediate post-1945 period in Montreal if municipal, church, and library officials could agree on its main points. The Fraser Library might service as a central reference library; the Civic Library could extend its services through new service points; Westmount might serve as a model for unserved areas in Mount Royal and Outremont; cooperative centralized purchasing, classifying and cataloging of books could simplify technical procedures, reduce costs, and make possible a unified catalogue of city holdings. Carter felt that parish libraries might be incorporated in an overall system by having the Civic Library develop deposit collections acceptable to the Church that could be made available to parish libraries that were willing to develop their physical facilities to meet certain minimum standards.

To coordinate planning and operations, Carter proposed formation of a central authority, a Metropolitan Library Commission, to be composed of a delegate from each of the four main libraries, a Catholic representative to administer the parish plan, a provincially appointed member and a professional librarian appointed by the Quebec Library Association. Individual boards of the four libraries would continue to function and to decide matters relevant to the operation of each library within its functions in the overall library system. Commission decisions pertaining to the entire system would then be better coordinated. Carter concluded optimistically, "there is reason to suppose that regional library cooperation entered into voluntarily by the existing public and parish libraries should not be difficult to accomplish." Regional libraries were already in operation in Canada and cooperative schemes were successful in reaching many unserved or underserved areas.

Duncan Carter's proposals for metropolitan library service were an important instance of planning in Canadian library history to improve services and provide more equitable access for the public. A summary 25-page version of her work was published in 1945 by the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. Like many potential planning documents, however, it was destined to gather dust and be forgotten in the course of time. Carter's subsequent career in the United States, at USC, as a cultural attaché with the US Embassy in Cairo, author and faculty member of library science at the University of Michigan (1956-66) removed her from ongoing activity in Montreal. The opportunity to explore regional cooperation passed as postwar priorities unfolded. The idea of metropolitan planning would reappear later in Toronto in the 1950s with the formation of a Council of Library Trustees of Toronto and District which hired Dr. Ralph Shaw to study the greater Toronto area in a landmark 1960 report, Libraries of Metropolitan Toronto.

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