Tuesday, October 11, 2016

BUILDING CANADIAN ELECTRONIC LIBRARIES; THE ONTARIO EXPERIENCE, 1960-2010

"Building Canadian Electronic Libraries: The Experience in Ontario Public Libraries, 1960-2010" by Lorne D. Bruce. Article published in LIBRARIES IN THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY. VOLUME 1, AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE [pp. 92-104], edited on behalf of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions by Dr. Ravindra N. Sharma. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Saur, 2012.ix, 398 p.; ill.; map.

Years ago, shortly after the disastrous financial depression of 2008-09, I was asked to write about the Canadian experience with electronic libraries in the last half of the 20th century. There are few such studies in Canadian library history, but it was agreed that I would contribute a paper on Ontario's public library experience with automation, electronic-virtual-digital libraries, and Library 2.0. Of course, a provincial outline must incorporate national and international technological developments. I tried to balance my article within a chronological framework that would identify key trends, persons, groups, and technical developments. But the 'whole story' of Canadian library technical advances (and setbacks) remains to be researched, documented, and published. A short article of fifteen pages must focus on the main issues and events.

The general editor for this undertaking by IFLA, Dr. Ravinda Sharma, who was Dean of the Monmouth University Library at this time, strove to gather and convey the different approaches many countries have taken to achieve electronic library proficiency, a difficult task indeed. The first volume (2012) represented the history and development of library work of developed nations and the developing world chapter by chapter. A second volume followed, one covering additional countries describing the modern history, development of libraries and library technology. The two volumes are a good source for international librarianship and comparative history.

The development of electronic processing and digital services in Ontario's public libraries for half a century began slowly in the postwar period. By 1960, visionary concepts were beginning to coalesce into practical solutions. Toronto Public Library, under the leadership of H.C. Campbell, was particularly active in thinking about applying new technology to in-house work, especially technical processing. At a national level, the National Library and Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information were prominent exponents of computerized applications and potential networking in the 1970s. For public libraries in general, the establishment of a Network Development Office in Toronto, funded by the province, marked an important step in the move towards cooperative planning in regions and in the province shortly before 1980.

Less than a decade later, the province of Ontario funded two major conferences--Libraries 2000 and the Electronic Library--that may be regarded as idea-generating and synthesizing efforts at a time when 'second generation' computerized catalogs and information systems were being introduced into libraries. By the mid-1990s, library automation advanced rapidly with the development of the Information Highway (or World Wide Web) and the profound influence of the Internet. Studies about the public library's capabilities (and liabilities) appeared frequently. Fears about the decline of the public library proved to be inaccurate as the service aspect (the virtual and later digital library) became more apparent to the public and library critics. Digital services could be interactive, not passive ways of using libraries, and a way of better connecting with local communities.

In the early years of the 21st century, the term Library 2.0 appeared. This appellation added a further layer of ideas about how libraries, now closely tied to the success of second generation web-based technologies, could serve clienteles. Library 2.0  was concerned with user-centered change and client participation in the creation of content and an enhanced sense of community.

Over fifty years, Ontario's public libraries have been able to keep pace with technological developments during periods of fluctuating financial fortune. The prospect of multi-type library services and more collaborative networking with public libraries and university, college, and school libraries remains one area where Ontario's public-sector libraries could achieve future improvements.

 A Google preview of "Building Canadian Electronic Libraries" with limited page views is available: LIBRARIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

Bail Stuart-Stubbs, "Learning to Love the Computer: Canadian libraries and New Technology, 1945-1965," in Readings in Cannadian Library History 2 ed. by Peter F. McNally, pp. 275-301 (Ottawa: Canadian Library Associaton, 1996).

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