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.

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.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

CROSS COUNTRY CHECKUP AND THE LIBRARY OF FUTURE (CIRCA 1995)

Duncan McCue begins hosting the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio One's call-in show, Cross Country Checkup, on a regular basis at the start of August 2016. This popular show has been on air for more than fifty years. Long-time commentator and author, Rex Murphy, hosted this show for more than twenty years. He often scheduled programs and issues related to libraries in a lively debate mode from the mid-1990s to 2015.

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Mr. Murphy way back in 1995 when the future of libraries, seemingly overwhelmed in the coming age of the Internet, was often questioned.
  • Could they stay relevant in the age of the Information Highway? 
  • Would they wither way and leave half-empty buildings behind, even disappear?
  • Could they transition to Virtual Libraries - Libraries Without Walls - Electronic Libraries - Digital Libraries, whatever they might be called in the 21st century?
Robert Fulford spoke on the same program about the use of electronic reference media in a library setting and how important these kinds of resources were. He was not worried about the passing of the traditional role of libraries any time soon.

Of course, Rex Murphy is a skilled interviewer and put me on the spot more than once. But after re-listening to my spontaneous responses in support of libraries as brick and concrete community resource spaces and accessible places where people and students could find mediators to help locate information, I think most of what I said remains valid twenty years on. The printed book is still with us as a staple in the library along with other media formats. But e-books are great too and they are a lot easier to use now. There are lots of non-print materials in libraries.

The issues about of how libraries have been transformed from storage cites to information providers have been raised and debated many times since the early 1990s. In fact, this question dates to the use of computers in libraries beginning in the 1960s. Now, the prospects for the 21st century 'library' -- Library 2.0 - are front and center. But, users are still the focus: libraries change in relation to user needs and demands and how 'publishers' and the 'public' create content in a multiplicity of ways. There are many types of publishers and many types of public. There are many varieties of libraries, too.

My interview with Mr. Murphy was recorded more than twenty years ago as a .wav file, so click this link and turn up your audio volume if you are interested in going back to 1995.