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Thursday, October 26, 2017


My article on public library legislation that was not passed by legislators of the United Canadas in 1866. Originally published in Ex Libris Association Newsletter 44 (Fall 2008): 10-13. The bill's sponsor, Alexander Morris, was a Liberal-Conservative member for the riding of Lanark South (Canada West) in the Legislative Assembly. The text of Morris' 1866 bill, discharged in August 1866 at the end of the Province of Canada's 8th Parliament (1863-66), is included at the end. Morris supported the concept of free public libraries but also allowed a role for potential donors to contribute to the support and management of  local libraries.

Bill: An Act to Authorize the Formation of Free Libraries
[Mr. Alexander Morris]
[read a second time on 7 August 1866 and then discharged]

Whereas it is expedient to grant facilities for the establishment of Free Public Libraries; Therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Assembly of Canada, enacts as follows
1. The Mayor of the Municipality of any City, or Town, in Canada containing by the Census made next before the Meeting mentioned in this Section, not fewer than five thousand inhabitants, or any two Justices of the Peace for the locality embracing such City, or Town, but resident in such City, or Town, each possessed of Real Estate in such City, or Town, assessed at the value of   , may at any time call a Public Meeting of the owners of Real Estate in the said City, or Town, in order to determine whether this Act shall be used and adopted with a view to the forming and maintaining a Free Public Library in such City, or Town, and ten days' notice at least of the time, place and object of the Meeting shall be given by advertising the said Meeting in at least one Newspaper published in such City, or Town, for at least ten days preceding the day appointed for the Meeting; and, if at any such Meeting two-thirds of the said Owners of Real Estate present at such Meeting so determine, then this Act shall forthwith be used, adopted and acted upon.  
2. If any Meeting so called, as aforesaid, to determine whether this Act shall be used, or adopted, shall determine in the negative, then no Meeting for a similar purpose shall be held for the space of one year, at least, from the time of holding the previous Meeting.  
3. Whenever any such Meeting shall be convened the Mayor, or, in his absence, the said Justice of the Peace present at such Meeting, shall preside, and shall make, or cause to be made, a Minute of the Resolutions passed at such Meeting, and shall sign the same; and the said Minute shall then be deposited in the Office of the Registrar of the County, or Registration division within which the said City, or Town, may be, by the Chairman of the said Meeting, who shall make oath as to the authenticity of such Minute, before the said Registrar, and the Resolutions, so signed, shall be conclusive evidence that the Meeting was duly convened, and the vote thereat duly taken, and that the Minute contains a true account of the proceedings at the said Meeting.  
4. The said Minute and affidavit shall continue and remain in the keep­ing of the said Registrar, who shall give certified copies of the same to any one requiring them, on payment of a fee of one dollar, and any copy so certified shall be primâ facie evidence of the contents of the said Minute and affidavit in all legal proceedings.  
5. Immediately upon its being decided at any such Meeting that this Act shall he used and adopted, and a Free Public Library formed in such City, or Town, the owners of Real Estate in the said City, or Town, shall become a Body Corporate by the name of "The Free Library of the City, or Town, of, (as the case may be)[ ]" and by that name may sue and be sued, and hold and dispose of Lands and immovable property in the said City, or Town, required for the purposes of their incorporation, and use a Common Seal.  
6. The affairs of the said Corporation shall be conducted by nine Trus­tees, six of whom shall be elected by the Ratepayers from among themselves, and three by those who have made donations to the Corporation of Books, or money, to the value of at least each. The first six Trustees shall be elected at the Meeting at which the adoption of this Act has been decided on, and after the two-thirds vote for such adoption has been taken; and the three Trustees to be appointed by the donors may be appointed by them at any time within one month after the election of the said first six Trustees, by Memorandum in writing signed by four-fifths of such Donors, and delivered to the said first six Trustees, or at a Meeting convened for the purpose, by any one of such six Trustees, of which three days previous notice shall be given by advertisement, of in a Newspaper.  
7. An Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers, and an Annual Meeting of the Donors then living, shall be held in each and every Year in the same month as the month in which the Meeting was held at which it was decided to adopt this Act. Any one of the existing Trustees elected by the Ratepayers, and chosen by the Meeting, shall preside at the Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers, and any one of the existing Trustees elected by the Donors and chosen by the Meeting, shall preside at the Annual Meeting of the Donors. Two of the Trustees elected by the Ratepayers, and selected by ballot at the Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers, shall go out of office each year, and their places be supplied by two new Trustees to be elected by the Ratepayers at such Meeting, but the out-going Trustees may be re-elected as such new Trustees. One of the Trustees elected by the Donors, and selected by ballot at the Annual Meeting of the Donors, shall go out each year, and his place be supplied by one new Trustee to be elected by the Donors at such Meeting, but such out-going Trustee may be re-elected as such new Trustee.  
8. A majority of the Trustees for the time being shall constitute a quorum, and the Trustees for the time being shall have all the powers of the entire body of Trustees, notwithstanding that, at any time, there may be no Trustees elected by the Donors, or the death, absence, or incapacity of any one, or more, of the Trustees.  
9. If, from any cause whatever, the Annual Meetings shall not be held at the time provided by this Act, or the Trustees shall, from any cause what­ever, not be elected at such Annual Meeting, the said Corporation shall not be thereby dissolved, but a new Meeting shall be called in the same manner as an Annual Meeting, at which, if necessary, such election may be had; and the Trustees for the time being shall retain their office and powers until their Successors, or the Successors of any one of them, shall be duly elected.  
10. The Trustees shall meet at least once in every calendar month, and at such other times as they think fit, at the Library or some other convenient place, and any one Trustee may summon a Special Meeting of the Trustees by giving three clear days' notice in writing to each Trustee, specifying therein the purpose for which the Meeting is called, and no business shall be transacted at any Meeting of the Trustees unless at least a majority shall be present.  
11. All orders and proceedings of the Trustees shall be entered in Books to be kept by them for that purpose, and shall be signed by the Trustees, or any two of them, and all such orders and proceedings so entered and pur­porting to be signed, shall be deemed to be original orders and proceedings, and such Books may be produced and read as evidence of all such orders and proceedings upon any judicial proceedings whatever.  
12. The Trustees shall keep distinct and regular Accounts of their Receipts, Payments, Credits and Liabilities, which Accounts shall be audited yearly, by two Auditors, not being Trustees, elected by the Ratepayers at each Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers. The Auditors, so appointed, shall report to the Trustees as soon as practicable, and such Report shall be open to the inspection of any Ratepayer, or Donor, at all reasonable hours.  
13. The said Trustees shall have the power to levy, for the purposes of the Library annually, a tax, not exceeding one-half cent. In the dollar, on all rateable Real property within the City, or Town, where they are elected, and the value of such rateable Real property shall be estimated for the purpose of such Tax, according to the Assessment, or Valuation Rolls, made by the Municipality of the said City, or Town, in the year next preceding the levying of the said Rate by the said Trustees. Such Tax may be levied and recovered from the Owners of the said Real property in the same manner and by the same means as are used for the levying and recovering of any other Rate, Tax, or Assessment, levied, or leviable, in the said City, or Town for the purposes of the City, or Town, Municipality, and such Tax shall, if unpaid, be a special charge and mortgage on such Real property, not requiring registration to preserve it.  
14. The said Trustees may establish and maintain Free Reading Rooms in connection with, and as a part of, such Free Libraries, and, from time to time, purchase and provide the necessary fuel, lighting, and other similar matters, Books, Newspapers and Maps, for the use of the said Libraries and Reading Rooms, and cause the same to be bound and repaired when necessary.  
15. The said Trustees may purchase and acquire Land in the City, or Town in the name of the Corporation, for the erection of a Library Building, and may mortgage the same at any time to procure funds for the erection, improvement, or repair thereof, or for the payment of any debt secured upon the same.  
16. The said Trustees shall elect from among themselves, from time to time, a President, and shall appoint such subordinate Officers as they deem expedient, prescribe their remuneration and duties, and dismiss them, and shall, from time to time, make Rules and Regulations for the management of the said Library, not contrary to this Act, and may allow the Householders and Inhabitants to borrow and take away Books from the Library, on such terms and conditions, and under such restrictions, as the Trustees may think fit to impose.  
17. The said Trustees may establish Fines for the infraction of any Rules and Regulations, to be recoverable by them as in an action of debt. 
18. The said Libraries shall be open to the Public free of charge, but any one whom the Trustees may consider to have contravened any Rule, or Regulation, may be excluded therefrom.  
19. The word "Ratepayer," whenever used in this Act, shall be construed to mean the Owner of Real Property within the City, or Town, whose property is assessed for the purposes of this Act, and the word "Donor, to mean any one who has given to the said Corporation, in Books, or money a sum not less than dollars. The word "City," shall apply to any Municipality called in any Statute a City in Upper Canada, or Lower Canada; and the word "Town," shall apply to any incorporated Town in Upper Canada, and to any incorporated Town, or local Municipality in Lower Canada.  
20. This Act shall be deemed a Public Act.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


My article on proposed public library legislation for the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) in 1852. The bill was essentially identical to the public library act passed by the American state of Massachusetts in the previous year, 1851.  It was not read a third time and died at the end of the parliamentary session. Originally published in Ex Libris Association Newsletter 42 (Fall 2007): 15-18.

The bill was introduced by William Henry Boulton, the Conservative member for Toronto in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. Boulton had also served as Mayor of Toronto from 1845-1846.

The Bill, numbered 75 for the session of the 4th Parliament of the United Canadas, was premature free public library legislation. At the time of its first reading only a handful of municipal corporations had been formed in Upper Canada (Canada West). Lower Canada (Canada East) had no general municipal legislation. Further, in the previous year an act had been passed by the Canadian Parliament to permit the formation of library associations and mechanics' institutes. As well, Egerton Ryerson was establishing public libraries in rural townships and small communities across Upper Canada, mostly in school houses.

The text of Bill 75, virtually a copy of an American state law, is included.

BILL [75] -- 1st Session, 4th Parliament of the Province of Canada, 16 Victoria, 1852

An An Act to authorize Cities and Towns to establish and maintain Public Libraries.

Be it enacted, &c.,

That any City or Town in this Province is hereby authorized and empowered to establish and maintain a Public Library within the same, with or without branches, for the use of the inhabitants thereof, and to provide suitable rooms there or, under such regulations for the government of such Library as may from time to time be prescribed by a Board of five persons, to be named annually by the Municipal Authorities of such City or Town.

II. Any City or Town may appropriate for the foundation and commencement of such Library as aforesaid, a sum not exceeding five shillings for each of its householders in the year next preceding that in which such appropriation shall be made, and may also appropriate annually, for the maintenance and increase of such Library, a sum not exceeding one shilling and three pence for each of its householders in the year next preceding that in which such appropriation shall be made.

III. Any City or Town may receive, in its corporate capacity, and hold and manage any devise, bequest or donation for the establishment, increase or maintenance of a Public Library within the same.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


An illustrated address I originally gave at the Canadian Library Association library history interest group session at Edmonton in June 1989. Thanks to Pearl Milne, University of Guelph Library, for her digital assistance with these photographs. Additional images of Ontario libraries ranging from the early- to mid-twentieth century are archived at my older University of Guelph original website, Libraries Today.

Photographs can be used in historical accounts for many different purposes. Often, they serve to illustrate the reality a writer wishes to capture, an effective and time-honoured technique. But they also may be used in their own right, not just as adjuncts to the literary record, but as original sources. Images are part of a broader methodological trend, one that has historians utilizing many non-traditional sources both to establish information about people, places, and events, or to develop new lines of inquiry. Of course, visual history is not new in itself, what has changed in the past twenty years is that more rigorous use of photographs as historical sources has evolved.

Uxbridge Library, Ontario, 1887
Uxbridge Library, c 1887
Historical photographs are being used now in a variety of critical ways in research and teaching. (Note 1) In some cases, they may establish or verify facts, an important consideration when traditional documents are lacking or present discrepancies. Visual histories depicting social or cultural values of an era or place are becoming more frequent; in these works, photographs frequently help to determine the text which may be supplemented by other resources. Sometimes, photographs can be used to reinforce historical interpretations shaped with other source materials. In library history all these photographic dimensions can be employed when different aspects concerning the history of public libraries are analyzed or narrated. (Note 2)

Many photographs pertaining to library history exist at local libraries, museums, and archives across Ontario. Although there is no comprehensive catalogue or index to holdings, they can be as valuable as surviving textual sources because they can be used to formulate new ideas about libraries or to reinterpret a period. For instance, historical works frequently refer to the four decades between 1880 and 1920 as "Victorian" or "Edwardian" or as a "Progressive Era." This period is normally characterized as one of growth and progress for Ontario public libraries, an expansive theme culminating in the revised Public Libraries Act of 1920. Like most eras, the years between 1880-1920 were ones of transition for libraries, a view confirmed by many photographs.

By 1914, distinctively modernist trends were emerging in Ontario's libraries; the Victorian synthesis of ideas and methods common to mechanics' institutes and their immediate successors, free libraries, was giving way to modern trends. Simply put, the public library in the first decade of the twentieth century was modifying its functions and assuming additional roles in society, a process allowing it to serve more people and redefine its character as "modern" at a time when Modernism, a conscious cultural rejection of the past by twentieth-century artists and scientists, was beginning to sweep western nations. At the same time, Ontario was becoming an urban province directed by new values. Historical photographs of libraries help indicate the extent of these fundamental changes.
1 - Toronto Mechanics' Institute

Victorian Heritage

In the Edwardian era there was a mixture of old and new in many Ontario libraries, particularly in cities. The physical reminder of mechanics' institutes, a symbol of nineteenth-century ideals, survived in a few places, notably Toronto where the old institute building, built in the Italian Renaissance style of the 1850s at considerable cost, lingered on, first as an undersized central library, then, after the larger reference library opened on College Street in 1909, as a community branch at the intersection of Church and Adelaide. It finally closed its doors just before the Great Depression.

2 - Toronto Church St. Branch, 1924
Other pre-Carnegie structures, specially commissioned as free libraries, existed in larger centres at Hamilton and London. London's library, designed by the local architect Herbert Matthews in 1895, reflected the popularity of eclectic exteriors, in this case, a Romanesque facade with conical towers, rounded arches, and smooth-faced red brick cladding. It was a late-Victorian revival style that imparted a sense of permanence and strength, solid qualities most communities were anxious to express in the educational facilities they were striving to build at this time.

3 - London Public Library
4 - Hamilton Public Library, c.1905
Interiors of Victorian free libraries were usually spartan: for example, in Hamilton, a building completed at a cost of about $45,000 in 1890, furnishings in the reference section, general reading room, and ladies' reading room were basic staples. These rooms flanked a main corridor leading to a large counter behind which stretched a closed stack room capable of accommodating 50,000 books. The separate reading area for women was a fashionable (and space consuming) fin-de-siècle enhancement that recognized the increasing number of women registering as borrowers. Children under 16 years were less fortunate; generally, they were denied borrowing privileges. In this respect Hamilton's library, led by Richard Lancefield, was relatively liberal; its board began to lower the age restriction for children before 1900. Children's rooms and storytelling would be future projects.

6 - Claremont Library, c.1895
5 - Dundas Library, c.1896
In the smaller communities throughout rural Ontario, libraries had to make do with more modest resources: rented offices, donated property or rooms, or combined business quarters. The small, one-room, subscription library managed by volunteers and part-time staff was commonplace. For instance, at Dundas the library occupied part of the old Elgin House block on busy King Street. In the police village of Claremont, the library operated from a commercial storefront for several years under the guidance of the incumbent shoemaker-librarian, Mr. James Jobbitt, who resigned in 1903.

7 - Streetsville Library
At Streetsville, affairs were more upscale. In 1901 the board of management received a gift comprising part of a small frame commercial building. It converted the space into a serviceable one-room library housed with a jewelry shop. Streetsville was considered advanced by small-town Ontario standards: it operated on a free basis without an age limitation for children, possessed a card catalogue, and used the decimal classification system at a time when the Education Department still clung to an outdated class system adapted from mechanics' institutes.

Edwardian Progress

Sarnia Library, c. 1903
When Carnegie grants became readily available, architects, trustees, and workers began transforming the organization of interior space and the interrelationships between staff and patrons. Improved functions, programs, and arrangements for access were under active development between 1900-10: there were larger branch libraries, children's services, improved reference service, better classification and cataloging schemes, and open access to collections. The familiar Victorian free library conventions--the emphasis on physical custody of books, on printed catalogues for holdings, and on public reading rooms; the use of indicators (a British practice) for circulation status in lending departments; and a desire to offer lectures or evening classes for the technical education of working classes--was ebbing. Libraries were changing their methods, expanding the scope of their public services, and re-evaluating their connections with another developing field, adult education. The modern public library as we know it today was emerging.

8 - Laying Toronto Reference Cornerstone
Carnegie gifts to local communities for library buildings not only attracted public attention at openings and the laying of cornerstones but also stimulated rhetoric about the merit of libraries. The Globe covered one Toronto ceremony, presided over by Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice William G. Falconbridge, the board chairman, on 27 November 1906:
His Lordship stated that there was no question in this day of the value of free libraries to communities. The objection that a preponderating number of works of fiction circulated through a free library, instead of more solid reading, was not a serious objection in the mind of the Chief Justice, who admitted that he was no enemy to novel reading. . . .
10 - Free Public Library, Belleville, 1911
The box deposited in the corner-stone contained, among other things, a catalogue of the central circulating library, copies of the Toronto daily papers, Canadian coins, and a scroll containing names of those directly interested in its construction. This type of ceremony was re-enacted on many occasions during the Carnegie years. Sometimes a benefaction other than Carnegie's was invoked, for example at Belleville, Henry Corby, a Conservative member of Parliament, donated money for a library that opened January 1908 in the remodelled Merchants' Bank building.

9 - Berlin Library, c.1905
11 - St. Thomas Library, c.1905
After 1900, the interior organization and services of libraries began to change dramatically. At Berlin (now Kitchener), the traditional plan of housing a stack room behind a barrier surmounted by grillwork and railing originally was followed, but later the board decided to permit open access to the collection except for fiction. A special area set off for children and use of the decimal classification were enterprising steps here. The same rationale about safeguarded free access to all books except works of fiction also applied at St. Thomas. The interior here was more ornate: classical busts and handsome wood columns graced the main corridor leading to the circulation desk, the reading room directly across from it, and the reference section at the end of the hall.

12 - Sarnia interior, c.1905
Sarnia's library was constructed along similar lines, but here the board adopted unrestricted access to all books, a bold move in 1903, although the building design easily allowed this measure. The board was fortunate to employ Patricia Spereman, who developed children's services and conducted story hours. She had trained at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and became a pioneer in children's work in Ontario and Canada.

13 - Sarnia Story Hour, 1907
14 - Guelph Public Library, c.1905
Carnegie exteriors were celebrated (or detested) for their Beaux-Arts style featuring classical columns, steps, porticos, and domes. It was an exuberant style with classical lines and elements that promoted civic grandeur even in smaller cities which served as markets for the surrounding rural populace. Guelph's library was an Ontario leader in these regards and noted for its lack of functional interior space. However, some architects were influenced by local factors. In Cornwall, where a significant French-speaking community existed, a French chateau appearance was conveyed by the entrance, roof, and small corner tower.

15 - Cornwall Public Library, 1906
Some architects were able to use Beaux-Arts features in a restrained fashion; perhaps the most capable was Alfred H. Chapman, who in association with Wickson and Gregg, designed Toronto's reference library on the corner of College and St. George streets at a cost of more than $250,000. This two-storey structure featured large windows flanked by Corinthian pilasters, soft yellow brick, and main entrance set off to one side. By the standards of the day and even during the bleakness of the Great War, it was an approachable "people place."

16 - Toronto Reference Library, 1915

* * * * *
In the years immediately preceding the First World War, therefore, Ontario's public libraries went through unprecedented change. The assumptions and characteristics common to Victorian free libraries--an adult clientele, priority on the safekeeping of books, limited services for users, systems of retrieval based on printed catalogues and indicators, classification and cataloguing systems that applied subject categories and accessioning practice developed in mechanics' institutes, and revival architectural styles--were being challenged and supplanted. The pace of change obviously had quickened in Edwardian Ontario, but faith in the library's contribution to societal progress, a belief that eventual improvements in society would ensue by assisting personal initiatives and stimulating their success, was unshaken. The service ethic became the most important constant in this era, a powerful rationale that spurred new library developments in a society that prized individual effort and public duty.

It is difficult to convey the spirit of any era or activity, but a review of pictures in this brief photo study reveals that it was time for libraries and librarians to look ahead, to question old views and methods, and to adopt fresh ideas.

Assistance with digitizing these photographs was kindly rendered by Pearl Milne of the University of Guelph Library.

Fig.1 The Toronto Mechanics' Institute before 1884 [AO, S-1178].
Fig. 2 An old Toronto library: the Church street branch, 8 Feb. 1924 [NAC, PA-86436].
Fig. 3 London Public Library, n.d. [NAC, PA-32789].
Fig. 4 View of Hamilton Public Library interior, c.1905 [AO, S-2042].
Fig. 5 Public library at Dundas, c.1896 [AO, S-6934].
Fig. 6 Palmer & Jobbitt store-library at Claremont, c.1895/1903 [AO, S-13475].
Fig. 7 Streetsville's new library, n.d. [AO, S-16035].
Fig. 8 Chief Justice Falconbridge laying the cornerstone of the public reference library in Toronto [AO, S-1252].
Fig. 9 Free Public Library, Belleville, 1911 [NAC, C-21464].
Fig. 10 Berlin Public Library interior, c.1905 [AO, S-2044].
Fig. 11 Central corridor of St. Thomas Public Library, c.1905 [AO, S-2055].
Fig. 12 Lending desk and stack room at Sarnia, c.1905 [AO, S-2057].
Fig. 13 After the Story Hour, 2 March 1907 [AO, S-2058].
Fig. 14 Sham pillars: Guelph Public Library, c.1905 [AO, S-2035].
Fig. 15 Cornwall Public Library, 20 Oct. 1906 [AO, S-2032].
Fig. 16 Toronto Reference Library at 214 College Street, 13 March 1915 [NAC, PA-61384].

AO: Archives of Ontario
NAC: National Archives of Canada

1. For discussions on the use of photographs see:
Carol E. Hoffecker, "The Emergence of a Genre: the Urban Pictorial History," Public Historian, 5 (4) 1983: 37-48;
Walter Rundell, Jr, "Photographs as Historical Evidence: Early Texas Oil," American Archivist 41 (4) 1978: 373-398;
Stuart T. Miller, "The Value of Photographs as Historical Evidence," Local Historian 15 (8) 1983: 468-473;
Timothy J. Crimmins, "Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Illustrated Urban Histories," Journal of Urban History 13 (1) 1986: 82-91; and
W. Gillies Ross, "The Use and Misuse of Historical Photographs: A Case Study from Hudson Bay, Canada," Arctic Anthropology 27 (2) 1990: 93-112.
For library applications see Boyd Childress, "Library History, University History, and Photographic History: Some Considerations for Research," Journal of Library History 22 (1) 1987: 70-84.

2. Recent Canadian works include:
Margaret Beckman, John Black and Stephen Langmead, "Carnegie Libraries in Canada," Canadian Library Journal 38(6) 1981: 386-390 and The Best Gift; a Record of Carnegie Libraries in Ontario (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1983);
David R. Conn and Barry McCallum, "Heritage to Hi-Tech; Evolution of Image and Function in Canadian Public Library Buildings," in Peter F. McNally (ed.), Readings in Canadian Library History (Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 1986), pp. 123-149;
Margaret Penman, A Century of Service; Toronto Public Library 1883-1983 (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1983); and
Barbara Myrvold, "The First Hundred Years: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983," in McNally, Readings , pp. 65-79.

Saturday, October 07, 2017



[An edited version for the Internet of my speech given at Kitchener Public Library, Monday, Oct. 16, 1995]

It is a pleasure to be here today to help celebrate Ontario's Library Week. Although I have been an academic librarian for many years, I fondly remember working in and using public libraries. Just recently, I returned to King City library this past June to observe the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening. King City was one of the first smaller public libraries to open in York Region after the 1966 Public Libraries Act consolidated the older association libraries. We must remember it is important to have celebrations, to mark anniversaries, to promote and to market public library services. In this area, for example, we have three of the oldest public libraries in Canada--Guelph formed in 1883, Kitchener in 1884, and Waterloo in 1888. Certainly, the Kitchener library has been prominent in Ontario circles for a long time. We recognize the outstanding contributions of Mabel Dunham to Canadian librarianship. We can look back sixty years to the Great Depression when the first national library study, Libraries in Canada, noted that Kitchener possessed one of the best collections of lantern slides and German books in Canada. So a tradition of fine service to the community measured by provincial and national trends has long been a standard in this community.
As for Library Week in Ontario, we should remember that 1995 is the one-hundredth anniversary of our first provincial Public Libraries Act. Previous to 1895, free libraries coexisted beside mechanics' institute libraries and literary society libraries. These organizations received grants from agriculture and education departments up until 1895 and have a complex history in their own right. But it was exactly a hundred years ago when our provincial legislature consolidated and combined a number of acts into one under the Dept. of Education with the result that the public library concept and terminology that we are familiar with today was first established in Ontario. Much has changed on the municipal and provincial scene over time, but the public library which is managed locally and normally does not directly charge for services has continued to grow throughout this century as we can see from the following logarithmic graph on population served, circulation, and books held.

So much for progress and advancement. What is the public library doing today? Right now there are many challenges, perhaps too many for comfort. Management challenges, e.g. budgets--they are always a problem. Technological challenges, e.g. computers--they are always being upgraded. Educational challenges, e.g. learner-centred environments created by the proliferation of information. There are, of course, other challenges, but I want to speak about the incredible growth of information that seems at times to engulf us and to submerge libraries. We are familiar with the general trends surrounding the universe of information. After all, it is the subject of many popular books and magazine articles such as the recent October issue of National Geographic on the information revolution. Currently, we are undergoing a synthesis of scholarly/popular interpretations of the time and society we are living in. I am sure many of us are familiar with Alvin Toffler's Third Wave and its predictions for future change, but he is only one of many seers. For a moment, I would like to link some of these societal conceptualizations with books we may remember from the past half-century in the following table.


Year Societal/Cultural Change            Source

1941  Managerial Revolution      Burnham, Managerial Revolution
1950  Cybernetics                    Wiener, Human Use of Human Beings
1950  Lonely Crowd                  Riesman, Lonely Crowd
1956  Organization Man            Whyte, Organizational Man
1958  Consumer Society           Galbraith, Affluent Society
1959  Two Cultures                   Snow, Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution
1960  Environmentalism            Carson, Silent Spring
1960  End of Ideology               Bell, End of Ideology
1962  Paradigm Shift                 Kuhn, Structure of Scientific Revolution
1963  Atomic Age                     Atomic Scientists, The Atomic Age
1964  Global Village                  McLuhan, Understanding Media
1964  Technological Society       Ellul, Technological Society
1968  Postmodern Society         Etzioni, The Active Society
1970  Leisure Society                Parker, Future of Work and Leisure
1972  Sustainable Development  Club of Rome, Limits to Growth
1973  Post-Industrial Society     Bell, Coming of Post-Industrial Society
1977  Information Economy       Porat, Information Economy
1979  Computer Age                 Dertousoz & Moses, The Computer Age
1980  Third Wave                     Toffler Third Wave
1983  Third World                     Worsley, Three Worlds
1986  Information Age              Beniger, Control Revolution
1990  Information Age              Toffler, Powershift

Many of these contemporary accounts seem to suggest that we have entered into a new era in which information about societal political/economic structures is the key ingredient in our lives. To some extent, we are overwhelmed with the enormous quantity of material that touches on this subject.

The Information Society or Information Age is a new phenomenon since 1950 which brings with it new challenges as we seek to integrate an expanding universe of print and multimedia sources into our daily lives. The two terms often are used to describe a cybernetic society in which there is a great dependence on the use of computers and data transmission linkages to generate and transmit information. By contrast, our familiar reference frame of an industrial society relied on machines to augment human physical labour to produce goods and services. Now, through a process of continual change, geographic barriers are being dissolved, businesses are more interconnected, and relationships between workers and workplace are changing more rapidly.

However, information (or data, or ideas, or knowledge) has long played, in one way or another, a significant role in human culture and society, and has shaped, over a long period of time, the way in which we behave and think. I think what is now proclaimed to be the Information Age is terminology that can be applied to all stages of human development. We must recognize that improvements in communications during the industrial period since 1800, and I am speaking of the telegraph, telephone, postal delivery, radio, television, and modern printing presses, have been in part a response to the need to process more information. For example, just think of one historical period taught in school, the Renaissance. It is regarded as a rebirth of knowledge, the rediscovery of and transmission of ideas and texts about classical authors which transformed European culture and thinking in the fourteen and fifteenth centuries. In a historical context, Information has been with us a long time. One can illustrate themes in information by looking at literacy, censorship, the organization of knowledge, the economics of information, and roles which institutions such as the public library and schools have played.

The definition of "information" varies incredibly. It is often used interchangeably with terms such as data, knowledge, understanding, messages, wisdom, and ideas. I am not going to discuss the lexical nuances at length. Instead, I prefer to use the term broadly in the way it is used across many disciplines and in many countries today. We talk and read about consumer information, management information systems, information technology, information overload, the information highway, and so on, all the time. In the past fifty years information has assumed an important new meaning. In a new sense, borrowed from the sciences, Information has come to express whatever can be transmitted through a channel connecting a source with a receiver. What is being communicated, a message, is information. Considerations about the character or quality of what is being transmitted--a legal live broadcast of the judgement in the O.J. Simpson trial or the latest evening hockey score in the newspaper--become less relevant in this sense. The older distinction between information as mostly specific data with potential usefulness and knowledge as aggregated thought that is applied usefully has eroded. In this process, information has almost come to subsume knowledge.

In the twentieth century, there has been a radical transformation in the role of information in society as well as in the technology used in its production and dissemination. At the turn of the last century, printed information reigned supreme in Europe and North American communities. This, of course, is no longer the case. New electronic forms of communication have multiplied, reducing the primacy of the print medium, but not yet displacing it. Instead, each new form of communication has supplemented printing and publishing (we must remember that more than two billion copies of books are produced in North America alone each year). Whole new industries, such as television and cable networks, each with its own set of directions and organization, have grown up around each of these new forms of communication. The proliferation of communication technology has also brought with it a situation in which the content of these various forms of communication are merging as forms of digitized information that combine print, voice, video, and graphics for educational and recreational purposes.

Just as the printing press served as an agent of change in the nineteenth century, so have telecommunications given us the capacity to transfer information instantaneously across vast distances in the twentieth century. The advent of the telegraph in the 1830s, the telephone in the 1870s, radio, which came into being in 1901, and television shortly afterwards had by mid-century led to the slogan "Global Village." Thirty years after Marshall McLuhan, the computer has effectively established itself as the dominant means of handing textual material as well as numeric data. Combined with telecommunications systems, the computer appears to have created a major turning point in the history of information. It is this amalgamation of new systems, and the emphasis, perhaps even devotion, that is placed on information, that has brought into being the phrase "Information Age.

Today there is a significant new approach to the production, storage, distribution, and use of various types of information. Previous information "systems," such as the book, were based on the process that the message that entered a system was the message that was received. This is no longer the case: the newer communication technologies on the Internet are interactive, that is the capability of modifying messages and creating new messages exists within the system. As well, in the new systems, such as electronic bulletin boards, information is controlled to a greater extent by managers who store and transmit information. In older systems, the original creator or supplier of the information was in control. Thus, a new set of relationships and responsibilities is emerging but has not yet been clearly established, witness problems with copyright and censorship on the Internet under proposed new American legal regulations scheduled for 1996.

The evolving electronic information systems also pose new directions for issues that have been around for some time. Take literacy as an example. It is no longer sufficient to be print literate, i.e. to read and write, and the idea of audio or visual literacy has in turn been supplanted by stress on computer literacy. Literacy has come to be seen as the ability to use information in various forms that it is presented in and to master the skills and techniques necessary to use the systems involved in managing information, a.k.a. computers. Most commentators seem to see this new literacy not only as an expansion of traditional literacy but also an expansion that requires the development of new skills and new ways to deal with information.

Another issue for re-examination is the economics of information. Information in many forms has a high economic value and indeed it is said the information industry is becoming the engine driving our economy. We have become an "information economy" with "information workers" taking their place beside manufacturers, industrialists, steel workers, and cab drivers. In fact, as Alvin Toffler writes in his Third Wave, we have entered a new post-smoke stack economy. Whenever someone watches television, rents a video, or reads a magazine, they are substituting information in place a manufactured product such as a tennis racket or automobile created by the traditional production modes we have known. Information normally is language (radio, TV, books, tapes, magazines) or image (TV, movies, videos) and the information derived from it is relatively inexpensive to replicate. One can verify this by looking in stores at prices for tapes, videos, record albums, cd-roms, and so on. This fact makes for economies of scale since most of the business investment is devoted to developing the first copy.

But from the individual citizen's perspective on information resources, there seems to arise a major issue from this economic transformation. Within a print and broadcast culture the typical user is not expected to invest significant amounts of money into information systems hardware (e.g. books, radios, portable television sets, videos, music recordings). Purchases were made for an item, such as a record, or for a right, such as admission to a movie theatre. However, with the growth of personal and business computing enterprizes and new home games after the mid-1980s, a fundamental alteration is occurring. With computers and telecommunications systems, the user, not the manufacturer, publisher, or broadcaster, becomes responsible for significant financial outlays in the investment in information systems equipment and peripherals, such as Nintendo and modems which require frequent upgrades. Obviously, there is a danger that economically disadvantaged families--indeed whole countries--will not be able to take complete advantage of our information-rich universe which is dominated by the English language. This perspective was most recently voiced in the August issue of Scientific American which dealt with foreign language coverage in North American reference sources.

A third area of concern deals with control and freedom of information. Increasingly on a local, regional, national and international scale the regulation of the free flow of information becomes more difficult. A host of issues might be dealt with here, such as censorship in networks, copyright infringements in electronic formats, freedom of information, and the need for personal privacy. Some national governments consider the control of information as a vital element of state policy. Nevertheless, the advanced computerized telecommunication networks make information more readily accessible and make it more difficult to restrict information flow. What we need to balance, to some degree, is the right of the individual to obtain free access to information with the right of individuals to control and limit access to their personal information.

Finally, the role of institutions such as schools and libraries in the dissemination of information has come under scrutiny at a time when public spending is being reduced in stages at the federal and provincial levels in Canada. In the past century, public libraries have developed their own unique sets of procedures for organizing print and audio-visual knowledge. Classification systems such as the Dewey Decimal System have been adopted, reference service desks created, children's departments set up, audio-visual departments organized, interlibrary lending procedures arranged, and so on. Now a glut of information threatens to make libraries irrelevant: in the fictional library of Jorge Luis Borges--the Library of Babel--the librarian is unable to find anything in a collection boasting an infinite number of books.

At a general level, society recognizes that people need to gain access to information. To make the best use of it there needs to be an effective system for organizing information on a community basis so it can be retrieved effectively. The public library has responded to this need in varying ways for many decades through years of economic restraint, as witnessed by the Great Depression of the 1930s, and years of growth characterized by the 1960s and 1970s. The question posed in the 1990s returns to the basic functions of the library and what it should offer the public.

To conclude my brief introduction to the so-called Information Age, I would like to stress that divergent views exist about the possible effects of the development of a full-fledged Information Society. On one side, advocates insist that it will empower people, providing direct access to opportunities previously unavailable to them. On the other side, there are pessimists who believe that the global economic structure that information provides the foundation for what will ultimately displace individuals and communities with totalitarian capitalist structures. There is little doubt that the development of information can produce dramatic changes, but it remains to be seen if the nature of those impacts will be determined mostly by the structural requirements of new computerized technologies or if their impact will be influenced to a greater degree by social/political forces, such as state regulation.

What can be said, however, is that the role of information and related communication technology continues to expand by leaps and bounds in the 1990s. I think, paradoxically at first, that the capacity to strengthen both centralization and decentralization is taking place. Today's management business texts, such as Fifth Discipline and Megatrends 2000, stress flexible ways of organizing business in a deregulated, privatized environment. Opportunities seem to exist for local or small entrepreneurs who are willing to switch organizational and production facilities freely from one place to another in order to capture a share of a global marketplace. Evidently, the new information networks are no longer tied to places and it is possible to attain a centralization of managerial control and decentralization of production. On the other hand, it is not difficult to see why massive corporate concentrations are taking place in communications, why Disney and ABC are merging to dominate and make money from an industry composed of independent communication enterprises and local broadcast channels.

Finally, new groups and audiences are in the process of interconnection, e.g. electronic mail groups and dial-up bulletin boards, direct telemarketing, and subscription cable television. The principal media--television or video or the computer, and the telephone, are connected in many new networks that are integrating sound, speech, text, data, and images and permitting the connection of persons in lieu of the connection of places. It seems the most important communication patterns of the future will be interaction and conversation, not the hierarchical transmission from a mass communication centre to a mass audience tracked by Neilson ratings or recounted by George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Traditional community ties are being replaced by much more selective groupings in diffuse social networks. Further, an increasing number of social activities will rely on integrated online media in place of traditional face-to-face modes, e.g. telemarketing, and so on. As we can see, the Information Age or Society promises to be an exciting time, although it is too early to predict the demise of door-to-door sales!

Let us turn now to the public library. Where does it fit into an information revolution which is taking place? As far back as 1950, a prominent scientist, Norbert Wiener, wrote a book, The Human Use of Human Beings, which applied insights gained in the computer technology of his era to the study of human communication systems using information in the new sense. Even at this early stage of the computer era, he emphasized that the proliferation of information reinforced existing relationships by placing a greater burden on society to disseminate and store information. The needs and the complexity of modern life make greater demands on this process of information than ever before, and our press, our museums, our scientific laboratories, our universities, our libraries and textbooks, are obliged to meet the needs of this process or fail in their purpose. The fact that he specifically mentioned libraries in the same sentence with kindred educational and research-oriented institutions indicates to me that he recognized their crucial importance in the next stage of the information revolution.

I feel the basic question to be resolved right now is: will libraries be able to adapt new technologies to information demands during a period of retrenchment in government funding? Well, let us start with some good news. Although the public library generally is viewed today as a print-based institution, I have already referred to the ability of libraries to integrate formats such as films, videos, slides, records, and audio cassettes into their services. This activity began in earnest after the Second World War and continues today. Those of you who have used libraries over the past two decades realize that public libraries have successfully automated their acquisitions, cataloguing and circulation functions and introduced online and cd-rom products to their reference and interlibrary loan services. There have been successes and some failures along the way, nevertheless, by the mid-1990s it safe to say that most urban public libraries in Ontario serving more than 30,000 people have either made or are in the midst of the transition to automated systems. There is no doubt that libraries can incorporate new electronic formats into collections, in fact, these formats reduce rather than create barriers to public access. The managerial and professional expertise therefore exists to deal successfully with new electronic information resources on a community-wide basis.

If we review technical changes in libraries, we can see that online public catalogues have replaced card catalogues which first appeared in Ontario at the turn of the century during the Carnegie building program. Bar codes and wands have replaced the photocharging systems that had become common library procedures by the late 1960s. Online searching of remote databases is another recent innovation: users can ask to have many different searches performed. Full-text retrievable searches are possible, for example from Toronto where the Globe and Mail was the first major newspaper in North America to introduce computerized editions in the late 1970s. Subject specific inquiries can be made outside this country, for example, to California where large corporations (like Lockheed Dialog) have established huge database libraries that provide access to many subject areas, especially business, on a fee per use basis. And we must remember that library automation was accomplished during a period of recessions and cutbacks in the 1980s and 1990s, so libraries have not only been able to introduce automation they have been able to achieve economy in operation at the same time.

It seems to me, therefore, that public libraries can build on their knowledge and experience to extend their range of services. It is certain that the electronic information superhighway, the Internet, is offering people the ability to communicate via computers and to make available vast quantities of information that dwarf local library resources as we know them now. Let us be clear that people are not going to stop reading--in fact, digitized print is a basic staple of the Internet where information is created, shared, modified, "flamed", praised, and so on, every day. What will continue, is the erosion we have witnessed in this century of the book's dominance and centrality. With every passing month, it is becoming more important to identify and evaluate electronic forms of information in order to provide meaningful, balanced collections for public consumption. This process is essentially one that libraries and librarians have been engaged in for decades.

To be successful I think public libraries have to try to develop new services, to provide new resources, and to alter the public perception that libraries are mostly old-fashioned print warehouses that predate the modern era. To position the library more firmly in the mainstream, I think its crucial for public libraries to do five things during the next five years.

First, libraries have to employ the power of information technology by emphasizing new roles in their public services. The communications revolution is an important feature of society. Libraries must continue to offer the latest features of telecommunications that integrate sound, text, data, and images. This effort will entail budgetary decisions, and, in a climate of restraint and cutback, lead to the reallocation of declining budgetary resources. Success in the area of technical services that people do not clearly observe will no longer suffice. As a start, computer workstations should be introduced as public resources where word processing, e-mail functions, electronic newsgroups, cd-roms, and worldwide Internet access are standard services. After all, the public library is a learning centre where many different resources should be utilized. One can easily envisage right now that older newspaper reading areas characterized by tables and racks will be replaced with state-of-the-art computer terminals that can access hundreds of daily newspapers across North America. The same is true, to a lesser extent, for magazine reading areas: a number of traditional general or specialized periodicals, like Macleans, are now available on a subscription basis in electronic forms. Using software programs, either newspaper stories or magazine articles can be downloaded to disk or printed on paper at workstations on demand, thereby shifting the library's focus to immediate service demands away from the time-honoured collection of on-site materials.

Second,  partnerships with other organizations have to be developed in the rapidly expanding information universe. The development of regional/metropolitan freenets which permit toll-free access to the Internet across the province is a good case in point. Libraries must at the very least get their catalogues on local electronic freenets and they should try to play a leadership role in developing local community networks. Librarians have many opportunities to draw on their experience and proficiency in this process. They can select information resources, design user interfaces, or help promote the organization of community information on these networks. Libraries and librarians need to participate in network initiatives by allowing access to library catalogues around the world and by developing WWW servers with navigational aids that allow people to find or discover information resources. Across the province, local networks are in a state of development, e.g. London's homepage efforts and Ottawa's national capital freenet. To date, a number of Ontario libraries (small and large) are responding by developing Internet access and establishing their presence as an information provider.

Third, libraries must strive to promote the concept of end-user empowerment, that is to link people with information without an intermediary. Ideally, the idea is to provide an alternative to visiting the library by permitting users to locate and control their own information at their own convenience from home or office on a time basis outside the traditional 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The creation of virtual reference libraries with encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, indexes and abstracts that people can access from outside the library is the next step in the evolution (revolution?) of reference services. But to achieve this goal, librarians need to impart their skills developed over the past decade or so. Finding information on an information highway is not a s easy as it seems: people need direction, training, and skillsets. Frequently, the assistance of an intermediary--such as a librarian--will be required. Electronic information retrieval requires what many retrieval experts have termed recall and precision. Recall is the amount of relevant material a searcher finds, usually 50-75% of what is actually available. Precision is the number of relevant items from a particular search that a user decides to use, usually 50-80% of what was originally located. Obviously, it is easy to see that many searches will produce less than half of what is actually pertinent to a subject search and that searching can become a frustrating activity. Librarians certainly can help information seekers overcome these obstacles.

Fourth, libraries have to dramatically broaden the range of electronic services. It is just not a matter of collecting electronic files. The day is over when library staff can feel comfortable offering an array of print or electronic resources housed in a central library or community branches. The traditional meaning of circulation as it pertains to libraries is changing and this concept has to be rethought. The twentieth-first century electronic library we have heard about should provide access to a vast range of resources and service providers anywhere in the world. It is not necessary to have news from newspapers that are incorporating more analytical and journalistic pieces to retain readership. If you want news from Australia, you can go on the World Wide Web and connect with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A few people can do this from home now: in fact, according to Statistics Canada, Ontario has a growing number of people owning home computers with modems in Canada. Granted that this percentage is just under fifteen percent and there is a fundamental restriction--they have the know the information resource exists.

Another future service possibility is to have people login to a local library by computer from their homes or offices and "chat" with staff as they do on Internet Relay Chat channels around the world or fill in an electronic form, post it in an electronic mailbox and receive a response from the library about some specific query, say the status of a previous request or the whereabouts of a circulating item. This organizational response is not as easy as it seems but it is a key area where libraries can play a vital role in providing an environment where research, study, and learning can flourish.

Finally, an image problem needs to be addressed. Libraries need to reimage themselves as important learning organizations where services continually change and improve. Too often, people consider the local public library as a recreational resource and the educational or informational role is secondary or overlooked altogether. If libraries are to continue to receive tax funding from municipal and provincial governments, they will have to rethink their traditional mainstay, the circulating collection. The concept of reading is changing: the cultural weight is more on visual/factual information in a variety of formats and less on reflective/entertaining book-oriented activity. Although books account for less than five percent of what is printed on an annual basis--newspapers, magazines, brochures, etc. account for the vast majority of "printed" sources--most space in libraries is allocated to books. Is it any wonder that the library is perceived to be a "book place" even though audio-visual departments have impressive collections and network structures to deliver off-site resources? This public perception needs to change, something I feel we are trying to do here today.

Already, some steps are being taken in this province to develop libraries as learning centres in a broad sense. Industry Canada's Schoolnet Community Access Project announced in February 1995 that it intends to offer rural communities affordable public access to information resources on the Internet by creating a national network of community access sites. The plan includes libraries. As well, the government of Ontario information is now available on-line in over two hundred public libraries with details about different ministry services, the location of government offices, MPP's addresses, and Ontario's parliamentary system. The idea of an electronic learning centre--the electronic library--needs to be integrated with the library's long-standing commitment to literacy and educational and recreational resources. The library is an important institution for improving literacy skills and helping understand and use information in different formats such as printed texts and computer files.

Taken together, none of these points is a remarkable new starting point. People have been saying libraries need to stress educational services for years, this is why book reading clubs and readers' advisory services were popular in libraries as long ago as the 1920s. Information technology is not new, what is new is the pace of change. Access to resources at a distance is a challenge that interlibrary loan departments have been grappling with for decades. End-user empowerment is essentially newfangled terminology for explaining why free public library services have existed for a hundred years. To say that libraries should help people help themselves is to revisit the age of Victoria when Samuel Smiles wrote a best seller, Self-Help, in 1859. Partnerships are not of recent origin, libraries have been cooperating with community groups for decades. It is the groups that are new.

To conclude, we need to acknowledge that there is work to be done if Library Week is to continue as a relevant occasion in Ontario. Fortunately, technology offers the library a chance to preserve and enlarge its role in providing access to resources in different types of formats. While it is always difficult to predict the future, it appears that public libraries are well-positioned to exploit information technology and interact with their communities and users in meaningful ways. I for one, anyway, think that the foundation public libraries have laid is such that continued growth is highly likely. Free access to information and educational/recreational services has been their business for more than a century and it seems that another hundred years is not out of the question.

Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (New York, 1962)
W. Wayt Gibbs, "Lost Science in the Third World," Scientific American 273, 2 (Aug. 1995): 92-99
John Ridington, Mary J.L. Black, and George H. Locke, Libraries in Canada; a Study of Library Conditions and Needs (Toronto, 1933)
Statistics Canada, Household Facilities and Equipment, 1995 (annual), Table 5.6
Joel Swerdlow, "Information Revolution," National Geographic Magazine 188, 4 (Oct. 1995): 5-27
Alvin Toffler, Third Wave (New York, 1980)
Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings (New York, 1950)