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Saturday, January 26, 2019


Early in the twentieth century a small group of trustees, librarians, and persons interested in libraries met in Toronto at the Ontario Education Department's Normal School located on St. James Square (present-day Ryerson University). They planned to form an association to promote public library development in Ontario, despite the their small numbers--just more than thirty attendees.

The delegates elected James Bain, Jr., chief librarian of the Toronto Public Library as President of the Ontario Library Association. He read an inspiring paper, "The Library Movement in Ontario." The new Secretary from Lindsay, Edwin A. Hardy, gave a more pragmatic paper, "An Outline Programme of the Work of the Ontario Library Association." Both men would be instrumental in the following years in which the OLA would vigorously promote public libraries and become one of the most successful library associations in North America. Other presentations focused on Canadian literature and poetry, small libraries and schools, travelling libraries, and book selection. By all newspaper accounts, the meeting boded well for the future of libraries in the province.

A draft constitution had been prepared by a small committee beforehand and was adopted with a couple of amendments as follows:



This organization shall be called "The Ontario Library Association."

Its object shall be to promote the welfare of Libraries, by stimulating public interests in founding and improving them, by securing any need of legislation, by furthering such co-operative work as shall improve results or reduce expenses, by exchanging views and making recommendations in convention or otherwise, and by advancing the common interests of Librarians, Trustees and Directors and others engaged in library and allied in education work.

(a) Any person engaged in Library work as Trustee, Director, Librarian, or in any other capacity, may become a member by paying the annual fee and any others after election by the Executive Committee.
(b) Librarians may join the Association in the same way as individuals, and shall be entitled to two representatives at the meetings of the Association.
(c) The annual fee shall be $1.00 for individuals, and $2.00 for Libraries.
(d) Honorary Members may be elected by Executive Committee at any meeting of the Committee.
(e) Any person may become a life member entitled during life to all rights and privileges of membership without payment of annual dues, by payment of $10.00.

(a) The officers of the Association shall be a President, two Vice-presidents, Secy.-Treasurer and five Councillors, to be elected by ballot at the adjournment of the meeting at which their Successors are elected.
(b) The officers, together with the President of the preceding year, shall constitute an Executive Committee of the Association, with power to act for the Association between meetings. Three members shall constitute a quorum.
(c) The Executive Committee shall appoint standing committees, and such other officers and committees as may be required to transact the business of the Association. (d) The Secretary and the Treasurer shall perform the duties usually assigned to such officers. The Treasurer shall expend not more than $5.00 in any month except on orders signed by the President of the Association.

(a) There shall be an annual meeting of the Association at such time and place as may be decided upon by the Executive Committee, and the Secretary shall send notice to every member of the Association, at least one month before the meeting.
(b) Special meetings may be called by the President, or in his absence by the Vice-President, on a written request of ten or more members, provided one month's notice be duly given, and that only business specified in the call be transacted.
(c) Ten members shall constitute a quorum.
(d) Any resolution approved in writing by every member of the Committee shall have the force of a vote.

ART. 6. AMENDMENTS. Amendments may be made to the constitution at any meeting of the Association, provided that notice of the proposed amendments was sent by the Secretary to each member one month before the meeting, and that the amendment has a two-thirds majority of the members present.

The OLA's constitution would be revised a number of times over the next one hundred years as the organization and its aims expanded but its essential thrust to promote library development would remain a constant.

Monday, January 21, 2019


The Institution shall be called The Toronto Public Library—and the date of its commencement is hereby declared to be the 27th of October, 1842.

So read a small pamphlet that outlined the bylaws and constitution of yet another Canadian subscription library formed in the first part of the nineteenth century. The entry fee for a subscriber was £1, the quarterly subscription 2 shillings/6 pence, and payment to the Librarian 1 shilling. Like many of the more than fifty subscription libraries established in the Canadian colonies before 1850, the library did not have a long lifespan. Its formation has not attracted much attention, but a perusal through the pages of the British Colonist for the last months of 1842 provides insight into the development of the public library concept in Upper Canada early in the 1840s.

My interest in this particular library is its name--Toronto Public Library--and the rationale for its creation at a time when mechanics' institutes, newsrooms, and societies with libraries were becoming popular in Canadian colonial settings. The founders identified the "public library" as one that held a general collection and reference materials and was accessible to all residents of a community. But it was not a constituent part of local government because it relied on voluntary payments and contributions from philanthropic persons--mostly men--who were willing to pay a sum on entry and the annual membership fee. This type of library, often called a subscription or membership or social library, performed a public function but was not a state agent and it was managed privately by a Committee of Management (COM) chosen by the subscribers. Yet it was clearly regarded as a community-based agency. It characterized the importance of nineteenth-century ideas about voluntarism, civic promotion, and public-private partnerships working in the interest of the public good. A public library was one that a group of people shared a common interest in reading.

The proposed library took shape in the autumn of 1842 when a number of gentlemen held meetings to determine if a new library venture was possible. They enlisted the support of Toronto's mayor, Henry Sherwood, a civic-minded Tory interested in the town's progress: he agreed to the President. William B. Jarvis, also a Tory and well known for his connections with the older governing clique, the Family Compact, became a manager. Another prominent member, Thomas G. Ridout, was one of the leading managers. Ridout, a Reformer in political affairs, was interested in civic projects and later became involved with the incorporation of the Toronto Mechanics' Institute in 1847 while serving as its President, 1845-48. Another reform-minded lawyer, Joseph C. Morrison, who later became a prominent judge, agreed to be secretary for the library. John Cameron, Cashier of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District at Toronto, was Vice-President.

The British Colonist represented centrist conservative standpoints and was not given to extravagant views. In a November 2, 1842 editorial, the paper stated its firm belief in the project for a new library because "It is fitted to be productive of great good, for many from the want of a well selected library ... have not the means of storing their minds with substantial and useful knowledge." The Colonist suggested young men in stores and offices would benefit most. The utilitarian philosophy underlying the editorial was common in this period and would continue to be a salient reason for supporting libraries. Later in the month, on the 23rd, the Colonist was even more appreciative:, the position which the Colony occupies, and this City in particular, increasing in numbers and wealth, demands that an effort should be made to organize, and render effective, such an important institution as a Public Library.
...but when we consider that in a population of seventeen thousand, there is no Library belonging to the Public, this fact does not speak much in our favour. For our character therefore as citizens, and our growing intelligence as individuals, it is expected that the scheme will meet with public favour and support. Another generation is rising amongst us, and every well-wisher of his family, and of his kind, should be desirous that full opportunities should be granted to them for improvement.
Accommodation for the library was arranged in Osborne's Building at the corner of King and Church in downtown Toronto. It appears two merchants, Osborne and Wyllie, made provision for this (the upper level of this building was later occupied for some time by the reading room of an otherwise unknown "Mercantile Library Association" recorded by W.H. Smith's Canada, Past Present and Future in 1851). But the efforts of its founders went for naught: apparently insufficient subscriptions were attained and eventually part of the money raised may have been turned over by the former Vice-President, John Cameron, to the newly formed Toronto Athenaeum in 1845. One of the purposes of the Toronto Athenaeum, which existed until 1855, was to establish a public popular library and museum. However, Toronto would not have a truly "public library" for another forty years. The Toronto Mechanics' Institute would serve the purpose of a general library for the public at small expense until 1883. The concept of a public library in the 1840s Canada was one that people could use if they made voluntary personal payments for membership at the time of entry and annual subscriptions. Public ownership through enabling provincial legislation, municipal ownership, and free access via residential rights lay in the future.

Nonetheless, the constitution devised by the more well-to-do Toronto "library community" at this time is interesting. The collection was to be of "general and permanent interest," suggesting a weighting toward non-fiction. New members required the recommendation of two subscribers. Women were admissible but could only vote by proxy at general meetings. Subscribers could transfer their shares according to entry money upon approval of the COM. The managers selected books based on member's suggestions and posted lists of potential purchases before acquisitions were requested. The President had a limited prerogative to purchase books of a political, local, literary, or religious nature. Penalties for overdue or damaged books were a source of revenue. Lending books to family members was a finable offense and subscribes could be fined for non-attendance at meetings. Library members were required to be conscientious and responsible and in early Victorian Toronto, one of the burdens of being a shareholder! The full text of the laws and bylaws of the proposed library are available online:

Laws of the Toronto Public Library. Toronto: British Colonist, 1842. [ CIHM/ICMH Microfiche Series = no. 55494]