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Friday, January 19, 2024

Library Service in New Brunswick by Peter Grossman (1953)

Library Service in New Brunswick: A Report and Recommendations by Peter Grossman. Fredericton: New Brunswick Department of Education, 1953. 62 p., maps, illus.

Peter Grossman, n.d.
Peter Grossman, c.1953
For many years in the first part of the 20th-century, public library service lagged in the province of New Brunswick; however, in 1951 a provincial Library Association was established with Maurice Boone, the chief librarian of the Legislative Library and formerly librarian of Acadia University, elected as President. The Association pressed government officials to improve public library services, and in the following year the Department of Education invited Peter Grossman, the Director of Libraries for Nova Scotia, to conduct a survey throughout the province and devise a plan for future library development.

Peter Grossman, a native British Columbian who had experience in regional libraries in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island, spent five weeks in the summer of 1952 investigating school, government, and public libraries. Generally, despite apathy on the part of many officials, he found an overall public desire for improved library services. He noted the frequent attempts of community groups (especially womens’ groups) to establish library services and a growing recognition of libraries’ important role in schools and universities. He flagged the essential need for cooperation for a province-wide library service to develop properly. As well, he identified a need to hire more professionally trained librarians and publicize library services.

He submitted his report at the end of the year, on December 24, 1952; subsequently, it was tabled by the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in the spring of 1953 and published by the Dept. of Education. Upon its release to the public, it was favourably received by the provincial press and library publications and regarded as an important step forward in Canadian library planning.

Peter Grossman emphasized the necessity for a provincial library enabling law and outlined various points that should be included in a new Act. He proposed the establishment of eight regional library systems. His report stressed the need for an immediate appointment of a provincial library director, the creation of an advisory library council to the government, and a publicity campaign to raise awareness about the state of libraries. Grossman made practical recommendations concerning the organization of regional libraries and suggested a geographic administrative structure for the province. The creation of regional libraries, along with the centralized Provincial Library Service, was the key to future growth. The report recommended the eventual formation of eight regional districts with a base population of about 35,000, although districts with Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton were larger (about 90,000 people).

Grossman’s report was not lengthy; yet, he made a number of succinct recommendations which formed the basis for library development in New Brunswick for decades (p. 45–46):

■ The establishment of a Provincial Library under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Education.
■ The creation of an advisory body to be known as the Library Council.
■ The appointment of a Director of Provincial Library Services with appropriate staffing to promote services, centralized cataloguing, and inter-library loan.
■ Cities, towns, villages, or counties should be authorized to support libraries from general tax revenue.
■ Local governments should be authorized to enter into agreements for regional services.
■ The appointment of Regional Library Supervisors to the Provincial Library when new regional libraries were formed.
■ Annual provincial grants to regional libraries be made on a matching basis as well as initial grants to establish adequate book stocks.
■ Provincial support for public library buildings should be made available.
■ More space should be allocated for the Legislative Library which would facilitate the operation of an Archives Division for the province.
■ The Department of Education Library should appoint more school library supervisors and extend the Teacher’s College Summer School library course to part-time regional library employees.

Grossman also reported on the condition of individual public libraries (pp. 47–51). He found that the underfunded Moncton library would benefit from “regional co-operation and Government support;” that Saint John was “handicapped by a poor location, an old Carnegie building, insufficient funds and a lack of professional staff;” and that Woodstock “has the best public library building in New Brunswick and pays more in proportion for library support than any other town in the Province.” The surveyor discouraged the practice by the Legislative Library of sending books-by-mail across the province or providing public library services to Fredericton (p. 29–32). Grossman was enthusiastic about the prospect of bookmobile service despite poor roads: “The real difficulty is not snow but mud, and the period of the spring thaw keeps heavy traffic off most roads.” (p. 23) Fortunately, work on the Trans-Canada Highway commenced in the early 1950s and road improvements throughout the province removed this impediment.

The government accepted many of the recommendations in the Grossman report. A director, James F. MacEacheron, who had served on the board of the Cape Breton Regional Library in Nova Scotia, was appointed to provide leadership commencing January 1, 1954. A completely revised Library Services Act was passed on April 14, 1954. A Central Library Services Office reporting to the Minister of Education was formed with responsibility for central cataloging, reference, children’s work, and regional libraries. However, many municipalities did not enthusiastically accept the formation of regional libraries. It was not until 1957 that the Albert-Westmorland-Kent Regional Library began operation: the Moncton Public Library served as the center of a bilingual system that developed slowly, with Kent finally joining in 1973. After the establishment of the Fredericton Public Library in 1955, the York Regional Library began service in 1959 from the Fredericton Public Library. The region received funding from the city of Fredericton and $7,000 from the Canada Council for three years. After consideration opposition, the Saint John Regional Library eventually was established in 1967.

The Grossman report influenced library development in New Brunswick for almost a quarter century. By the mid-1970s, regional systems were reaching a majority of citizens. By 1975 public libraries were circulating more than 2 million books per year. Peter Grossman became a significant figure in Canadian librarianship in the 1950s: he was elected President of the Maritime Library Association (1951–52), the Canadian Library Association (1953–54), and the British Columbia Library Association (1958–59). Eventually, he returned to British Columbia where he served as Director of the Vancouver Public Library for a dozen years, 1957–69. 

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