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Friday, February 02, 2024

Four Library Development Reports in British Columbia, 1945 to 1956

Programme for Library Development in British Columbia. Victoria, B.C.: Joint Committee on Library Policy, 1945. 36 p. maps

Programme for Library Development in British Columbia, 1950: Being a Condensation and Revision of the “Programme for Library Development in British Columbia,” 1945. Victoria, B.C: Joint Committee of the British Columbia Library Association and the Public Library Commission, 1950. 10 p.

Survey of Union Libraries in British Columbia. Victoria, B.C.: British Columbia Public Library Commission, 1950. 59 p.

Programme for Library Development in British Columbia, 1956. Victoria: British Columbia Public Library Commission, 1957. 15 p. (cover illustration below)

Over the course of a decade following the Second World War, British Columbia trustees, officials, and librarians sought to improve library services across the province. The provincial Public Library Commission (PLC, est. 1919), in conjunction with financing from the Carnegie Corporation, had issued two previous surveys, one in 1927–28 and another in 1940, that had led to the geographic extension of services through the formation of three union libraries (officially re-titled regional libraries in 1951): Fraser Valley, Okanagan Vally, and Vancouver Island.

However, the wartime and postwar scene began to reveal new issues beyond simple extension: the need to serve a growing population, the need for improvement in the quality of library service, the need to address technological developments, and the need for increased provincial financial support to reach people living in smaller, isolated communities beyond the south-west corner of the province.

Under the able chairmanship of William Kaye Lamb, chief librarian of the University of British Columbia, a 1945 report by a Joint Committee of the BC Library Association and the Public Library Commission sounded the alarm that public library service was inadequate, even in the major cities, Vancouver and Victoria which were housed in decades-old Carnegie libraries. “The pages that follow amply establish the shocking fact that not one community in British Columbia at present enjoys adequate public library service. Furthermore, they show that, for practical purposes, the majority of the people in the Province have no public library service at all.” (p. 1)

The 1945 report unveiled an ambitious program to remedy the situation. The report stated that with expanded services from seven existing libraries, the addition of one new union library district in West Kootenay, and one new Commission branch in the Peace River area at Dawson Creek, about 80% of British Columbians could be served. A revitalized public library map would include:
■ three proposed metropolitan districts serviced from Vancouver, New Westminster, and Victoria
■ four union systems organized in the Fraser Valley, Okanagan Valley, Vancouver Island, and West Kootenay (proposed)
■ two Commission branches at Prince George (already in service in a North-Central district) and Dawson Creek (proposed for the Peace River district)
The remaining population, about 20%, could be better served by converting existing public library associations (e.g., in Kamloops) into free municipal public libraries. The Open Shelf and Travelling Libraries operated by the PLC could supply rural towns, villages, and settlements. To implement its plan, the report called for improved provincial library aid and legislation to authorize the formation of metropolitan districts, an innovative approach by Canadian standards.

A subsequent brief report by the Joint Committee in 1950 complained that very few bold strokes had happened since 1945. Library service remained inadequate, in part due to low public expectations. Committee members repeated the call for increased general provincial aid (a meagre $25,000 in 1948–49), especially for the start of grants for city libraries. More importantly, in the same year the PLC issued a Survey of Union Libraries under the chairmanship of Edgar Robinson, chief librarian of the city of Vancouver.  By 1950, the three regional libraries were serving about one-fifth of the total population of British Columbia, and their progress demonstrated an efficient, cost-effective way to provide library service. Like many cooperative public libraries in Canada, school library service was one of these libraries’ strong suits.

Overall, the union libraries report aimed to improve rural services, strengthen existing union libraries, provide the provincial government with information to justify its expenditures and establish a future program for regional development. Various elements of union library operations were studied — governance, book collections, buildings, finances, personnel, bookmobiles, library objectives, standards and public relations. The report reiterated the importance of regional library work but noted the lack of trained personnel, substandard provincial support, and the need for additional regional development:

Gratifying as the record is, there is still obvious need for improvement in almost all phases of regional library work, and it is to this end that the present survey is pointed. Additional rural areas need service, some now being without a vestige of libraries, while existing libraries need additional and substantial financial aid from both local and provincial sources. (forward)

Six years later, in 1956, the third “programme for development” was more optimistic about the services provided by municipal and regional library systems:

The number of municipal public libraries has doubled, and five of the present ten have embarked on expansion programmes, including four new buildings. Financial support by municipalities has risen 60 per cent, though it is still well below the minimum required for services expected of a public library. Provincial aid has been extended to municipal libraries and has gradually increased over the five-year period. Three municipal libraries are now operating bookmobile service, and have mechanized their internal procedures.
The three regional libraries have acquired, with Provincial Government assistance, new headquarters buildings, which have helped immeasurably to improve the service. Local support has improved by 50 per cent or more ... . 
(p. 7)

Generally, the better financed libraries were operating from a position of strength rather than weakness. There was a repeated call for the formation of metropolitan systems around Victoria, Vancouver, and New Westminster and new regional systems in the Kootenay and Kamloops districts. School libraries were deficient and depended too much on services provided by public libraries. The report emphasized the need to establish a graduate library school at the University of British Columbia. 

The series of British Columbia reports of the 1940s and 1950s were unique statements in Canadian library planning. With the growth of the national economy, rising levels of employment, and the improvement in the standard of living, there was also an increased interest in the development of libraries. Cultural and social changes were taking place with the arrival of television and the popularity of sporting events. When the four library reports were published, the encouragement of metropolitan library planning was in its infancy and regional library service was not firmly established in other parts of Canada. British Columbia trustees and librarians had pioneered library extension work and, coupled with the PLC’s intention to publish up-to-date library surveys, they provided straightforward statements for efficient services, better grants, and improved standards.

By the mid-1950s, British Columbia libraries had reached reasonable levels of achievement and gained better provincial support. On a per capita basis, libraries in BC persistently ranked high in Canadian public library service levels. They were spending an overall $1.28 per capita expenditure compared to the Canadian average of 91 cents in 1957, as the following table summarizes.

Dominion Bureau of Statistics Public Library Receipts and Expenditures per person, 1957
local     prov.     total        book    salary
taxes    grants    receipts   exp.     exp.         
$1.04   $0.19     $1.28      $0.23    $0.83  BC
$0.71   $0.14     $0.92      $0.15    $0.54  Canada

The 1940s and 1950s had been marked by slow progress; nonetheless, BC libraries had profited from the repeated efforts of library planners to upgrade service on a provincial scale.

Two earlier Library History Today posts on British Columbia’s libraries are at:
BC public library reports 1927 to 1941
Two iconic films on the Fraser Valley Library

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