Towards the end of the Second World War, efforts began across Canada to return to a peacetime economy and society. The federal government established a Department of Reconstruction in 1944 under the direction of a powerful cabinet minister, Clarence Decator Howe, to provide general direction. Provincial governments also established agencies to examine reconstruction or rehabilitation activities. Both levels of government conducted hearings and encouraged public participation in this process. It was an opportunity for library associations and libraries to recommend a way forward to better serve the public after years of depression and wartime conditions. The most energetic group in this regard was the Canadian Library Council, Inc., (CLC) formed in 1941 to coordinate national library activities.
Throughout 1944-45, the CLC and provincial library associations created briefs to present their views on library development in the immediate postwar period. More than half of Canada's population did not have direct access to public libraries, especially in rural areas. There was no national library. Some provinces did not have public library legislation. These were serious deficiencies that the CLC and its partner associations sought to remedy with a series of presentations and documents to federal and provincial agencies outlining the arguments and information for improved library services. All these submissions took place within a short span of time and, in some cases, formed the basis of postwar library development into the 1950s. However, in Canada's library history these statements are, for the most part, rarely examined or cited today. Yet, at the time, they were essential for planning purposes. In fact, the CLC gathered these reports, briefs, and summaries and published them in 1945, leaving an important record of Canadian library reconstruction views at the conclusion of WW II.
Canada Needs Libraries was a short pamphlet composed of statements collected from seven provincial associations, the CLC itself, and two articles from leading figures in the CLC, Nora Bateson and Elizabeth Defoe. The briefs were originally published in the Ontario Library Review in November 1944. These short statements remain worthwhile reading today:
- Library Service for Canada; a brief prepared by the Canadian Library Council  with Appendices and "Rural Canada Needs Libraries" (Bateson) and "A National Library" (Dafoe).
- Library Provision and Needs for Nova Scotia: brief to the Royal Commission on Post-war Rehabilitation in Nova Scotia, 1943 [by Regional Library Commission of NS]
- Proposals Concerning Library Service in the Province of Quebec as outlined by a Special Committee of the Quebec Library Association
- Library Needs of the Province of Ontario: a brief on needs prepared by the Reconstruction Committee of the Ontario Library Association, 1944
- Post-war Library Service in Manitoba; a brief submitted by the Manitoba Library Association to the Committee on Post-War Reconstruction [Manitoba].
- Post-war Library Service for Saskatchewan; a brief presented to the Saskatchewan Reconstruction Council on behalf of the Saskatchewan Library Association, 1944
- An Extension Programme for Alberta Public Libraries, by Alexander Calhoun [Calgary]
- A Brief on Post-war Library Service for British Columbia presented to the Post-war Rehabilitation Council by the British Columbia Library Association
- Memorandum from [BC] Public Library Commission to Post-war Rehabilitation Council
Much of the work of the national advisory Library Resources Board could be furthered by assistance from provincial library associations and groups working in the field of adult education or teaching. In this scheme of thinking, a National Library was also essential: it could develop collections of national literature and history, provide national reference resources, compile a national union catalog to enable inter-library loan across the country, and produce bibliographical publications about Canada or indexes of publications. By providing leadership through the creation of library standards, and advisory services, the Library Resources Board could spur library expansion. In conjunction with provincial briefs the CLC's postwar rebuilding vision could advance the nation's "intelligence, character, economic advancement, and cultural life." Library Reconstruction plans at all government levels would confer benefits for all Canada’s citizens and lead to a better, more informed society.
Subsequent events at the national level dispelled many of the hopes of library planners. Following the failure to reach agreements at the Dominion-Provincial Conference on Reconstruction in August 1945, events took a new turn. C.D. Howe was determined to focus on converting existing factories producing munitions and war equipment to consumer and industrial products. Howe, a powerful minister with Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s support, preferred common sense industrial re-conversion and free enterprise rather than abstract social plans authored by Reconstruction advocates and groups, such as the CLC. Nonetheless, the CLC, and its successor, the Canadian Library Association (CLA), did not abandon many of its ideas and strategies developed during the war. The CLA itself could perform some of the tasks that had been proposed for the Library Resources Board, although federal funding would not be forthcoming, and forming a National Library became a postwar priority with CLA. The new Canadian Library body built on Canada Needs Libraries and, in concert with other national organizations, submitted an important brief in December 1946 that stated the case for a National Library that ultimately led to its legislative creation in 1953. Promotion of regional services also ranked high on CLA's list, but, more importantly, provincial library organizations became lynchpins in advocating for regional library legislation. It was these organizations that pursued governments to establish survey committees and reports on public library service in the provinces through the 1940s and 1950s.
In Canada's provinces, the growth of public library services was stimulated by new legislation and policies. In Saskatchewan, in 1946, a Regional Libraries Act allowed for a Supervisor, Marion Gilroy (a CLC director from 1945-46) to encourage the development of larger units of service. This led to the formation of its first regional library in north central Saskatchewan. In Ontario, postwar regulations led to better conditional grants for libraries and certification of librarians to improve qualifications for personnel. Later, in 1947, an Act enabling formation of county library co-operatives was introduced, a legislative piece that elevated rural service in southern Ontario. In Nova Scotia, following the recommendations of a thorough 1947-48 survey of the province, the Annapolis Valley Regional Library became the first of many such libraries in 1949. In 1948, Manitoba passed a Public Libraries Act that enabled the establishment of public libraries in municipalities and of regional libraries. The Alberta Library Board, an advisory group to the Minister of Education, was established in 1946 with Alexander Calhoun as chairman. It renewed interest in organizing rural regional systems; however, Alberta's first regional system, Parkland, was not established until 1959, the same year that Quebec enacted its first law leading to the development of a provincial network of public libraries.
Together, these briefs illustrate the faith that library promoters held in what would now be called "facts-based evidence" for establishing government policy. Library surveys, data, research, collaborative submission of briefs, and participation of concerned citizens formed the basis of library advocacy. Many of the ideas in Canada Needs Libraries would drive the agenda of library associations and workers after 1945 to establish a fundamental organizational framework for service that we recognize in present library systems. Even the CLC's title remains relevant today: almost three-quarters of a century later, Canada still needs libraries.
My previous blog in 2012, THE CASE FOR A NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA 1933-1946, outlines the 1946 joint library statement and subsequent events leading to the 1952 Act that created the National Library in 1953.