Showing posts with label canadian library association. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canadian library association. Show all posts

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Review—Libraries in Canada: The Commission of Enquiry (1930-33) and creation of a national perspective on libraries

Libraries in Canada: A Study of Library Conditions and Needs by John Ridington, chair; Mary J. L. Black, and George H. Locke. Toronto: Ryerson Press; and Chicago: American Library Association, 1933. 153 p. index.

In the spring of 1933, thousands of printed copies of Canada's first national survey of libraries were delivered to the offices of newspaper and magazine editors; school and university officials; federal, provincial and municipal politicians; as well as librarians and trustees. It marked the culmination of three years of work by Carnegie-funded commissioners who had traversed Canada in 1930 at the outset of the Great Depression. Led by John Ridington, the chief librarian of the University of British Columbia, the Commission had sought to ascertain the state of Canadian libraries and made recommendations to improve conditions. The three commissioners were primarily interested in public libraries but also included chapters on government and universities and colleges.

How was the report received? What impact did Libraries in Canada have? A case can be made that it influenced library development for many years and was a landmark Canadian study that set a standard for library surveys, reports, briefs, and planning documents in the era before social science techniques and data gathering took hold in library science.

According to one American reviewer in The Library Quarterly, Ridington, Black, and Locke had produced a "human story" about library progress (or lack thereof) and aspirations for future growth that might inspire contemporaries to attain higher standards and to provide a blueprint for planning. A friend of Ridington, Edgar Robinson, noted that "tangible results," in the form of Carnegie funding for a regional demonstration in Prince Edward Island, were already in evidence. Decades later, the Canadian librarian who has provided the most extensive study on the work of the Commission, Basil Stuart-Stubbs, described its report as a "vision document" that spoke to the community at large and realized its vision decades later--the establishment of a national library, regional libraries, improved library legislation, published standards, better funding. Even a national library association, which the commissioners felt impossible to establish in the Depression, would eventually be formed in 1946. None of the commissioners lived to see their ideas become conventional principles: Locke died in 1937, Mary Black in 1939, and Ridington in 1945.

Libraries in Canada (LIC) attracted some modest press and magazine attention in 1933. A Saskatoon Star-Phoenix editorial on March 14th indicated the lowly state of library service in many regions of Canada might come as a shock to those who were comfortable with present service levels. It noted the three basic improvements the Commission advocated: 1) the development of larger administrative units of service or cooperation between urban-rural libraries in regions; 2) the extension of services via branches, bookmobiles, etc; and 3) the need for better trained staff. On March 25th, Toronto Globe lamented that the report offered up a general "discouraging picture" and editorialized that Canadians were "book hungry." Some papers, such as the Montreal Gazette, highlighted comments about local conditions: it reported "Parish Libraries Plan Commended," on March 15th and followed with "[McGill] Library School is Doing Great Work," on March 16th. The April and May issues of the Canadian Bookman and Canadian Forum also commented briefly on the work of the surveyors for their readers.

While explicit "next steps" and tangible results were not immediately forthcoming, the Commissioners' ideas were sketched on a national canvas for the first time. Their work prompted Canadian librarians and educators to rise above parochial thinking. After LIC suggested reduction of postal subsidies for book loans by mail, British Columbia and Ontario librarians reiterated this position in Briefs to the dominion government's study on federal-provincial relations (the Rowell-Sirois Report) a few years later. A special postal "book rate" became reality in 1939 and still exists today. Although LIC admitted formation of a national association was not feasible during the Great Depression, new steps were undertaken to form a national body with support from A.L.A in 1934. Eventually, a national association came into being in 1946. After the Second World War, the concept of regional libraries took hold across the country. The establishment of more library schools and library training in colleges was firmly implanted by the late 1960s. To be sure, many improvements in libraries can be traced backed to LIC, in part because the report was brought to the attention of decision-makers such as Quebec Premier, Louis-Alexandre Taschereau, and the Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King. While the Commission could be faulted for not doing more extensive work on university-college libraries and school libraries, few could argue that the $10,000 Carnegie grant was not well spent.

Further, Libraries in Canada pointed the way to conducting more published analysis on library problems, especially on a geographic basis. Previous studies, especially in British Columbia, had focused mostly on specific provincial concerns. Now a national study unveiled and legitimized ideas -- principles, even -- that could be developed on a broader basis. Studies in the later 1930s such as Nora Bateson's two works, Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown, 1936) and Library Survey of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1938); and Norma W. Bennett, Library Service in Saskatchewan (Saskatoon, 1937) benefited greatly from LIC. More than a decade on, another national study by the Canadian Library Council, Libraries in the Life of the Canadian Nation, published at Ottawa in 1946, revisited numerous ideas from the Commission of Enquiry. Many of the subsequent studies began to utilize data gathered on a biennial basis by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, a resource that LIC neglected. But, by this time, the influence of the initial efforts by Ridington, Black and Locke had taken hold. It was the power of words and ideas rather than explication of numbers and facts that prevailed.

The concluding chapter of Libraries in Canada is available at Libraries Today.

More reading:

Review by Edgar S. Robinson and Harold L. Leupp, Bulletin of the American Library Association 27, 4 (April 1933), 197-198

Review by Clarence B. Lester, Library Quarterly 4, 4 (Oct. 1934), 662-66

Basil Stuart-Stubbs, "1930: the Commissioners' Trail," Feliciter 47, 3 (2001), 140-41

Basil Stuart-Stubbs, "1933: The Commission Speaks," Feliciter 48, 3 (2002), 126-28

Basil Stuart-Stubbs, "1934: CLA Redux . . . Almost," Feliciter 49, 3 (2003), 161-64

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review—The Morton Years by Elizabeth Hulse (1995)

By Elizabeth Hulse. Toronto: Ex Libris Association, 1995.

The genesis for this book dates to 1987 when the Ex Libris Association set out to honour the memory of Elizabeth Homer Morton (1903-77), the long-time executive director of the Canadian Library Association (CLA) and an important leader in Canada's twentieth-century library history. The Morton Years covers CLA's first quarter century and highlights Morton's contributions during her tenure of office (1944-68).
        Elizabeth Hulse, a bibliographer and historical writer, has aimed for a broad readership: persons interested in librarianship, libraries, and the conditions that promoted progress in these areas during the postwar era's rapid growth of educational services. The Morton Years is a concise, authoritative history which will be recognized as a standard reference for many years. Hulse has delved into the CLA manuscript sources at the National Archives and has recorded a number of oral histories with former CLA officers. Researchers will be rewarded by studying the footnotes despite the fact that CLA's archives are not complete and that the administrative nature of many documents (often recorded or edited by Morton) are often unrewarding in terms of personal details or controversy.
        A short introduction (1-12) provides a useful synopsis about the foundation of CLA in 1946. This account will likely undergo revision after a forthcoming publication (not available to the author) by William Buxton and Charles Acland on the Charles McCombs Report of 1941 appears. This new work will document the extent of American influence and financing for the educational goals that Canadian librarians actively pursued during the second world war and its immediate aftermath.
        The progress of many worthy CLA projects which Morton helped orchestrate between 1946-65 is traced in two chapters (13-52): the foundation of the National Library in Ottawa; the microfilming of historical newspapers; the development of the Canadian Periodical Index; successful publication ventures; the professionalization of librarianship; a CLA statement on intellectual freedom; and submissions to federal royal commissions to promote literacy, information services, women's rights, and bilingualism.
        Hulse then addresses the problems faced by CLA in the mid-1960s and subsequent changes (53-90). Initially, CLA's organizational structure reflected the small base of its membership, but, by the mid-1960s, there were 2,500 members and the executive group which Morton guided was sometimes criticized as "out of touch." Under the terms of the first constitution only "library" members employed by libraries or library school graduates were eligible for election to the executive, which was assisted by a few councillors and section chairs (e.g., cataloging) in a formal legislative body. By 1971, the expanded membership had decided to reorganize along the lines of a "type-of-library" model with the presidents of five divisions (e.g., school libraries) serving on the executive along with elected representatives from regional library organizations. In this revised formation, a larger executive and council was deemed to be more responsive and representative. In addition, membership provisions were extended to all persons interested in the general welfare of library services.
        In retrospect, it is clear that changes came about because CLA was not always effective in coping with professional issues or balancing diverse regional interests. This perspective is most evident in Hulse's description of the gradual withdrawal of Francophones into their own national organization in the mid-1960s (72-77). Effectively, by centennial year, CLA had become a unilingual national organization less attentive to professional concerns.
        A final chapter (91-104) focuses on CLA's search for a successor and Morton's retirement. Hulse addresses a number of sensitive questions about CLA's chronic financial problems, and the pressures its executive confronted by attempting to replace someone who had worn many organizational hats. Most participants convey the impression that they felt Morton could not really be replaced (her successor left after three years). Morton's qualities as an executive officer, her management style, character, and leadership abilities are recounted at this point by Hulse, who concludes with a very brief summary of CLA's accomplishments.
        Throughout the Morton Years, Hulse balances the demand to study the development of CLA and to personalize Morton's role as a catalyst and administrator. At certain critical points, such as the search for a successor, the sources are not complete enough to provide more satisfying explanations or historical narrative. By all accounts, Morton was a hard working, dedicated professional. Her career coincided with a labour market that offered a limited number of relatively low-paying professional career opportunities for women and with social conventions that dictated that they must resign their positions if they married. Morton did not directly challenge these barriers. Instead, she focused her energies on improving librarians' educational and occupational attainment through association activities on a national scale to redress gender workplace inequality, a typical response in the library community.
         Overall, Hulse has woven a reliable account of CLA's postwar growth and demonstrated the outstanding contribution one person can make to a national organization. Elizabeth Morton deservedly received a Centennial Medal and became a member of the Order of Canada in 1968.

Originally posted in September 1997