Showing posts with label canadian public libraries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canadian public libraries. Show all posts

Monday, August 28, 2017

Review—World War II Theses on Schools and Public Libraries by Two Albertans: Louise Riley and Jack Brown

Mutual Relationships between Public Libraries and Schools in Providing Library Service to Boys and Girls in Canadian Cities (Columbia University, M.A. thesis, June 1942, 113 p. with tables) by Margaret Louise Riley and The Extension of Public and School Library Services in the Province of Alberta (University of Chicago, M.A. thesis, August 1940, 161 p. with tables and map) by Jack Ernest Brown.

Margaret Louise Riley was born and educated at St. Hilda's High School for Girls in Calgary. She attended McGill University (B.A. 1921) and received her library diploma at Madison, Wisconsin in 1928.  After graduation, she worked at the Calgary Public Library as a children's librarian throughout the 1930s. Riley's articles on library work for children and teens helped her attain a Carnegie Fellowship and she graduated from Columbia University Library School in 1942. Her thesis, Mutual Relationships, dealt with the subject of cooperative work by school and public libraries in Canada.

Jack Ernest Brown was born in Edmonton in 1914 and graduated from the University of Alberta with a B.A. in 1938. He attended McGill University Library School, receiving a B.L.S. in the following year. Brown was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship and graduated with a MA from the University of Chicago Graduate Library School in 1940. His thesis focused on the development of public and school services in Alberta.

Children's librarianship was a well-established public library service by 1930. Louise Riley introduced a room for young adults readers and enthusiastically improved Calgary's children's library at a time when money was hard to come by during the Depression years. It was during the 1930s when schools in Alberta, and elsewhere in Canada, began to develop a "new program" in elementary and junior high schools that emphasized the use of many books rather than rote learning and use of  one class text. Because many elementary school libraries were deficient (or practically non-existent), students and parents often turned to public libraries to secure good reading. This practical consideration inspired Riley to research cooperative educational efforts between schools and public libraries. Her thesis at Columbia examined the relationships that were being developed in Canadian cities with more than 10,000 population (52 in total) through the use of questionnaires and a literature search of leading professional opinions about school-public library cooperation.

Riley's detailed compilation and analysis of statistics received from across Canada yielded useful information about the state of children's work in 1940. For example, larger city pubic libraries were open for children on average from 20-40 hours per week and the average number of books per registered child ranged from 1.5 to 2.2 books/borrower. Fifteen school boards were developing centralized school libraries, an option many library planners favoured. Data on classroom libraries, children's sections in public libraries, and public library branches in schools were included. There were twenty-six tables in all.

Mutual Relationships explored solutions for cooperative efforts to improve children's work. Riley surveyed the experience of American and English libraries and presented the advantages and disadvantages of similar Canadian efforts especially inter-board representation on school and library boards, public library branches in schools, and cooperative administration of school libraries. Often, the crucial element missing was leadership at the local level. Based on her findings, Riley recommended conducting local community surveys and devising a cooperative plan for discussion and eventual implementation. She suggested the newly formed Canadian Association of Children's Librarians and Canadian Library Council could provide assistance in developing cooperative work.

Riley's conclusions did not surprise many informed librarians and administrators. However, the data she presented was the first Canadian study of its kind that buttressed many arguments about school-public library cooperation. It was another instance of the use of social science methodology to study libraries and demonstrate the value of "library science." Of course, Mutual Relationships was confined to cities--smaller communities, rural places, counties, and regions were not included. The thesis was a practical exploration of an issue that would continue throughout the 20th century and be resolved locally in many different ways.

Louise Riley returned to Calgary Public Library to develop children's services after graduation. One successful effort was the establishment of general reading sections with visiting librarians to advise student readers in some schools which was financed by school board grants. She became Calgary's Assistant Librarian in 1949, served as President of the Alberta Library Association, taught courses for children's librarianship for teachers at the Calgary campus of the University of Alberta, and authored an award-winning children's book, Train for Tiger Lily (1954). Louise Riley died in 1957 and shortly afterward a new branch library in Hounsfield Heights was named in her honour.

Jack Brown's thesis at Chicago was centered on Alberta where about sixty percent of the population lived in rural conditions. A plan for the extension of library services through schools and public libraries based on governmental, economic, educational and social conditions was his primary aim. He made a lengthy study of Alberta's geography, its educational system, municipal and school authorities, and economic conditions. It was a time when Edmonton and Calgary were small cities under 100,000 population and when agriculture and cattle ranching were dominant economic activities.

Brown applied the concepts of 'modern service' and 'efficiency' to Alberta's library scene in a thorough manner by stressing the educational role of public libraries and the development of regional systems. Brown surveyed the province's public libraries and found that only 30.3% of the total population of 772,782 were served by libraries and only 8% were actually registered borrowers. Half of Alberta's book stock resided in Edmonton and Calgary and the per capita expenditure on libraries based on total provincial population was fifteen cents. School libraries were at a rudimentary level. Larger school divisions held the promise of better funding but these were only in the initial stages of development. One successful venture was the small travelling libraries and 'open shelf' system operated by the University of Alberta's Extension Department.

Brown concluded that the existing public library 'system' was completely inadequate and suggested that cooperation between rural sections and urban communities should be adopted and promoted by an independent appointed provincial library agency. He strengthened this argument by reviewing British Columbia's pioneering effort in the Fraser Valley as well as American library organization in Vermont where regional services were introduced on a voluntary basis during the Depression. Brown was particularly impressed by work in California where county library systems and city libraries were supervised by the State Library. By 1940, California's system of county libraries and city libraries had reached 98 per cent of the state's population and had been adopted by many other American states. Brown also provided a brief account of the coordinated system of rural and larger centralized libraries in Denmark.

Using his findings, Brown adapted international library planning to suit Alberta's needs. To remedy the permissive nature of current library legislation, he suggested establishing an independent provincial library agency to supervise and coordinate an integrated public library and school library system based on larger units of service. Brown presented the idea of eleven districts each with a headquarters and branches, a reasonable tax base, populations in excess of 20,000, and areas ranging from 3,000 to 6,000 square miles to minimize the problem of distance. He knew that his divisions were personal decisions, not necessarily ones that a potential provincial agency and new library director might implement. However, Brown stated "If a public library system were established in each of the eleven regions, then approximately 80 per cent of Alberta's population would receive public library services (p. 154)." His specific recommendations, which were shared by other Alberta librarians, were never put into action; however, an Alberta Library Board was formed in 1946 and eventually, after passage of a new library act in 1956, the process of establishing regional libraries began, first in the Lacombe (now Parkland) regional library and area similar to Brown's "District 2" centered in Red Deer.

Jack Brown returned to Edmonton Public Library after graduation, establishing the popular street car branch library that was publicized in the January 1942 issue of Library Journal. Shortly thereafter, Brown left to work at the New York Public Library until 1957 when he returned to Canada as chief librarian with the National Research Council in Ottawa. At the NRC, Brown oversaw the development of a National Science Library for Canada in the 1960s and in October 1974 a new library building opened with a new title: the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information. He retired from CISTI in 1978 at a time when a national information system had become a practical reality. Jack Brown passed away in 1996

The two theses by Louise Riley and Jack Brown were completed when Canada was at war--not a reasonable time to expect any action to result from their publication. However, Mutual Relationships and The Extension of Public and School Library Services marked another step in the direction of the application of more rigorous scholarship to Canadian library issues and planning that had begun in the late 1930s.

Further Information

View the 1942 Paramount Pictures video of the Edmonton's Street Car Library on YouTube.

Read about Margaret Louise Riley's career in the Ex Libris Association Newsletter (page 9).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Review—Libraries in the Life of the Canadian Nation (1946) compiled by Canadian Library Council, Inc.

Libraries in the Life of the Canadian Nation. Part I, Public Libraries: An Interim Report Presented to the Organizational Conference of the Canadian Library Association by the Canadian Library Council, Inc., June, 1946. Canadian Library Council, 107 p.

At the end of the Second World War the pattern of public library service in Canada varied tremendously--from the acclaimed Toronto Public Library, a North American leader in services and collections, to cities such as Fredericton and Quebec City that had no municipally supported service. Halifax had a room in a municipal building. In Manitoba, only Winnipeg and Brandon had a tax-supported library. Estimates varied, but across the country, almost 10% of people living in cities, about 60% living in towns and villages, and about 95% living in rural areas were without direct library service. To remedy the situation, the newly formed Canadian Library Council, Inc. (CLC), developed a survey to ask all libraries about their community services. The result, Libraries in the Life of the Canadian Nation, pointed the way to postwar planning by cooperatively planning services on a regional basis in many rural areas where there were no libraries or by federating small services (especially the ubiquitous 'association public library') that could not develop effective, expanded, progressive library services.

The CLC had been formed to create a Canadian library association across the nation, a bilingual organization that would proselytize a course of action to develop library services and advocate for a National Library in Ottawa. To this end, its small, capable executive, led by Margaret Gill from the National Research Council, Ottawa, organized a national meeting at McMaster University in June 1946 to rally librarians, trustees, administrators, adult educators, school authorities, and anyone interested in books and media.

We meet in Hamilton in June, 1946, to consider 'libraries in the life of the Canadian nation' at a conference called to organize a Canadian Library Association [CLA]. It is to be hoped that from the decisions of this gathering will come a policy of realistic and courageous nation-wide promotion of effective library service through public, university, school, special and government libraries, not overlooking the establishment of a national library.

Libraries in the Life of the Canadian Nation provided the basis for the newly minted CLA to advance its ideas in briefs to provincial and federal governments in the immediate years after 1945. Today, many decades later, the report's information serves to remind us that libraries were present in their communities in many ways through community cooperation in the first part of the 20th century. The range of groups allied with libraries was diverse and extensive. The types of services, of course, depended on local funding, donations, or limited provincial grants. A small sample of the report's replies gives an impression of the state of public library service and interaction with community life and agencies from west to east:

New Westminster: "The University Women's Club has, for a number of years, donated about $30.00 worth of books to the Boys' and Girls' Department. Of recent years this gift has been to the Young Moderns' Alcove. The books are chosen by the Children's Librarian and bear a special book plate."

Calgary: ". . . has its teen-age groups divided into 2 sections, Junior High School and Senior High School or Young Adults. There is a librarian in charge of the library work with this first section who spends full time on the work. Grades 7 to 9 are served--they have a separate room know as the John Buchan Room. A librarian spends part-time on the work with the young adults, grades 10 to 12. This section has an alcove in the circulation department know as "The Corral."

Regina: ". . . provides information, catalogues, etc., about education and documentary film: it also provides loan of films but not preview facilities. Films as part of the regular library programme is used for special subject display. The library provides collections of photographs, but not of lantern slides, films strips, photostats or microfilm. The library does not have a reading machine or a film projector. Copies of its materials are provided by typescript."

Manitoba libraries under 5,000 population: "Only 1 (Gimli Icelandic Library) is housed in a separate building. 1 has a room (125 feet of shelf space) in the post office and Red Cross building. . . .6 are in need of larger quarters. Kenton, Gypsumville and Shoal Lake hope to build community halls (the latter 2 as [war] memorials) which will house the library. Langruth hopes to have a municipal building in which the library will be located. Neepawa has plans to take over the room used by the Red Cross when that organization finishes with it."

Toronto: "Two radio programmes. 'Stories for You'--Sundays, 5 o'clock, CJBC, since Jan. 1945. 'Junior Story Period'--sponsored by Dept. of Education, during Fall terms, 1944, 1945. 'One of our most rapidly growing projects is our service to parents of pre-school age children. Hundred of parents take advantage of this service every week.'
Toronto Beaches branch: "An active drama organization. Professional and student concerts. Co-operation in the field of music."

Montreal Children's Library: ". . . public relations--talks, articles, radio programmes, displays, etc.--have been an important part of the work of Committee and Librarian in an effort to make citizens more conscious of the value of libraries and their lack in this city. We were started as a 'demonstration'."

Moncton and Saint John: "Both have a Friends of the Library group and Saint John has held open house for the community." . . .Both have a separate reference room, but neither has a reference librarian. Saint John has the following specialized collections: Loyalist biographical material; local and provincial history in scrapbook form; Maritime history in manuscript (typewritten)."

Reserve Mines: "This is a small library mainly supported by our Co-operative Institutions--with a modern equipped School Library branch in the school building. The librarian is a graduate in Library Science. . . . [this library supplies books to] Women's Institutes, Farm Forum Groups, Citizen's Forum Groups, Labor groups, church groups, study clubs, adult education groups."

Prince Edward Island Libraries: ". . . serves 23 community libraries, 4 deposit stations (56 collections loaned to Women's Institutions or community groups during 1945) and 272 schools. They do not give book van service. The library is housed in 3 rooms in Prince of Wales College, Charlottetown. . . . The headquarters library selects and purchases all books and catalogues them. It maintains a central deposit of books to answer reference questions and to supply special requests. . . . Headquarters library assistance with community activities: loan service to [several groups]; talks on the library; book displays at various meetings."

Libraries in the Life of the Canadian Nation documented proactive library work that was happening on a sporadic basis across the country at the end of WW II and it showed what additional roles libraries could play with better organization and financial support. In many ways, the data in this report supported the ideas about library development recommended by the 1933 Commission of Enquiry. Unlike the previous report, issued in the depths of the Great Depression, Libraries appeared during improved national economic circumstances, and, even more importantly, it could used by the newly formed Canadian Library Association to assert its ideas and plans for the future growth of libraries.

Further reading on the Canadian Library Council:


Nora Bateson, Rural Canada Needs Libraries (S.l.: Canadian Library Council, 1944)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Review—The Amulree Commission Report, 1933: The Impetus for Newfoundland Public Library Service

Newfoundland Royal Commission 1933: Report. William Warrender Mackenzie, 1st Baron Amulree, chair. London. H.M.S.O., 1933. vi, 283 p., maps.

Important advances were made in Canada in the 1930s by the provision of Carnegie grants for library development in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. However, in Newfoundland library development was sparked by a different investigative process. In the bleak depression year, 1933, the Newfoundland government, which had held official Dominion since 1907, requested Great Britain for loans to alleviate its dire financial state. The British government responded by establishing a Royal Commission the following year to examine the future of Newfoundland and make recommendations on the island's finances, fisheries, and political status. For most Newfoundlanders, it marked the end of almost eighty years of "Responsible Government." For the next fifteen years (1934-49) Newfoundland and Labrador would continue to be administered by an appointed Governor and unelected Commission.

The Royal Commission was chaired by Lord Amulree, William Warrender Mackenzie, 1st Baron Amulree, who conducted an extensive (and controversial) survey of Newfoundland's political, economic, and social conditions with a few colleagues. One feature of the Commission report, seldom commented on by library historians in Canadian studies, was observations and suggestions about the island's libraries. In a chapter on subsidiary considerations, the Commission reported:
We were much surprised, on our arrival at St. John's, to find that there was no public library in the capital. The need for such a library need not be stressed. The provision of a public library is wholly beyond the immediate resources of the Government, nor could we expect that an appeal for subscriptions for this purpose could be launched with success at the present time.(p.221)
Of course, by "public library" the commissioners meant a tax-supported library freely open to the public. Subscription libraries and mechanics' institutes had long been the mainstay of island library provision since the early 19th century. In its concluding sections, the Amulree Report recommended "We understand that arrangements are in view for the establishment of a public library in St. John’s. We think it is important that public libraries should be established in the larger out ports as opportunity offers and that steps should be taken to extend and improve the recently instituted service of travelling subscription libraries." In the 1920s, the Carnegie Corporation had provided $5,000 for the Bureau of Education to establish a rural travelling library service. Deliveries were made to schools and coastal ships provided service to outport communities. However, the service had languished at the outset of the Great Depression after Carnegie resources ceased.

The Amulree Report's comments spurred immediate action in St. John's. A few citizens, headed by the Commissioner for Public Utilities, Thomas Lodge, formed a committee to begin planning for the establishment of a city public library. By January 1935, a Public Libraries Act was passed to allow a Public Libraries Board to establish libraries and services, in effect a system similar to emerging regional library systems which had already been demonstrated in British Columbia. The fourth section of the new Act stated: "It shall be the duty of the Board to establish, conduct and maintain a public libraries or libraries in St. John’s and in other places in Newfoundland as the Board may deem expedient and to establish and maintain travelling or circulating libraries if the Board shall deem it expedient." The Board reported to the Commissioner of Public Utilities.

The St. John’s Gosling Memorial Library (named for William Gilbert Gosling, a popular mayor from 1916-20) opened on 9 January 1936. The Gosling Library was the beginning of an expansion of public library service across Newfoundland and Labrador in the ensuing decades. At this time, the concept of "regional libraries" was more limited on the island. According to Jesse Mifflen, in the 1930s, "it referred to all libraries set up in relatively large towns; libraries were supposed to serve not only the town itself but schools and groups in neighbouring communities, and also to provide some of the bookstock for any small libraries situated in the area, and which were known as Branch Libraries." There was no formal demarcation of regions with Newfoundland at this time.

After the Gosling library opened in downtown St. John's, the Public Libraries Board, headed by Dr. A.C. Hunter and through the work of its Outport Library Committee, eventually established a five-year plan to provide library services to communities with a minimum population of 1,000 people to serve people in its "region." This plan was approved in 1942 by the British appointed Commission, helped with another timely grant of $10,000 from the Carnegie Corporation. This scheme proved to be successful and included larger towns such as Corner Brook. All these activities can be traced back to the Amulree Report, the beneficence of the Carnegie Corporation, and the dedicated work of local citizens.

The Amulree Report was an important motivation for improved public library services. Although it gave only fleeting reference to libraries and did not fit with the typical Canadian library survey or report on development of services in the 1930s, its impact was evident. As a result, the Commission style government would become an important incubation period for Newfoundland's public library system.

Further reading:

Jesse Mifflen, The Development of Public Library Services in Newfoundland, 1934-1972. Halifax: Dalhousie University Libraries and School of Library Service, 1978.

The entire Amulree Report is available at the Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage website -- The Newfoundland Royal Commission, 1933

An Act to Create a Public Libraries Board approved in January 1935 is available at the Memorial University Digital Archive (commencing at page 28).

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Review—The Public Library in Canada in Relation to the Government (1939) by Jean E. Stewart.

The Public Library in Canada in Relation to the Government by Jean E. Stewart. Chicago: Fellowships and Scholarships Committee of the American Library Association under the direction of the Graduate Library School, University of Chicago, 1939. 106 p. and map.

Following the completion of a number of Canadian library studies during the Great Depression, there was increasing interest in the formation and development of library services, especially for public libraries. The need for better planning at the political level, stable tax-based financing, improved staffing, increased coordination, and a broader perspective applied to services was more evident. Academic interest in library aspects related to the social sciences was also beginning to develop. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics had collected and published information on the growth of library service for a decade-and-a-half. Now, the opportunity to analyze libraries rested on a firmer basis. The observational approach use by John Ridington, George Locke, and Mary Black in their national 1933 report, Libraries in Canada, would no longer satisfy most planning needs.Stewart's work marked the increasing use of statistics in library studies and American interest in Canadian developments.

In 1939, a young graduate from the University of British Columbia, Jean Eileen Stewart, originally from Alberta, undertook a study on the Canadian public library in relation to federal, provincial, and municipal jurisdictions. Stewart had worked for several years as a librarian in British Columbia libraries, becoming the first director of the new Vancouver Island Union Library when it opened in 1936. Although she had trained at the McGill University Library School, to bolster her credentials, she also went to the United States where she sought a scholarship from the American Library Association under the direction of academics at the University of Chicago Graduate Library School, a leading institution in library science research. The resulting report, The Public Library in Relation to Government, appeared exactly when Canada entered the Second World War, September 1939. Consequently, Stewart's report was never really distributed or cited to any extent. In retrospect, however, much of her work remains of value in terms of understanding the Canadian public library in the first part of the 20th century. In 1940, Jean Stewart married a teacher, William J. Mouat, and returned to British Columbia. She died in 1981 at Abborsford, BC.

What did Stewart set out to do? She investigated 37 public libraries across Canada, all over 30,000 population except for Verdun, Three Rivers, and Quebec City for which she was not able to find data. In her own words:

In an analysis of governmental relations of public libraries in Canada, an effort will be made to find answers to certain questions: (1) What is the relationship between the library and the provincial government? (2) What place does the library take in municipal government? (3) What are the advantages and disadvantages or the library board system or control? (4) What are the possibilities in the development of larger units or library service? (p. 7)

In her first chapters, Stewart documented the historical and legal development of public libraries finding that they closely followed British and American patterns, i.e. libraries were enabled, not mandated, by legislative provisions at the local and provincial levels. The Canadian situation was simpler than the US where home rule municipalities and special charters complicated planning at the state level. Later chapters included information on corporate and association libraries (e.g. in Montreal), board managed municipal libraries (especially in Ontario), and larger units of service (the union libraries and regional demonstrations in BC, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island). Stewart relied on DBS data but also received various responses to a questionnaire she mailed out to in 1938. She presented this information in several tables sprinkled in her report. With respect to municipal-library relationships, she found that boards with active members were often influential in promoting services. Only two cities, Westmount and Winnipeg, used committees of council to administer libraries.

The final two chapters summarized most of her findings. With regard to the expansion of regional systems in Canadian provinces Stewart found many basics -- for example public demand for services -- lacking. "The first steps in regionalism in Canada must be to stimulate and integrate existing institutions, and to extend library service to districts where it is completely lacking." (p. 94) The regional model was clearly an important feature for future planning. As well, Stewart commented that "Library affairs should be administered by a distinct branch of a government department, and, according to general opinion, the provincial departments of education should be given this responsibility. A trained staff should be maintained in this department to supervise, co-ordinate, and direct public library affairs in the province." (p. 99) Stewart's findings and assessments would prove accurate for the most part during the postwar era of public library development in Canada.

The Public Library in Canada remained unpublished. Like other Canadian reports that appeared during WWII (e.g., Gordon Gourlay's 1942 University of Michigan AMLS thesis, "The role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education" and the Rockefeller Foundation "Report on Canadian Libraries" in 1941 by Charles F. McCombs, a New York city public librarian) it found a space to rest on some office shelves. Eventually, a few copies made their way into academic libraries. Stewart's work disappeared from view, but it was not entirely forgotten. Today, along with other Depression-era studies, it continues to be an important resource for understanding early twentieth century public libraries in different parts of our country. Stewart's use of national based statistics and her own survey methods marked another step forward in Canadian library studies.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Review—Three British Columbia Public Library Commission reports, 1927-41

British Columbia Public Library Commission. British Columbia Library Survey 1927-28, Conducted Under the Auspices of British Columbia Public Library Commission. Victoria:  Printed by C. F. Banfield, Printer to the King, 1929.

British Columbia Public Library Commission. Libraries in British Columbia 1940; a Reconsideration of the Library Survey of 1927-28. Victoria:  Printed by C. F. Banfield, Printer to the King, 1941.

British Columbia Public Library Commission. A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941.  A Contribution to the Problem. Prepared  by a Special Committee of the Public Library Commission: H. Norman Lidster, C. K. Morison, John  Ridington, E. S. Robinson, Chairman. Victoria: 1942.

While I have concentrated on national and regional library surveys during the Great Depression in the past few blogs, it would be gross omission if the efforts of the British Columbia Public Library Commission throughout this period was not highlighted. In 1919, a revision of the BC Public Libraries Act provided for a three-member commission to supervise public library services and to administer the Province's library grant to libraries. The relatively independent commission form of library oversight was not uncommon in the United States, but in Canada, where the Ontario Library Association had failed to develop a similar scheme before WWI, it was unique. The Commission conduced a travelling library service and a books by mail (open shelf) service to individuals. By the 1920s the Commission was operating a small budget of about $20,000. It was at this point that the commissioners, led by Dr. Norman F. Black, set out to discover the state of province-wide library service. With a generous $6,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the commission employed Clarence B. Lester, from the Wisconsin library commission, as an adviser for a thorough study--the first of its kind in twentieth century Canada.

The British Columbia Library Survey 1927-28 provided a detailed report of more than 100 pages on library conditions and responses from residents. More than twenty appendices recorded information on issues such as sea-coast libraries, the open shelf system, services for the blind, school libraries, vocational services, and library training. The key recommendations focused on direct services, namely (a) the use of library districts, created specially for this purpose, in rural communities and (b) the provision of school library service as part of a unified library system. In this scenario, regional library systems would provide services for a combination of school districts, municipalities, unorganized rural communities, and even individuals. When the report was tabled in 1929, it was an obvious that the potential of regional/district library service (the "union library" concept) could only be demonstrated through an actual project. The 1927-28 survey findings were used to secure $100,000 from the Carnegie Corporation and to employ Helen Gordon Stewart, Victoria's chief librarian, to conduct a demonstration in the Fraser Valley beginning in 1930. This project is ably described and analyzed by Maxine Rochester, "Bringing Librarianship to Rural Canada in the 1930s: Demonstrations by Carnegie Corporation of New York," Libraries & Culture: a Journal of Library History 30 (1995): 366-90. But it was the report itself that was the crucial catalyst for action because it contained copious factual information, especially statistics, which could not be garnered elsewhere (even in the Dominion Bureau of Statistics publication, Survey of Libraries) that bolstered its conclusions and recommendations. The Fraser Valley experiment served as precedent  that led to further Carnegie grants on the Atlantic coast in the mid-1930s. This "second wave" of Carnegie library grants in the 1930s encouraged the growth of libraries at a time when public funding for libraries edged towards impoverishment rather than improvement across Canada.

After four years of successful operation and after Carnegie funding ended in 1934, BC residents in twenty communities voted to continue the Fraser Valley project with local taxes. With the success of the Fraser Valley demonstration came the need to expand and upgrade library services. The Commission was able to promote the development of two more "union library" systems as they were known on Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan Valley. As the effects of the Depression lessened in 1938, the Commission began to review progress on a five-year basis. It undertook an extensive review of the 1927-28 report with a view of identifying successes and problems that had occurred during the intervening decade. On balance, the new report, Libraries in British Columbia 1940, concluded the original principles and policies of the first report should continue to constitute the foundation of provincial organization to further book service in BC. The 1940 report, however, emphasized the idea of centralized coordination for professional library training, standards of service for different sized communities, and enlarged powers for the Library Commission to distribute grants to all libraries achieving standard provincial requirements. The report lamented that libraries in larger centres--Burnaby and North Vancouver--were being operated and funded by voluntary associations and located in downtown shops. With Canada at war against the Axis powers, the report intoned that library services should be mandated and that "democracy must be intelligent" to succeed in "winning the peace" as well as the war. But wartime austerity and priorities pushed the commission report onto the shelf rather than the field of action.

Not to be idle and considering that postwar planning was essential, the same commissioners (Norman Lidster, C. K. Morison, the indefatigable John  Ridington, and E. S. Robinson) undertook another wartime study, A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941 for the Minister of Education. They were charged to survey the existing state of adult education across BC and to submit suggestions and recommendations for its development. The Commission studied formal provincial, federal, and municipal agencies working with adults in various capacities--boards of health, departments of agriculture, educational bodies, police schools, museums, forestry programs, and youth training--as well as the Extension Department of the University of British Columbia which was praised by the commissioners. Numerous civil society organizations were mailed questionnaires: art galleries, musical and literary societies, boards of trade, cooperatives, credit unions, student and study groups, newspapers, radio stations, crafts organizations, etc. National organizations, e.g. the Workers' Educational Association and CNIB were noted although Frontier College was a notable omission. The study called for a provincial program of Adult Education comparable to the public school system. The potential of radio broadcasting was highlighted. The work of public libraries also received favourable comment--the public library was designated as a  "principle agency."  The survey's basic recommendation: the need for the provincial government to authorize a coordinating authority, the Department of Education, to establish a central adult education division under a director. Then, it would be possible to form a Council of Adult Education to determine policy with the Director for appropriate plans, standards, grants, advisory work, and necessary operating services for the entire province. An underlying wartime ideal of democratic progress once peace was attained often appeared in the study's pages. It was a broad appeal, but one that did not stimulate the government to take immediate action. As a result, the linkage between libraries and adult education remained tenuous in the postwar period, a situation not uncommon in the rest of Canada. In postwar BC, the extension service of UBC would head up adult education efforts.

Nonetheless, the three studies encompassing the Depression years standout as positive statements for the development of libraries and their connection with the emerging field of adult education. At a time when Canadians' appreciation for the arts, adult education, and library science was influenced more by parsimonious economic considerations and wartime challenges, the reports and work of the Library Commission were vital statements of "what should be" infused with bold rhetoric and factual material that fortified its arguments. On the Canadian library stage in the first part of the twentieth century, they stand out as important historical markers in the development of libraries and librarianship.


A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941 is available for viewing via the Hathi Trust.

Libraries in British Columbia 1940; a Reconsideration of the Library Survey of 1927-28 is also available at the Hathi Trust..

Marjorie C . Holmes, Library Service in British Columbia; a Brief History of its Development (Victoria, 1959)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review—Four Canadian Maritime Library Surveys during the Great Depression

Gerhard Lomer, Report on a Proposed Three-year Demonstration of Library Service for Prince Edward Island. Montreal: McGill University Library, 1932. 52 p., illus, folding plan.

Nora Bateson, The Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1933-1936. Charlottetown: Prince Edward Island Libraries, 1936. 52 p., illus. with an Appendix: The Public Library Act (assented to April 4, 1935; p. 50-52).

Nora Bateson, Library Survey of Nova Scotia. Halifax, Department of Education, 1938. 40 p., map; with an Appendix: An act to provide for the support of regional libraries: p. 40.

Nova Scotia Regional Libraries Commission,  Libraries for Nova Scotia, 2nd rev. ed. Halifax: the Commission, 1940.12 p.


The Depression in Maritime Canada presented enormous obstacles to library development. This period did, however, spur important new thinking about how public library services could be established and maintained by public funds and management. As the national survey and report funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Libraries in Canada, proceeded after 1930, it became evident that regional demonstrations might better serve as a stimulus and program for future courses of action. The commissioners, John Ridington, George Locke, and Mary J.L. Black, suggested that Prince Edward Island would an ideal area for such a testing ground for public library service.

Accordingly, The Corporation, under the presidency of Frederick P. Keppel, requested Dr. Gerhard Lomer, the library director of McGill University, to visit P.E.I. and give a second opinion on the issue. Although Lomer only spent a short time on the island in September 1932, he produced a detailed typewritten assessment of current services and facilities, talked with a variety of officials, critiqued operations such as the provincial School Days program for libraries, indicated potential sites for development, and even provided an up-to-date bibliography of regional services. While his work was not as extensive as an earlier Canadian report, British Columbia Library Service 1927-1928 (Victoria, 1929), Lomer provided practical details on organization and offered a program suited to Islanders' needs which explained regional service and showed how it could be put into action by a three-year demonstration of province-wide public library service. His report recommended that provincial education department take the lead in organizing a demonstration and training branch personnel. Part of Prince of Wales College could be used as headquarters. Lomer's astute observations, plus personal interest on the part of P.E.I.'s premier, W.J.P. MacMillan, were persuasive factors in the subsequent announcement by the Carnegie Corporation in January 1933 that it would grant $75,000 for an endowment for the Prince of Wales College (destroyed by fire in 1931) and also $60,000 to start up a provincial library demonstration. Nora Bateson, M.A., a staff member at the McGill library school, who had worked in Canada's first regional demonstration in the Fraser Valley, B.C., got the nod to head the demonstration in P.E.I.

Bateson's activities from 1933 to 1936 were later documented in her report, Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island. She began work out of Charlottetown in June 1933. A few branches were set up; then, Bateson began the arduous task of promoting services at group meetings and presentations across the island. She drove a modified car that could carry 300 books in shelves fitted onto the rear of her auto to give people a sense of the type of books that could be provided by a central service. Her report details how coordinated action functioned to establish branch libraries, create book lists, and refresh school libraries with good reading. It also highlights the parts played by the two main libraries at Charlottetown and Summerside as well as Women's Institutes in remoter area. Throughout the first years, Bateson was the catalyst for improved services.

There were 41,000 volumes in the main collection by 1935 with 23,517 registered borrowers--about 35% of the population. The 1935 annual circulation was 261,029. Because of the success of the demonstration, The Corporation provided additional funds and the government authorized library legislation creating a provincial library commission in April 1935. However, after the next provincial election, this Act was repealed by the new government, partly on the grounds that funding should be administered directly instead of by an appointed Commission. The report deals with legislative activity at the end (pp. 38-42).

The Prince Edward Island Libraries demonstration showed the potential for success of a province-wide library service. As well, the report offered interesting insights on the relationship of libraries and adult education. Nora Bateson had become acquainted with the library extension efforts of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, and begun to apply similar methods with the demonstration's study groups. A short chapter on this work indicates the variety of meetings and activities in particular Island subjects such as fox-farming, oyster culture, co-operation, and fishing. As well, the report concluded with comments on regional libraries that might be applied in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In June 1936, the demonstration ended and the libraries that had been created came under the direction of the Dept. of Education with limited funding in succeeding years. Unpublished records relating to the reading habits of participants in the successful creation of branches to reach people were digested and reported later in 1940. In retrospect, The Carnegie Library Demonstration documented a systematic scheme of library promotion and provided a blueprint for action as well as data that could be used for research purposes in A Regional Library and Its Readers issued in 1940. Nevertheless, Bateson's report became the basis for library development on the Island until the 1960s ushered in change.

In the adjacent province of Nova Scotia, the Superintendent of Education, Henry F. Munro, and Dr. James Tompkins, the founder of the Antigonish Movement, were anxious to establish better library service, especially in Cape Breton. Father Tompkins, together with Nora Bateson, issued a pamphlet--Why Not a Co-operative Library?--to convince Nova Scotians that a public library system could be built at a reasonable cost and operate effectively. In 1938, the province agreed to sponsor a provincial survey targeting existing conditions, facilities, regional systems, and suggesting a plan for future service. Nora Bateson was the logical choice to conduct the survey. A half-decade before, Libraries in Canada had scant praise for Nova Scotia libraries. In September-October 1937, Bateson found little change. The Citizens Free Library in Halifax lacked staff, finances, accommodation, and needed to be run on "up-to-date professional lines." She found much the same situation in Sydney. The majority of colleges and universities had less than 500 students and small collections. Library extension programs at Acadia and St. Francis Xavier were bright spots. There were 300,000 books in school libraries. Bateson concluded: "It seems reasonable to suppose that when the possibilities of public library service ... is made known, the numerous organizations which have already shown their interest will combine to lift libraries in Nova Scotia out of the amateur class and put them on an efficient professional basis."

To complete her report, Bateson highlighted the state of current library issues--adult readers, children's services, the need for trained librarians and staff, typical service costs, and county and regional organization that had been demonstrated in B.C. and P.E.I. A suggested plan for public library service was put forward: (1) appointed public library commissioners with authority to hire a director and oversee library development; (2) county or regional libraries funded locally with provincial aid and managed by district boards; (3) a library system for Cape Breton with headquarters at Sydney' and (4) improved provincial public library legislation. Nova Scotia already had an enabling Act (1937) to permit regional libraries, but no provision for commissioners, a library director, or designated powers. After considering the report, a new Act was passed in summer 1938 and Bateson hired as library Director of Libraries for Nova Scotia.

To promote and establish libraries, Bateson realized public relations and accurate information was essential. Thus, the small pamphlet, Libraries for Nova Scotia, began to make a regular appearance in hamlets, villages, and towns across the province. This booklet went through various printings before 1945. It included brief outlines on topics such as "Why We Need Libraries," "Information," "Books as Wage Earners," "Leisure-Time Reading," "Country-Wide Library Services," and "Nova Scotia." Because the Second World War intervened, Bateson and her staff spent years assisting the Canadian Legion in providing books to the armed forces in the Maritime region.  Library expansion in Nova Scotia would have to wait another decade for the plans formulated in Library Survey of Nova Scotia could be realized.

The regional surveys conducted in P.E.I. and Nova Scotia during the hard years of the Great Depression showed the success of coordinated library services and value of mobilizing public acceptance to advance libraries. The Carnegie funded projects presented a regional perspective in contrast to the national study, Libraries in Canada, which had detected little interest in libraries. The two studies clearly indicated there was a latent need and potential for public support when energetic efforts were made to introduce better collections and services on a regional scale. Unfortunately, economic conditions and the realities of wartime Canada blunted immediate efforts to implement the ideas presented by Nora Bateson and others. Associated library legislation was incomplete or lacking to permit the formation of county or regional entities for libraries. Potential aids, such as bookmobiles, were ruled out due to transportation difficulties during winter and were not available at this point. Yet, these reports were vital additions that charted library development and served as a basis for eventual library improvements in the Maritimes after the Second World War. Together, with other studies in the west and at the national level, they marked a new era in planning for library service.

Further reading:

Violet L. Coughlin, Larger Units of Public Library Service in Canada; With Particular Reference to the Provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press, 1968

Sue Adams, "Our Activist Past: Nora Bateson, Champion of Regional Libraries," Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research 4, no. 1 (2009). [accessed 2014-06-24]

Maxine K. Rochester, "Bringing Librarianship to Rural Canada in the 1930s: Demonstrations by Carnegie Corporation of New York," Libraries & Culture: a Journal of Library History 30 (1995): 366-90.

Nora Bateson : Biographies of Librarians and Information Professionals at the Ex Libris Association site [accessed 2014-06-24]

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review—A Regional Library and Its Readers (1940): Libraries and reading in Prince Edward Island

A Regional Library and Its Readers; A Study of Five Years of Rural Reading by H. B. Chandler and J.T. Croteau. New York: American Association for Adult Education, 1940. 136 p. tables, charts, and index.

When it first appeared, in 1940, after the outbreak of the Second World War, A Regional Library and Its Readers received little notice in Canadian library circles. Peacetime energies were being redirected to the nation's war effort and the establishment of military-camp libraries. An academic publication by the Director of Prince Edward Island Libraries (Henry Chandler) and a college professor (John Croteau) at Charlottetown's St. Dunstan's University was surely not cause for detailed discussion, especially if it was published in New York. It was an American review in the July issue of Library Quarterly that best recognized this innovative Canadian study's linkage of library circulation with the reading habits of rural Prince Edward Islanders and noted the trend to apply more scientific methodology to library activity.

Already, in the United States, a few library reading studies had appeared, notably an urban study by the Borough of Queen Public Library, New York, Woodside Does Read (1935), that presented statistical tables of responses to many questions posed to library readers. In the United Kingdom, more informal library reading responses were being captured in a few localities by volunteer observers participating in the Mass Observation project that sought to record everyday life in Britain beginning in 1937. In British Columbia, the Fraser Valley regional library demonstration gathered reading information after it commenced operations in 1930, but its results were not published or readily accessible. In retrospect, the data collected and analysis published by Chandler and Croteau compares favourably to its contemporary Anglo-American-Canadian counterparts despite some shortcomings noted by Library Quarterly.

What did Chandler and Croteau set out to do? Following the Carnegie funded regional library demonstration headed by Nora Bateson from 1933-36, the PEI government decided to carry on with the regional (actually provincial) library concept. Bateson's success had certainly given an affirmative reply to questions about the utility of regional libraries. Chandler and Croteau, using data gathered during the project and subsequent years, investigated an entirely different area -- the reading Islanders were doing. About 25,000 people borrowed a million books between 1933-38 and Chandler-Croteau, with the help of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics and PEI news and magazine agents, used the collected data extensively. They asked: who read library books? what did people read? which occupational groups made most use of the library? were there changes in reading habits during the five-year period, 1934-38? All these queries were new areas for exploration in Canadian library research.

Despite the innovative work in PEI, A Regional Library did not receive much attention in library histories until Maxine Rochester, "Bringing Librarianship to Rural Canada in the 1930s," Libraries & Culture 30, 4 (1995), 366-90 revisited library efforts in Depression era rural Canada and provided additional analysis in conjunction with the Fraser Valley project. These library projects were complementary to adult education activities, such as the formation of reading clubs. Rochester concluded:
The demonstrations had shown that there was an enormous book hunger in the rural areas, and that once a library service sufficiently financed and of an adequate population base was developed on a trial basis, the citizens were willing to pay for such a service through their taxes. The demonstrations dispelled any assumptions about reading interests of rural people being less sophisticated than people living in cities.
Re-reading A Regional Library can offer many insights. The chapter on Fiction Reading, for example, demonstrated the traditional desire by librarians to circulate the "best books." Library fiction was classed in three categories -- classics and "first-rate modern novels;" modern novels judged to be above the "usual run of fiction;" and lighter reading (mysteries, romances, westerns, etc.). The first two classes comprised 50% of library fiction stock and accounted for 16% of the total fiction circulation. The "lighter" novels (50% of the fiction total) accounted for 84% of the circulation. However, like all lists, one might question the categorization of authors: the book's appendix shows that Lucy Maud Montgomery, Raymond Knister, Joyce Cary, Booth Tarkington, and Jules Verne were just a few of novelists consigned to the lighter class that readers obviously preferred.

A Regional Library provides many interesting facts about rural PEI in the 1930s and adult education activities. Over a period of five years more than a quarter of the total island population registered at libraries to borrow books. Students and housewives comprised the largest number of library card holders -- almost 50 percent but the study concluded that educational attainment, not age or sex, was the prime factor for reading. After five years, total circulation annually reached about 250,000 for a population of 94,000, a significant stimulus to book use in a region where there were few bookstores and formal education usually stopped at junior high school (grades 8-10). Chandler and Croteau's work, in conjunction with Nora Bateson's two provincial east-coast works, The Carnegie Library Demonstration in Prince Edward Island, Canada, 1933-1936 (1936) and Library Survey of Nova Scotia (1938), clearly documented that libraries could make important societal contributions when organized in an efficient and cost-effective manner. These studies, together with others conducted during the Depression, formed a foundation for future growth across Canada.

An online full-text version is now available from the Hathi Trust without any restrictions.
 



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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review—Local Library, Global Passport by J. Patrick Boyer (2008)

Local Library, Global Passport: the Evolution of a Carnegie Library. By J. Patrick Boyer. Toronto : Blue Butterfly Book Publishing, 2008. 370 p, ill.; $34.95 hardcover, $22.95 paper,

       2008 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Bracebridge Carnegie library built with $10,000 granted by the philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. Patrick Boyer traces the evolution of local library service in Bracebridge (and to some extent in adjacent Muskoka towns) from 1874 to the present day with a local/global perspective as an overarching theme. The “library as community” and the library as “window on the world” provides a dual historical view to trace the library’s activity over 13 decades.

       The author covers Bracebridge’s library history from the founding of the mechanics’ institute in 1874 to the virtual library of the 21st century in a series of chapters. In the pioneer days of Muskoka, books and newspapers were scarce ingredients in the promotion of intellectual life and the town’s political, business, and educational leaders—Victorian males who believed in progress and community development—established and promoted the town’s public library. By 1901, the municipal council had assumed control of the older institute and authorized a free public library supported by taxes. By 1908, the library board members and supportive citizens had erected a Carnegie library on Manitoba St., a distinctive building that would remain essentially unchanged for three generations. The “library as place” represented a cautious and stable, sometimes censorious, locale for residents to read about their changing country and world through war, depression, and postwar expansion. Some have recounted their library experience and how it helped them adapt and succeed.

       Behind this interpretation, Dr. Boyer reveals that the library possessed an internal “dynamic stability” that helped it survive, then thrive in the second half of the 20th century. Its staff was prepared to apply new technology and develop new resources; and its board members or local politicians ready to finance new endeavours. In Canada’s Centennial Year, the library was modestly renovated and in 1984/85 the Carnegie library was completely restored and expanded to keep pace with the town’s development. In the next two decades, the library’s catalog was computerized and by 2005 the Internet was no longer a novel experience. The virtual library, a portal to international knowledge, was set to dwarf the previous century’s reliance on book collections as a window. But, as Boyer states, the book remains alive and well-positioned to entertain and inform readers.

       Local Library, Global Passport (now associated with Dundurn Press) recounts the work of many people who believed in the value of library service. Quotes and illustrations provide a tangible view of the library, its librarians, and trustees as well as local community leaders. Various chapters offer insight into the library’s community role as an important cultural resource linked to place and identity. While Bracebridge provides the focus, its citizens — adults and children, students, seniors, new Canadians, people in need of outreach or special services, even local prisoners — are groups that the library has sought to serve. Dr. Boyer, whose family has been closely related to the library for many years, has successfully recounted the library’s history and offers insights that can be applied to many small Ontario town libraries. Along the way, his book is a good read and a valuable addition to Ontario’s growing corpus of library histories even though the primary source for his history, the minutes of library meetings for several decades, disappeared without a trace many years ago.

       After a century of Dominion Days and Canada Days, the library continues as an essential community asset, reason enough to celebrate every year.

Originally posted in March 2009