Showing posts with label library and archives canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label library and archives canada. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


As the National Library of Canada (NLC) moved inexorably to its golden anniversary in 2003, it was still a viable institution despite years of cutback management. In line with neoliberal philosophy, services had been reduced or eliminated (e.g. the popular Multilingual service) but many basic functions remained that made it a recognizable national entity. Although it was aging technology, AMICUS, Canada's national database, contained 25,000,000 records for more than 1,000 Canadian libraries. The NLC's Union Catalogue was a reliable source for bibliographic information and locations for books and periodicals that could be used by other libraries. The NLC's comprehensive Canadiana collection was largely due to Legal Deposit Provisions whereby Canadian publishers were required by law to send, as a general rule, two copies of all published works in various formats. The Library's Canadian Cataloging in Publication program was a collaborative effort with publishers and other libraries that permitted books to be catalogued pre-publication. The Canadian Theses service coordinated the microfiche reproduction and loan of theses on a timely basis. The NLC's Canadian Book Exchange Centre offered a utilitarian service to libraries for the distribution and exchange of surplus publications. These, and other services, aligned the NLC with other major Canadian libraries on a reciprocal basis. Together with the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI), comprehensive national library services from Ottawa were available for Canadians and others working beyond Canadian borders.

For the public at large and researchers the old building on 395 Wellington Street shared with the National Archives remained a valuable service point. The second floor Reading Room allowed for consultation of 'closed-stack' resources from the general collection by retrievals submitted through an on-site AMICUS. The Music and Rare Book Divisions provided in-depth reference, referral, and consultative services to Canadian and foreign researchers, libraries and organizations. The Reference and Information Services Division provided reference in Canadiana and Canadian studies to researchers and libraries within Canada and abroad. Inter-library Loan filled requests for materials by lending a copy, providing a photocopy, or giving referrals to other libraries that might loan items.

The fourth National Librarian, Dr. Roch Carrier, sought various improvements. He encouraged expanding the reach of the NLC to Canadians through travelling exhibitions and the newly formed Digital Library of Canada, an effort to document Canadian heritage and culture and to provide access on the NLC website. Carrier also advocated for literacy and reading through improved school libraries. His effort to stem the leaks at 395 Wellington was more successful when the roof was repaired in 2002. Two years earlier, more than 2,500 publications had been damaged after a broken pipe allowed water to enter three floors. The NLC's administration was changing and its staffing attempting to accommodate changes, such as the Internet and the advent of digital publishing. Nevertheless, ominous clouds were gathering. It wasn't just the frequent newspaper stories of water damage that were endangering Canada's national collections at '395' or the atrophied budget NLC was struggling with that were cause for alarm. The NLC's parent body, the Department of Canadian Heritage, a neoliberal creature in search of prominence, continued to take a 'fresh look' at Canada's cultural institutions and heritage.

While some officials, such as Auditor-General Sheila Fraser, stated many federal heritage buildings (including the NLC) were in a poor condition and recommended the government 'do something' before cultural heritage resources might be lost to future generations, Canadian Heritage was developing new concepts. Sheila Copps, the Minister and MP for Hamilton East, preferred to ignore the problems inherent in merging the NLC with the National Archives, something the 1999 report by John English had emphasized along with his recommendations on updating mandates of the library and archives. In fact, on October 21st, 2002, minister provided a simplistic, inaccurate rationale for MPs when she rose to explain the proposed merger in the context of reduced funding for the Canadian Archival Information Network.

"Mr. Speaker, we are of course talking about two different issues when we refer to the National Archives and the National Library. Three years ago, it was decided that it would be a good thing to merge these two institutions to present to the general public everything is part of the wealth of historical information belonging to the National Archives and the National Library. This is what we will do."

During the Parliamentary debates on the merger (Bills C-36 and its successor C-8) a few MPs actually got beyond the political obfuscation and bombastic visionary goals of a long-term plan to combine administration, storage, and preservation work in an area around the former National Archives' preservation centre in Gatineau and to establish a Portrait Gallery of Canada. Critics addressed the most obvious and long-standing problems, lack of funding and intertwined mandates. Also, NLC was a weak player in national information policy development and infrastructure. The general perception that a new administrative entity, Library and Archives Canada, would get enhanced visibility, relevance and accessibility carried the day. A single agency would allow for improved and innovative changes on a collaborative basis for the humanities and social sciences. Alternative schemes, such as combining CISTI (the country's 'other' national library) and the NLC were not considered. "Toward a New Kind of Knowledge Institution" outlined typical promotional views for Canadian heritage operations in Ottawa. All would be well in time: there would be
  • synergy of collections, skills and constituencies;
  • easier access to integrated holdings, both for researchers and for millions of ordinary Canadians;
  • enhanced service delivery to Canadians; and
  • better use of scarce resources.
Later, in summer 2004, LAC released a discussion document, Creating a New Kind of Knowledge Institution, about key future directions and initiatives to be taken. A new era was beginning--Canada proposed to be a leader in new knowledge (or memory) institution implementation with information technology as a major driver. An older era, still viable in other countries and capable of harnessing technology in its own manner (even today in 2015), was out of favour in Canada's capital. Time--perhaps a decade or two?--would reveal the wisdom behind the merger and plans for the future that might be celebrated in their own right.

Further information on post-2004 developments

Library and Archives Canada at Wikipedia
Timeline: Library and Archives Canada Service Decline after 2004 at Ex Libris Association website
Slide History of CISTI, 1924-2009 available on Internet Archive

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review—The Future of the National Library of Canada in the Nineteen Eighties (1979)

National Library of Canada, The future of the National Library of Canada = L'avenir de la Bibliothèque nationale du Canada. Ottawa, 1979; ix, 88, 93, ix p.

At the end of the 1970s the most thoughtful statement about the goals and services of Canada's National Library (NLC) appeared in a short bilingual ninety-page publication, The Future of the National Library of Canada. The culmination of three years of consultation and review, The Future contained various recommendations, eleven in all, about where the NLC might head in the 1980s. Throughout the report's pages, it is clear that the National Librarian, Guy Sylvestre, believed that strengthened programs, better financing, further organizational growth, and cooperative work with Canadian libraries would benefit the country's informational needs on a collective basis. The study recognized that Canadian library resource sharing was taking place in a decentralized national framework with distributed leadership but it sought to strengthen the NLC's role.

The Canadian equivalent of a national library, born in 1953, had been a latecomer on the stage of national development. The NLC had grown slowly and focused on bibliographic work, collections in the humanities-arts-social sciences, and issues such as legal deposit. It was one principal library in the midst of other major research libraries, regional library developments, changing library technology, and shifting priorities. In Ottawa itself, there were other federal libraries--the Library of Parliament, CISTI, the Agriculture Library, and library of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics--with 'national' roles. The growth of university research collections from the mid-1960s had been dramatic and rivaled the NLC's ability to collect and distribute information resources. While the NLC's consultation and review process, 1976-79, was lengthy, the list of contributions was short--just 33 briefs submitted in total (12 from individuals). For some, the report was about the Library reviewing itself.

The Future recommendations outlined new directions, organization, and objectives. Some were extensions of current activities, others pointed to fresh courses of action. The principal thrusts moved in two directions: networking of resources and bibliographic networking. There was to be an expansion of legal deposit to cover maps and microforms; improved research collections; more emphasis on support for Canadian studies; and improved interloan of NLC holdings across Canada. The report proposed a restructuring of the NLC's duties viz a viz its partner, the Public Archives of Canada: it recommended that musical papers should be transferred to the NLC's Music Division; that the Archive's national map collection should become a new section of the NLC; and that literary manuscripts would become the preserve of the NLC. The study called upon the Secretary of State initiate a review to rationalize the functions and responsibilities of the Archives and the Library.

The Future recommendations for bibliographic networking were less developed. It proposed to build a decentralized bibliographic network in conjunction with other computerized centres. The NLC would fund research for development studies and pilot projects and strengthen its own online information retrieval services with new databases. The NLC would be prepared to establish network management and governance groups in a collaborative fashion. It recognized the NLC was underdeveloped in computerized services compared to the National Research Council's CISTI Library and some universities, e.g. Toronto, but was willing to be an important centre in this type of activity.  To this end, it was suggested that the National Research Council Act be amended to allow the incorporation of CISTI into the National Library structure and that its funding be transferred to the NLC. Needless to say, this proposal was contentious and likely doomed to failure from the outset from institutional and client perspectives.

A final section of the report came as no surprise: a separate building for the Public Archives (or equivalent existing spaces) was put forward. The Archives had already drawn up a similar proposal for government scrutiny. Personnel in the two institutions currently were residing in several buildings.

The Future stirred up opposition and unease. The Association of Canadian Archivists criticized some proposals based on archival practice and the threat of removing conservation work to the library. The Public Archives itself opposed recommendations that sought to clarify roles based on faulty distinctions between library and archival work. The reception in the library community was less adversarial but nevertheless skeptical. For example, NLC's selection and testing of the DOBIS system (Dortmunder/Bibliothekssystem), a mainframe computerized library information and management system originally designed by IBM, was thought by some to be less 'user friendly' than alternative North American systems even though the federal government version was designed for Canadian use. The hierarchy of national and regional nodes, linked to individual libraries, remained an elusive, unwelcome goal. Regional groups, such as the Ontario Council of University Libraries, had their own problems: UNICAT/TELICAT, a co-operative cataloguing service enabling shared access to catalogue records across all OCUL members, was dissolved in 1980 after disappointing participation. There were many options on the networking table and connectivity with American research libraries was on the horizon with the development of the Ohio College Library Center after 1978. Nonetheless, NLC recommendations on expanding inter-lending and financing projects were welcomed by library groups and associations, such as the Canadian Library Association.

Although the more controversial recommendations were never implemented, the NLC was able to build upon others. DOBIS proved to be a reliable system and continued in use by federal libraries into the 1990s. Interloan eventually expanded. But development was less a matter of establishing policies and priorities than it was of budgetary considerations. It was clear that federal funding for NLC was ebbing in the early 1980s. An average annual inflation rate of 6% continued to erode increases as the government grappled with rising prices between 1981-90. Guy Sylvestre's national vision for enhanced NLC resources and programs was not to be, partly due to financing and the 'autonomy' that most major Canadian libraries desired.  The bold strokes in The Future of the National Library of Canada were rapidly fading by time Sylvestre's term of office was ending in 1983--things were going to be different. The wisdom of more pragmatic measures would soon surface in NLC reports and policy directions.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Canada's centennial, 1967, was not just a time to reflect on the country's past but a time to look forward as well. After the $13 million Public Archives and National Library Building on Wellington Street opened in June, both archivists and librarians had better facilities and more staff to provide their services. The National Library had grown to more than 200 workers. When Dr. W.K. Lamb, the Dominion Archivist and National Librarian, retired in 1968, a decision was made to appoint separate directors for the two institutions. The new National Librarian was Guy Sylvestre, an author, civil servant, and Associate Director of the Library of Parliament from 1956-68. Dr. Sylvestre had worked in Ottawa for a quarter of a century and possessed a good knowledge of library activity across Canada. Now he was in a position to exploit his contacts in the nation's capital and develop ideas about the National Library (NLC) that would make it more relevant in the expanding Canadian information environment.

The first major development on Dr. Sylvestre's watch was a revised National Library Act, which came into force in September 1969. The National Librarian was charged with coordinating the library services of departments, branches, and agencies of the Government and authorized to enter into agreements with libraries, associations, and institutions "in and outside Canada." One positive result from this was the eventual exchange of MARC (MAchine Readable Cataloging) magnetic tape records with the Library of Congress and other national libraries. Automation projects and standards became essential building blocks for library progress after 1970. 'Systems' became a library catchword, spawning many acronyms and a Research and Planning Branch at the NLC staffed by programmers and analysts. Standards were also a priority; thus, the CAN/MARC format was developed for English and French language records and international cataloging activities coordinated by a new Office of Library Standards established in 1973.

 While the NLC explored and developed computerized systems and standards, it also began a fundamental reorganization of its collections and introduced new services for Canadian libraries, the federal government, and the public. Some notable highlights were:
  •  creation of a Music Division in 1970 under the leadership of Dr. Helmut Kallmann, who built an impressive collection of Canadian manuscripts, printed materials, and audio recordings. When he retired in 1987, the NLC's music collection was internationally recognized. Kallmann received the Order of Canada in 1986.
  • establishment of a Library Documentation Centre to capture information on library development for use of Canadian librarians and libraries. The Centre began publishing an annual Directory of Library Associations in Canada in 1974.
  • formation of Canadian Book Exchange Centre (1973) to acquire and distribute government publications to Canada a few foreign countries. By 1975, the Centre was handling a million items annually.
  • beginning of historical bibliographic work on pre-1900 Canadiana emanating from a new Retrospective National Bibliography Division.
  • establishment of a Division for the Visually and Physically Handicapped, which initially attempted to provide reference services and cooperate with libraries and organizations on various projects.
  • start of work by the Federal Libraries Liaison Office (est. 1970) to improve the coordination of Government of Canada library services. After an extensive survey of almost 200 federal libraries, this office recommended formation of a Council of Federal Libraries which came into being in 1976. The Office and Council were key elements in allowing the NLC to coordinate federal library activities and in offering its constituent government members to work on problems on a cooperative basis.
  •  forming of a Rare Books and Manuscripts Division with a reading room in 1973 to organize rare materials, offer reference, develop polices on acquisitions, and preserve collections.
  • initiating a Children's Literature Service to coordinate national activities. It began issuing supplements to Sheila Egoff and Alvine Bélisle's  Notable Canadian Children's Books in 1977.
  • inauguration of a Multilingual Biblioservice in 1973: this multicultural project acquired, cataloged, and loaned books in languages other than French and English to Canadian libraries (mostly public) for two decades.
  • commencement in 1973 of Selective Dissemination of Information (SDI) services concentrating on the humanities and social sciences. SDI was designed to offer timely information through the use of burgeoning computerized data bases, e.g. Psychological Abstracts and ERIC.
  • establishment of a Collections Development Branch with responsibility to systematize selections for the NLC, collect information on policies of major libraries, and offer assistance in resource development of Canadian libraries.
  • implementation of Canadian Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) a cooperative project which provided publishers with basic cataloging information and reduced original cataloging costs.
  • assignment of standard numbers for serials and books -- ISSN and ISBN -- to register and identify Canadian publications in an international publishing environment.
  •  expansion of its own interlending activities and locational service for libraries
It was a busy an exciting period at the NLC. Legal deposit was expanded, important exhibitions held, international conferences hosted, and many studies published, such as Roll Back the Years, a history of Canadian recorded sound. Staffing expanded dramatically, from about 200 in 1967 to more than 450 by the mid-1970s. Likewise, the operating budget rose from just less than $1.5 million to almost $10 million. However, there were challenges on the horizon. The main building was no longer adequate to house collections and staff. The Public Archives was similarly faced with space problems. Automation of the Union Catalogue was only just beginning. The NLC continued to share its Canadian mandate with the newly formed Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information, a creation of the National Research Council, which opened its own building in 1974 for more than a million items and a staff of more than 100. Federal government initiatives were now more explicit about the need for long-range plans and multi-year financing; as a  result incremental change was becoming more difficult to implement in budget requests.

Consequently, Dr. Sylvestre launched a comprehensive review of the NLC's mandate and activities in 1976. He was hoping to develop a consensus about the future of the NLC with broad-based input from the Canadian library community and to provide an appropriate plan of action for the 1980s. Regional initiatives by other library agencies, like UNICAT/TELECAT, a bilingual automated cataloguing system used by libraries in Quebec and Ontario, were in development. The NLC had grown dramatically, but could it sustain its services and continue to expand? A certain amount of skepticism had arisen in the early 1970s about cooperative library projects--these efforts often did not deliver the same benefits to all participants and could engender divisive debates.

In the developing funding climate of governments and public administrators at all levels 'financial restrain' was becoming a byword and 'cutback management' would soon enter the administrative lexicon. Annual inflation rates of 7-11% rapidly eroded revenue increases. Dr. Sylvestre was known on occasion (e.g., at the Canadian Library Association's Edmonton conference in 1978) to lament that NLC funding was inadequate to the many tasks at hand. Was the NLC's glass to be "half full or half empty;" would there be a "silver lining" in the clouds? Much was riding on the results of its consultative assessment and resultant report, The Future of the National Library of Canada.

Friday, October 18, 2013


Sixty years ago, in January 1953, Canada's National Library Act, took effect. The original statute was passed on May 27, 1952 during the 6th session of 21st Canadian Parliament under the Liberal leader, Prime Minister Louis St-Laurent. The year 1952 was not uneventful. The country was emerging from the immediate postwar era in a more prosperous condition; Elizabeth II became Queen of Canada; Canadian armed forces were fighting in Korea; CBC television went on the air; and a national Old Age Security scheme was introduced. For most Canadians, the National Library was a lesser consideration in nation building.

However, the idea of assembling the greatest collection of literature on Canada in the world and making it available to all Canadians had been a important recommendation of the influential Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences (aka the Massey Report) when it was released in 1951. The report was clear about its national importance:
"That a National Library finds no place among the federal institutions which we have been required to examine is a remarkable fact which has been occasion of much sharp comment during our sessions. Over ninety organizations have discussed this matter, some in great detail, urging that what has been called a 'national disgrace' be remedied."

And the government agreed. It introduced a bill within a year to establish such an institution. When Dr. Kaye Lamb became National Librarian as well as Dominion Archivist expectations were high. Many librarians and researchers felt an immediate need for a large collection, a union catalogue of holdings of major Canadian libraries, and a national bibliography to replace the effort Toronto Public Library had begun in the 1920s. They wanted coordination among libraries and leadership on matters that required a Canadian voice or liaison with other external agencies like the Library of Congress or UNESCO. What did the new legislation mandate or allow? The 1952 statute was a succinct four-page document with thirteen sections.

Some formalities were dealt with in the first seven sections -- a few definitions (e.g. "book"), appointment of a National Librarian and an Assistant National Librarian (Dr. Raymond Tanghe was selected), establishment of a National Library consisting of "all books placed in the care and custody of the National Librarian," and provision for staff in accordance with the Civil Service Act. An Advisory Council was also mandated (sec. 8) to be composed of three ex officio members -- the National Librarian along with the General and Parliamentary Librarians from the Parliamentary Library that had lost many books in a fire in 1952 -- and twelve people representing all Canadian provinces. In mid-twentieth century Canada, important federal institutions featured advisory groups that provided advice and could question policy. Dr. Lamb had already formed a similar advisory committee in 1948 to look into the formation of a national library.

Section 10 was really the heart of the matter. The powers and duties of the National Librarian were as follows: a) the collection of books; b) compilation of a national union catalogue of library holdings which could be utilized for interlibrary lending; c) publication of a national bibliography of works on Canada and by Canadians to make known the country's identity and activities; d) lending, selling, disposing, and exchanging books with institutions in Canada and elsewhere; e) making the Library available to the government and Canadians "to the greatest possible extent" consistent with sound administration. Section 11 established a deposit scheme whereby Canadian publishers were obliged to send copies of books to the Library. It allowed the cabinet Minister having oversight of the National Library to regulate the deposit scheme. Previously, publishers had sent copies to the Parliamentary Library under the Copyright Amendment Act, 1931. Sections 12-13 established an account for Parliamentary grants for books, a special account for donations and bequests, and required the National Librarian to file a report each year.

In the subsequent decade, Dr. Lamb worked assiduously to develop library services in conjunction with its partner, the Public Archives of Canada. At first, Library services, the Bibliographical Centre, then the new divisions of cataloguing, reference, and ordering operated in the Public Archives building on Sussex Drive. By 1955, plans were underway to build a new four-storey building on Wellington Street for two million books. This facility would also include resources and staff from the Public Archives. Both institutions were 'bulging at the seams.' Dr. Lamb believed the national archives and library should operate complementary activities such as information services, a historical reference collection of books, maps, newspapers, and acquisitions, within a single building. It was a matter of logistics to locate the activities of the two professions in one building for better public access and for economical operation. In 1956, the homeless library moved to a new records storage warehouse at Tunney's Pasture.

Things moved slowly, very slowly. On Dominion Day 1959, a Toronto Globe and Mail editorial strongly suggested "the Government should now consider giving special priority to the National Library project. The library is needed in the life of this country, and there can be no library in any real sense until there is a building with shelves to put books on, where people can get at them." The government eventually designated the building as a national Centennial project and authorized a budget for its construction. Just in time for Dominion Day, on June 20th 1967, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson opened the new Public Archives and National Library Building.

The Massey Report recommendations and Dr. Lamb's vision of national library service had taken shape over fifteen long years. During this time Canadian society and libraries were changing dramatically. Bi-culturalism was flourishing: two months after opening the Wellington St. building, the Quebec National Assembly enacted provisions for a 'national' library in Montreal to collect materials about Quebec, books published in Quebec and by Quebec authors. The Bibliothèque nationale du Québec was mandated to produce its own bibliographic record. As well, scientific research across Canada was escalating rapidly and the National Library had already relinquished its role in these extensive areas. A few miles along the Ottawa River, the National Research Council library formally became Canada's "National Science Library" shortly before the 1967 celebrations.

Government decisions, telecommunications, computers, and new media were altering the operation and scope of libraries in Ottawa and throughout the country. The task at hand would be the development of new ideas, resources, and roles for the National Library.

Further Reading:

View the CBC coverage of the National Library opening with Lloyd Robertson at
The National Library Act, 1952 is available at (Revised Statutes of Canada 1952, chap. 330)
The Massey Commission briefs and report are available at

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


In the midst of the Great Depression a Carnegie funded project to study Canadian libraries appeared. In a hundred and fifty pages this report, authored by John Ridington, George H. Locke, and Mary J.L. Black, surveyed the landscape of library service across the country. Its two chapters on government libraries still make sober reading today. The surveyors reported there was “very little enthusiasm for either a scholarly or a democratic book service in most of the libraries of the various government of Canada.”

Indifference and neglect continued to prevail in government circles on the topic of a national library. Libraries in Canada (1933) did not issue a rallying cry for a national library—it was content with offering advice that a national librarian should be appointed and put in charge of all the libraries maintained by the Dominion government. In this way, all their activities could be coordinated, their holdings catalogued and made available nationally over a period of time. A system of legal deposit would ensure a comprehensive collection of printed resources. Eventually, a new building could be erected to house material and provide reference and reading services. It was an opportunity, but one unlikely to be a priority in the early 1930s.

But the times did change. A Royal Commission on Dominion-Provincial Relations was struck in 1937 to examine the underlying financing for the federal and provincial basis of Confederation and the distribution of legislative powers across Canada. Amongst the many submissions were two on forming a national library by the British Columbia and Ontario Library Associations in March and April 1938. These briefs envisioned four national functions. There would be a central repository of library information together with a national union catalogue of holdings. As well, the national library would issue books and liaise with cultural organizations, such as the National Museum, National Gallery, Public Archives, and Library of Parliament. The Commission sympathized with these points and stated a national library was within the federal mandate when it reported in 1940.

During the Second World War, the Canadian Library Council and prominent university librarians continued to press the case from Queen’s and Manitoba. The Ontario Library Review published E. Cockburn Kyte’s “A National Library for Canada,” in 1939 and Elizabeth Dafoe argued for “A National Library” in the May 1944 issue of Food for Thought. The General Librarian of Parliament, Felix Desrochers, added his support in the Canadian Historical Review in 1944. But it was the Canadian Library Council, the predecessor to the Canadian Library Association, that best defined the activities that a national library might undertake in its visionary Canada Needs Libraries in 1945:
  • collecting national literature and history cooperatively with the Dominion Archives, National Gallery, and other national bodies;
  • assembling a central national reference collection;
  • lending items to other libraries;
  • providing microfilm, photostat, and other copying services for clients;
  • compiling a union catalogue to identify materials available through inter-library loan on a national scale;
  • co-ordinating book information with audio-visual aids in co-operation with the National Film Board, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, etc;
  • administering collections of Canadian books for exhibition abroad
  • publishing bibliographical works about Canada, e.g. Canadian Catalogue of Books,Canadian Periodical Index, etc.
After the formation of the Canadian Library Association in June 1946, these points were adopted and resubmitted in an influential brief to the federal government in December 1946. This particular effort, A National Library for Canada, elaborated on the benefits of a national library and the broad support the concept had garnered from other national groups: the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Historical Association, the Canadian Political Science Association, and the Social Science Research Council of Canada. This grouping of professional organizations was a influential catalyst in convincing federal Members of Parliament in the value of a national library. There were many benefits to Canada (p. 11):
A National Library for Canada would contribute to the organization of precise knowledge, thus ensuring the most intelligent use of the country’s resources, human and material.
The existence of a research centre on Canada would encourage the writing not only of factual works useful to the legislator, administrator, business man, farmer, student, but also of imaginative works based on research which would help to interpret Canada to Canadians and also to the world.
The prestige of the National Library and its many activities would stimulate the whole library movement. Individual libraries and citizens in all part s of the country would receive assistance from its publications and travelling exhibitions, its reference and cataloguing services, and from the speeding-up of inter-library loans through use of its union catalogues.
The international services of the National Library would play an essential role in Canada’s expanding international relations.
To sum up, the National Library would be a centre of intellectual life of Canada, and a guarantee that the sources of its history will be preserved, and a symbol of our national concern with the things of the mind and the spirit.
To expedite matters, the CLA's 1946 brief concluded that a national service could begin immediately and be housed in temporary quarters: "the National Library can begin as an Information Bureau and Bibliographical Centre, while at the same time, the investigation of the whole question of the ultimate organization of the National Library, its book stack and the building that will be needed to house its collections and its services is continued" (p. 3). The brief urged the government to form a committee reporting to a cabinet minister(s) to investigate its establishment. By June 1948 a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament approved a plan for a Bibliographic Centre as the first step towards the creation of a National Library.

In September 1948, Dr. W. Kaye Lamb was appointed Dominion Archivist, a position which he accepted on condition that he should pave the way for the establishment of a national library. Dr. Lamb had served as Provincial Archivist and Librarian of British Columbia from 1934-40 before becoming Librarian of the University of British Columbia. He had helped author British Columbia’s brief to the Royal Commission in March 1938. He set to work by establishing the Canadian Bibliographic Centre in May 1950. Dr. Lamb presented another statement to the Massey Commission in support of a national library program, a project the Royal Commission on Arts, Letters, and Sciences (1951) endorsed. Then, Dr. Lamb helped draft the National Library Act passed by Parliament in 1952 and officially became Canada’s first National Librarian on 1 January 1953.

Further Reading:
A National Library for Canada; A Brief Presented to the Government of Canada by The Canadian Library Association/Association Canadienne des Bibliotheques, The Royal Society of Canada, The Canadian Historical Association, The Canadian Political Science Association, and The Social Science research Council of Canada, December, 1946 is available online at Library and Archives Canada as a submission to the Massey Commission.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Just over a century ago Lawrence Burpee published an article entitled “A Plea for a National Library” in Andrew MacPhail’s University Magazine, an influential literary magazine to which many leading Canadian academics, politicians, and authors contributed. Burpee came up with a great idea: he suggested that the Dominion government create a national library in Ottawa close to Parliament Hill. Just like other European and American countries! Burpee obviously was dissatisfied that Canada lagged behind other nations. He asked: “Are we Canadians either so inferior, or so superior, to the rest of the world, that we cannot use, or do not need, such an institution?” Obviously, Burpee was a progressive thinker!

You can read his entire article on my main website. Some parts of “A Plea” are inspirational, even in today’s jaded atmosphere about the benefits of government institutions. Only the more important points from Burpee’s piece are highlighted here. What did he propose? He wanted Parliament to enact legislation to create a national library, to erect a suitable building to house national collections, and for the library to serve as both a reference and circulating library. He felt the new entity should work with the National Archives, which had been established in 1872, and with the Library of Parliament: “What is really needed is a Canadian national library, working in harmony with the two existing institutions, but filling its own field, a field which belongs neither to the national archives nor to the legislative library.”

Burpee was impressed with the workings of the Library of Congress in Washington. A smaller Canadian equivalent could be started by removing more general items from the Library of Parliament that did not suit parliamentary use, thereby establishing the working core of a national collection, about 200,000 books he estimated. By housing the national library close to Parliament Hill, a synergy of sorts could be built by employing new ideas and new technologies. “The national library would then be within easy reach of the archives, the Library of Parliament, and all the government departments, and, as has been done in Washington, it could, if necessary, be connected with the other government buildings by pneumatic tubes, for the conveyance of both messages and books.” Of course, the national library could lend to major libraries across Canada, both public and college ones.  At a time when Canadian college research libraries were meager in content and free public library service in short supply, even in major cities, his proposal was a cogent one.

Nonetheless, sufficient support for Burpee’s vision was short lived. The Dominion government had more immediate considerations, like equipping the newly founded Canadian navy, and fighting an bitterly contested election. Forty years on, Burpee was still pressing for a national library. He penned a short article, “Only Canada has no National Library” in Saturday Night on August 21, 1943, a few years before he died. He had a dream but did not live to see its fruition.

But others took up his cause. Libraries in Canada, a national study conducted by John Riddington, George H. Locke, and Mary J.L. Black, which was released in 1933, also argued the merits of a national library. Later, after the Second World War, the Canadian Library Association, in conjunction with other national organizations, issued a call for its formation in Ottawa. The idea Burpee advocated was too sound to remain a vision—it would become a reality in 1953.