Showing posts with label library history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label library history. Show all posts

Friday, October 21, 2016


The history of Canadian university and college libraries remains an understudied subject. To be sure, the "golden age" of rapid expansion of facilities and progressive professional development after 1960 has attracted attention. But, despite decades of interaction between Canada's educated elite (students, administrators, and faculty) and campus libraries and librarians, the period prior to 1960 is mostly the record of individual librarians (usually directors), iconic buildings, and underdeveloped collections. In the general history of all Canadian libraries that emphasizes the public library movement, the Carnegie building program between 1900-25, regional library growth after the 1930s, the postwar formation of the Canadian Library Association (1946) and establishment of the National Library (1953), and the dramatic contrast between library development in Quebec and English-speaking provinces, there seem to be no major events or themes of similar consequence pertaining to libraries in higher education.

In the legacy of Carnegie philanthropy, too, colleges and universities reside outside the usual historiographical library tradition. For example, there was only one Canadian library, Victoria in Toronto, that benefited from Carnegie building grants for university libraries prior to World War I. However, there is one significant period when the Carnegie Corporation of New York contributed significantly to the development of Canadian university and college libraries. During the Great Depression (1932 to 1935), 34 libraries in institutions of higher education shared in book grants totaling $214,800 (approximately $4,000,00 in 2016) as a result of a national (Canada and Newfoundland) examination conducted by an advisory group established by the Corporation. The ways in which the Canadian Advisory Group investigated and inspected potential recipients, evaluated whether they complied with conditions set, and distributed grants typically followed the policies and procedures established by an earlier American Advisory Group funded by the Corporation. Carnegie and university records document how financial aid was awarded and directed to the advancement of undergraduate print collections. Our sources can also be used to study the Canadian group in relation to the role of American philanthropic college library work, attempts by Canadian administrators to adapt library collections and organization to local circumstances, and trends in the improvement of undergraduate library services on a national scale.

You can read my article on this interesting, mostly unknown story and its contribution to the development of Canadian libraries in higher education in the latest fall 2016 issue of Historical Studies in Education/Revue d'histoire de l'éducation. HSE covers all aspects of education, from preschool to university education, informal and formal education, and methodological and historiographical issues.

The Carnegie book program was of short duration. For the first time on a national scale, it drew attention to the need to improve undergraduate library resources and elevate the status of the library in educational institutions. The book grants were tied to the caliber of local library services and looked for a number of effects and results.

  •  to awaken university administrators to the potential of a good library;
  • to provide books required for collateral reading in connection with the courses and materials faculty designated for their own instructional needs;
  • to promote the library more as a service-oriented partner with faculty and less as a passive repository of books;
  • to supply books for voluntary student reading and encouragement of their use;
  • to employ professionally educated librarians to ensure that acquisitions could be easily accessible through proper cataloguing and classification systems;
  • to promote wide-ranging book selection covering all fields of knowledge;
  • to educate students in the use of library resources, thereby better integrating holdings with academic programs.
Of course, there were many different results across Canada. In a few cases, universities reorganized their libraries to more effectively serve students. New undergraduate reading areas (sometimes called junior divisions) were established to house new holdings. A few major careers, e.g. Marjorie Sherlock from Alberta, were begun with the book stimulus program. On the whole, for a period prior to the Second World War the Carnegie program fostered library development in different ways and heightened awareness of the library's potential to undertake new directions that had not previously been in evidence. After 1945, many universities and colleges would revisit the library ideas that were planted in the difficult Depression years.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


"Building Canadian Electronic Libraries: The Experience in Ontario Public Libraries, 1960-2010" by Lorne D. Bruce. Article published in LIBRARIES IN THE EARLY 21ST CENTURY. VOLUME 1, AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE [pp. 92-104], edited on behalf of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions by Dr. Ravindra N. Sharma. Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter Saur, 2012.ix, 398 p.; ill.; map.

Years ago, shortly after the disastrous financial depression of 2008-09, I was asked to write about the Canadian experience with electronic libraries in the last half of the 20th century. There are few such studies in Canadian library history, but it was agreed that I would contribute a paper on Ontario's public library experience with automation, electronic-virtual-digital libraries, and Library 2.0. Of course, a provincial outline must incorporate national and international technological developments. I tried to balance my article within a chronological framework that would identify key trends, persons, groups, and technical developments. But the 'whole story' of Canadian library technical advances (and setbacks) remains to be researched, documented, and published. A short article of fifteen pages must focus on the main issues and events.

The general editor for this undertaking by IFLA, Dr. Ravinda Sharma, who was Dean of the Monmouth University Library at this time, strove to gather and convey the different approaches many countries have taken to achieve electronic library proficiency, a difficult task indeed. The first volume (2012) represented the history and development of library work of developed nations and the developing world chapter by chapter. A second volume followed, one covering additional countries describing the modern history, development of libraries and library technology. The two volumes are a good source for international librarianship and comparative history.

The development of electronic processing and digital services in Ontario's public libraries for half a century began slowly in the postwar period. By 1960, visionary concepts were beginning to coalesce into practical solutions. Toronto Public Library, under the leadership of H.C. Campbell, was particularly active in thinking about applying new technology to in-house work, especially technical processing. At a national level, the National Library and Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information were prominent exponents of computerized applications and potential networking in the 1970s. For public libraries in general, the establishment of a Network Development Office in Toronto, funded by the province, marked an important step in the move towards cooperative planning in regions and in the province shortly before 1980.

Less than a decade later, the province of Ontario funded two major conferences--Libraries 2000 and the Electronic Library--that may be regarded as idea-generating and synthesizing efforts at a time when 'second generation' computerized catalogs and information systems were being introduced into libraries. By the mid-1990s, library automation advanced rapidly with the development of the Information Highway (or World Wide Web) and the profound influence of the Internet. Studies about the public library's capabilities (and liabilities) appeared frequently. Fears about the decline of the public library proved to be inaccurate as the service aspect (the virtual and later digital library) became more apparent to the public and library critics. Digital services could be interactive, not passive ways of using libraries, and a way of better connecting with local communities.

In the early years of the 21st century, the term Library 2.0 appeared. This appellation added a further layer of ideas about how libraries, now closely tied to the success of second generation web-based technologies, could serve clienteles. Library 2.0  was concerned with user-centered change and client participation in the creation of content and an enhanced sense of community.

Over fifty years, Ontario's public libraries have been able to keep pace with technological developments during periods of fluctuating financial fortune. The prospect of multi-type library services and more collaborative networking with public libraries and university, college, and school libraries remains one area where Ontario's public-sector libraries could achieve future improvements.

 A Google preview of "Building Canadian Electronic Libraries" with limited page views is available: LIBRARIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

Bail Stuart-Stubbs, "Learning to Love the Computer: Canadian libraries and New Technology, 1945-1965," in Readings in Cannadian Library History 2 ed. by Peter F. McNally, pp. 275-301 (Ottawa: Canadian Library Associaton, 1996).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Review - A Survey of Montreal Library Facilities and a Proposed Plan for a Library System (1942) by Mary Duncan Carter

A Survey of Montreal Library Facilities and a Proposed Plan for a Library System by Mary Duncan (Colhoun) Carter, Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1942. xi, 180 leaves, tables, maps.

In the early 1940s Montreal's public library needs were only partially met by the 'big four,' the Civic Library, the Fraser Institute Library, the Mechanics' Institute Library, and the Westmount Public Library. Other libraries, the Children's Library, the Jewish People's Library, two dozen parish libraries operated by the Catholic Church, and a few special libraries also provided general reading. Compared to Toronto or cities of similar size in the United States--Cleveland, St. Louis, and Baltimore--there was no strong, centralized public library service. It was this particular circumstance that Mary Duncan Carter examined and sought to provide a coherent, systematic plan for metropolitan service in her 1942 dissertation.

Duncan Carter was no stranger to the Montreal situation. A native of St. Paul's, Minnesota, born in 1896, she joined the McGill library school as an assistant professor in 1927 after graduation from the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Philosophy (1917) and then B.L.S. (1923) at the New York State Library School in Albany which later becoming the Columbia University School of Library Service in 1926. She married the Canadian photographer and fine-art dealer, Sidney Carter, in 1924 and taught at the McGill library school for ten years before leaving in 1937 to become the Director of the University of Southern California School of Library Science. Carter rose to prominence at USC and became President of the California Library Association in 1944.

Carter's thesis is a fascinating snapshot of libraries in Canada's metropolitan capital during the 1930s when statistics were available for various types of city libraries. In several chapters Carter reviewed the historical social conditions that underlay contemporary services, the resources available to Montrealers, and usage of a variety of libraries. Twenty-four parish libraries, operated by the Catholic Church, were studied in a separate chapter along with a case study of a special library at the Bell Telephone Company. Although there were an unusual number of rental libraries in Montreal during this period, Carter did not include them in her analysis of a 'public' system.

In 1933 the 'public library system' of Montreal (the four main public libraries) contained approximately 258,000 volumes. This figure was extremely small compared with public library holdings in cities of comparable size. There were 17,384 borrowers of the four main Montreal public libraries. Carter concluded

Perhaps the outstanding feature of the library pattern of Montreal is decentralization. Each of the four public libraries as well as each of the twenty-four parish libraries operates in complete independence and autonomy. Special libraries are by their very nature operated by and for separate groups. In Montreal certain special libraries, like those found in the Bell Telephone Company and the Royal Bank of Canada, even serve as general reading sources for industrial groups as well as sources for special technical material. (p.113)

Carter's plan for metropolitan service mostly worked within existing legislative constraints, e.g. in compliance with provincial and municipal laws and current administrative practices. She outlined three fundamental suggestions to provide city-wide coordination.
1. to continue the present group of libraries with increased municipal aid by removing all restrictions on the use of the libraries (e.g., removal of membership fees for users and non-residents);
2. to develop the Civic Library to fulfill its function as a municipal tax-supported
library of Montreal (e.g., establishing branches throughout the city);
3. to gradually integrate existing libraries with centralized administrative control (e.g., strengthening the collections of parish libraries).

Carter's blueprint for metropolitan service is too lengthy to elaborate in detail, but it included a variety of suggestions that seem, in retrospect, to have been possible to implement in the immediate post-1945 period in Montreal if municipal, church, and library officials could agree on its main points. The Fraser Library might service as a central reference library; the Civic Library could extend its services through new service points; Westmount might serve as a model for unserved areas in Mount Royal and Outremont; cooperative centralized purchasing, classifying and cataloging of books could simplify technical procedures, reduce costs, and make possible a unified catalogue of city holdings. Carter felt that parish libraries might be incorporated in an overall system by having the Civic Library develop deposit collections acceptable to the Church that could be made available to parish libraries that were willing to develop their physical facilities to meet certain minimum standards.

To coordinate planning and operations, Carter proposed formation of a central authority, a Metropolitan Library Commission, to be composed of a delegate from each of the four main libraries, a Catholic representative to administer the parish plan, a provincially appointed member and a professional librarian appointed by the Quebec Library Association. Individual boards of the four libraries would continue to function and to decide matters relevant to the operation of each library within its functions in the overall library system. Commission decisions pertaining to the entire system would then be better coordinated. Carter concluded optimistically, "there is reason to suppose that regional library cooperation entered into voluntarily by the existing public and parish libraries should not be difficult to accomplish." Regional libraries were already in operation in Canada and cooperative schemes were successful in reaching many unserved or underserved areas.

Duncan Carter's proposals for metropolitan library service were an important instance of planning in Canadian library history to improve services and provide more equitable access for the public. A summary 25-page version of her work was published in 1945 by the University of Chicago Graduate Library School. Like many potential planning documents, however, it was destined to gather dust and be forgotten in the course of time. Carter's subsequent career in the United States, at USC, as a cultural attaché with the US Embassy in Cairo, author and faculty member of library science at the University of Michigan (1956-66) removed her from ongoing activity in Montreal. The opportunity to explore regional cooperation passed as postwar priorities unfolded. The idea of metropolitan planning would reappear later in Toronto in the 1950s with the formation of a Council of Library Trustees of Toronto and District which hired Dr. Ralph Shaw to study the greater Toronto area in a landmark 1960 report, Libraries of Metropolitan Toronto.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review - The Role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education (1942) by Gordon Gourlay

The Role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education, by J. W. Gordon Gourlay. University of Michigan, Department of Library Science, 1942. x, 153 leaves.

The studies of the 1930s on Canadian public libraries were mostly financed by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Very little funding came from government sources. In the 1940s, more academic degree studies on Canadian libraries begin to be conducted. Some of these were regional or local studies, others explored trends that extended across provincial boundaries. Adult education concerns had emerged as an important area for library work, first in the USA in the 1920s, then to Canada in the 1930s. William Carson, the Ontario Inspector of Public Libraries, had contributed a piece to an American Library Association study, Libraries and Adult Education, published in 1926. More than a decade later, the British Columbia Library Commission issued its Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941. Shortly after, in 1942, a national investigation appeared--one often bypassed in our library historiography.

John Wallace Gordon Gourlay, a native of Lancaster, Ontario, was the author. Gourlay had graduated from Queen's University with a B.A. in English, History, and Economics in 1940. He went on to McGill to get a B.L.S. in 1941 and then to the University of Michigan to receive his A.M.L.S. in 1942. There were no master's library programs in Canada and Michigan's reputation attracted a number of Canadians at this time. Graduating during wartime, Gourlay enlisted and saw service in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force during Second World War. He returned to civilian life as a librarian at three American universities before becoming the director at Clemson University Library from 1954 to his retirement in 1980.

Although Gourlay's questions to Canadian libraries were made during the conflict with Germany and Japan, he got a reasonable good response by twenty public libraries from a mail out of thirty-five questionnaires. The responses were categorized into several groups:
  • library work with outside groups (e.g., YMCA)
  • special services (e.g., vocational assistance)
  • adult education work within the library (e.g., radio programs, book talks)
  • library publicity; and
  • library work during wartime (e.g., sending books to soldiers in training camps).

Gourlay also summarized some groups and programs that stood out in educational programming with adults: the Dominion-Provincial training programs for youths in areas such as forestry, agriculture and home crafts; Extension Departments at the University of Alberta and St. Francis Xavier; and the Canadian Association for Adult Education (established in 1935). Of course, he could not deal with every organization, e.g., he did not mention the activities of either Frontier College or Sir George Williams College in Montreal which began offering degrees in adult education in 1934. Library responses to Gourlay's survey were mostly positive. A future 1955 President of the Canadian Library Association, Anne Hume, replied "We used it at a Department Head Conference the other day. It gave us [Windsor Public Library] a chance to review our sins and omissions. For that we thank you."

Gourlay offered mostly factual evidence gathered in the course of his survey; however, he did provide a limited explanation about the difficulties encountered in the field of adult education that were shared by libraries and related organizations. Through his inquiries he found that there was a lack of co-ordination among the organizations; that distance hindered effective delivery of programs; that provincial regulation of education led to different approaches and funding for programs; and that Canada's heterogeneous, scattered population often was unrecognized and unassisted through want of proper organization for this type of work. Nonetheless, the variety of library programs in large cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, and even the contributions of smaller ones in northern or rural settings (e.g., Timmins and Lethbridge) demonstrated that libraries were alive to the need of adult learning. Gourlay's study showed that libraries had continued to develop work in the adult education field compared to an earlier national study by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (Library Cooperation with Adult Study Groups in Survey of Libraries, 1935)

Adult education would continue to be an important topic on the agenda of Canadian libraries in the postwar period and beyond with many studies and plans being conducted at the local, regional, provincial, and federal level. However, as Gourlay discovered, the library as adult educator was a concept not easy to define and put into practice. Working with adults to identify needs, like selecting books from the universe of publications to build collections, could spin off into many directions that required funding beyond the traditional reach of library budgeting.

Further reading

The Role of Canadian Public Libraries in Adult Education is available full text at Hathi Trust.
American Library Association, Libraries and Adult Education (Chicago, 1926) at the Internet Archive site.
 British Columbia Public Library Commission, A Preliminary Study of Adult Education in British Columbia, 1941 (Victoria, 1942) at Hathi Trust site.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Review - Library Science for Canadians (1936)

Library Science for Canadians, Beatrice Welling and Catherine Campbell. Toronto: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd., 1936.  xi, 151 p., illus., index. Three editions to 1958.

'Library Science' became an emerging field of study in Canada in the 1930s linked with formal professional education of librarians and with patrons who used libraries on a regular basis. In universities there were two streams of development: library instruction (user education) and library education (professional training) that sometimes intertwined. The historiography of Canadian library science has mostly been devoted to the creation of library schools for training and educational achievement, especially McGill and Toronto in this period. But another thread, library science courses for students with academic credit at the undergraduate level, has an interesting history its own, involving as it does librarians at various university libraries. This was the thrust of Library Science for Canadians when it first appeared in 1936, the result of a joint effort by two University of Western Ontario librarians, Beatrice W. Welling and Catherine Campbell.

Western was not the first university to appoint librarians with the rank of instructors. As early as 1911, Acadia introduced an elective library course in the B.A. program; by 1920 it was offering two credit courses taught by Mary Kinley Ingraham, who continued lecturing and leading laboratory classes until her retirement in 1944. The Acadia courses for undergrads continued into the 1980s. They were designed to encourage student interest in librarianship and to provide basic information on library methods, history, selection, reference, and administration. Western followed this model in the 1920s to the 1960s but adapted it for mostly for first-year undergraduates as a required course with credit to a bachelor's degree.

Courses began at Western in the early 1920s under Marjorie Ross, then library director Fred Landon (who also taught history) with varying course credits. General instruction in the use of books and libraries and common reference works was a required course. Major electives included Cataloguing, Classification, Reference Work. Until 1928, students could select Library Science as a major, but only a handful selected this option. After a 1930 survey of 200 incoming students revealed their lack of library knowledge the required course was expanded for entry students and electives reduced. By the mid 1930s, courses were also being taught at Western's two affiliates, Assumption (now University of Windsor) and Waterloo (now Wilfrid Laurier) colleges. For example, the reference course dealt with the use of standard tools, lectures and assigned readings on the use of books. It involved two lectures and three hours of practice per week and provided two credits that could be used in the Secretarial Science program. Bachelor of Arts graduates could use these courses as a springboard to graduate education at library schools.

To complement the coursework, two of Western’s librarians authored the first Canadian text on library science in 1936 which continued in print until the late 1950s. The book was designed to make university library research understandable for students and show them how to use library resources advantageously. Beatrice W. Welling was the more seasoned librarian. A native of New Brunswick, she earned a Bachelor's at UNB in 1909, her M.A. at Radcliffe College in 1912, and attended library school at Simmons College in 1916 before returning to work in Canada. She was particularly interested in government documents and began working at Western in 1926 in the library as Landon's assistant. Catherine Campbell began in 1923; she was a Western graduate (B.A., 1922).

Together, the two devised a basic text that served Western students well for a quarter century. Separate chapters dealt with classification (normally LC and Dewey); the card catalogue, the parts of a book (indexes, half-titles, etc.); 'How to Judge a Book;' periodicals and newspapers; 'Union Lists and Other Title Lists' (e.g., scientific periodicals and regional lists); the vertical file; 'Bibliography;' and a lengthy section of selected reference works (dictionaries, almanacs, and leading tools in subject areas such as business and commerce) which was attributed to Beatrice Welling.

Welling and Campbell were certain that basic training was valuable for students, not only at university but in their later work or profession.

This training in the use of a library should give the reader confidence in his ability to take advantage of the resources of any library, and by removing obstacles to the acquisition of knowledge, should tend to increase the delights of reading and induce the habit of study. (p. 1)

The authors felt that a better understanding of the merits of systematic use rather than browsing and knowledge of inter-library loans had many benefits. Helping students learn to help themselves was not only practical but also a knowledgeable endeavour for learners. Their points about judging reference works followed a systematic pattern: authority, scope, bias, currency, quality of arrangement, format, and additional bibliography remain standard elements today. (p. 40-41).

 The importance of Libraries Science for Canadians lies today not in its teachings on the use of libraries, which were changed drastically by the time Western dropped its library requirement for freshmen and libraries began to automate in the 1960s, but in its national approach. Here was an up-to-date work that Canadian students could use along with Margaret Hutchins' and Alice Johnson's Guide to the Use of Libraries published in many editions after 1920. There was scant Canadian information in the library field that could be used effectively in the classroom. Welling and Campbell filled a void and made a meaningful contribution that many Western students could appreciate. The text was particularity important for students who were denied access to library stacks and had to request books through the main circulating desk.

Welling and Campbell not simply utilitarian instructor-lecturers in the new Lawson Library that opened in 1934. They were motivated by the idea that the library could be an enjoyable experience.

Our libraries of to-day are pleasant, friendly places where one may browse a while in peaceful surroundings, seek a quiet corner for concentrated study of a particular subject or obtain assistance in the solving of a vexing problem. (p. 1)

Finding information expeditiously was part of this experience. Although Library Science for Canadians and library courses in the undergraduate curriculum were eclipsed at Western shortly before a new graduate School of Library and Information Science began accepting students in 1967, two generations of students had already benefited from library education in the B.A. program.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


A follow up from my previous history of public library growth in Ontario, Free Books for All: the Public Library Movement in Ontario, 1850-1930. If you want a print copy at $35, please contact me by email at You can preview Places to Grow at the Google Bookstore and read what people are saying by going to the following link.

Places to Grow covers the history of the development of Ontario's public library system from the Great Depression to the Millennium. It describes the growth of larger systems of service, plans in the 1950s and 1960s for a provincial library system centred in Toronto, the professional growth of librarianship, library architecture, the decline of censorship and growth of intellectual freedom, library automation, the rise of electronic libraries,  the impact of the Information Highway in the nineties, and many other issues. Chapters include:

1. Introduction                           
2. Depression and Survival                   
Broader Perspectives: Libraries in Canada
The Public Libraries Branch and the OLA
Modern Methods
Local Libraries in the Great Slump
County Library Associations
School Curriculum Revision and the Public Library
The Libraries Recover
3. War and the Home Front                   
Military Libraries and American Allies
Wartime Services and Planning
The Spirit of Reconstruction
Peacetime Prospects
4. Postwar Renewal, 1945-55
The Library in the Community                  
Revised Regulations and Legislation
Postwar Progress and the Massey Commission
Intellectual Freedom and the Right to Read
The Hope Commission Report, 1950
New Media and Services
Setting Provincial Priorities
5. Provincial Library Planning, 1955-66           
Library Leadership and Professionalism
Book Selection and Censorship
The Wallace Report, 1957
The Provincial Library Service and Shaw Report
The Sixties: Cultural and Societal Change
Towards the St. John Survey and Bill 155
6. “Many Voices, Many Solutions, Many Opinions,” 1967-75                   
The Centennial Spirit
Reorganizing Local Government
Schools and Libraries
Regional and Local Roles
Reaching New Publics and Partners
The Learning Society and Cultural Affairs
The Bowron Report
7. Review and Reorganization, 1975-85           
“Canadian Libraries in Their Changing Environment”
“Entering the 80’s”
The Programme Review
A Foundation for the Future
The Public Libraries Act, 1984
8. The Road Ahead: Libraries 2000               
New Directions and Consolidation
Legal Obligations
One Place to Look: A Strategic Plan for the Nineties
The Information Highway
 Savings and Restructuring, the Megacity, and Bill 109
The Millennium Arrives

If you are interested in having a copy, you can get a preview and request a copy for $35.00 by going to
Originally posted by

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Earlier this year I posted an article by A.S. Popowich, “The Politics of Public Library History,” Dalhousie Journal of Information and Management, v. 3, no. 1 (Winter 2007), to Libraries Today website. The author discusses a number of interesting theories about the early development of public libraries and their fundamental societal mission and value. Web 2.0 gets mention too, for after all perhaps ideas circulating in the virtual world could be related to those in print culture.
There are a few points I would like to investigate, but first a couple of corrections. The article ranges “far and wide” on the critical theory side and might attract or repel library historians of various persuasions on this score. But what got my attention were two points where the author misconstrues things.
First, in summarizing Robert V. Williams’ 1981 article in the Journal of Library History 16 (2) 1981, 327-36 on “The Public Library as Dependent Variable” (JLH is now re-titled Libraries & the Cultural Record) Popowich highlights three variables that are often discussed in the library literature devoted to the rise of public libraries in the 19th c, namely the social conditions theory, the democratic traditions theory, and the social control theory. All of these are covered and debated in our historical accounts of early library development. But, the fourth variable Williams identified, people – “Libraries and Librarians” – gets no mention. Strangely, Popowich, who leans to the political left, ignores the idea that people and groups have the power to create and change institutional arrangements. In this case, the well documented “public library movement” of the 19th c. played much the same role as did English workers in E.P. Thompson’s classic work Making of the English Working Class (1963) – here we find the vital agency of individuals at work people creating their own class consciousness as they interact with other classes/groups during a historical period. Thompson, a notable leftist, actually decried the traditional, rigid concept of structure underlying class and influenced a generation of social historians to use Marxist ideas and theories more freely in their research. Thompson's lasting legacy is that people do "make their history."
Why is this fourth (missing) variable so important for Canadian libraries? In Ontario, the public library movement was actively involved in promoting and creating libraries across the province for a period of three-quarters of a century after 1850: it’s a reminder that people can be fundamental “makers of history” and that structural models (e.g., “democratic tradition”), various societal factors, and theories such as social control are not necessarily the primary historical factors in library history. In fact, I think that social control is not particularly effective as an explanatory tool in historical work due to various limitations in definition and inappropriate use. When it comes to the politics of public libraries in 19th c. Canada, from my standpoint it was a matter of farmers, businessmen, women, tradesmen, local politicians, educators, ministers, etc. trying to establish provincial legislation, local political administration, and promotion of services to unserved municipalities that proves to be the central focus for creating a public entity know as the free public library and for describing it historically.
Second, the author (perhaps accidentally) misquotes what I wrote a decade ago in my review of Alistair Black’s 1996 New History of the English Public Library. In writing about Black’s application of Idealism to the development of English libraries at the turn of the 20th c. in his cultural history, I mentioned that this was a weaker section than his chapters on the Utilitarian model he used for the 19th c. I wrote that applying Black’s Utilitarian-Idealist model to public libraries in Canada would “be quite a challenge” : I did not state that it “might not be difficult” as the Popowich indicates; and his citation should be to page 31 of my article in Epilogue (1996) not page 80 as it appears in this online version. Further, Popowich interprets my position on the societal influence of Idealism (e.g., equality of opportunity or state action) to be one that would concentrate on the library as a liberal, democratic, or capitalist institution and that in so doing I would ignore power relationships or other political alternatives to the “liberal-capitalist” state that emerged in Canada after 1850. My longer comments about state activism and the changing nature of liberal thought in the context of social history (unlike cultural history) were not referenced and it appeared my approach would be an uncritical one.
Quite the contrary, it is not my intention to meander in a blinkered fashion across the Canadian historical landscape occupied by libraries! It is entirely possible to theorize and write about libraries in a historical “liberal setting" and demonstrate why liberal values and ideas were dominant, without ignoring other history-as-account theories or history-as-event political options. Ian MacKay’s fascinating “The liberal order framework: a prospectus for a reconnaissance of Canadian history,” Canadian Historical Review v. 81 (Dec. 2000) pp. 641ff proposes the model of liberalism as an overarching political structure to help explain change in Canadian life generally. It could also be used in the case of public libraries because recent research has shown that liberal ideas at the local level of government where libraries were created and maintained in various forms are very useful in accounting for the development of an institution that valued reading and the dissemination of information. Of course, the influence of liberalism fluctuated over time and was often contradictory – on the face of things liberalism valued dissent but public discourse/debates often meant that minority opinions or contrarian ideas were suppressed. Also, for a thought provoking, postmodern view of liberalism and public libraries in England Patrick Joyce’s Rule of Freedom: Liberalism and the Modern City (London, Verso, 2003) pp. 128-137 is a must. Joyce applies Michael Foucault’s idea of “governmentality” – intellectually organized ways (e.g., ideas or techniques) by which people are regulated and governed – to public libraries in Victorian Britain (actually Joyce published an article with the same content previously in 1999 as “The Politics of the Liberal Archive,” History of the Human Sciences, v. 12, no. 2, 1999, pp. 35-49). Unlike Alistair Black, who prefers to employ Foucault’s “power/knowledge” theory to library development, Joyce explores the “governmental-liberal” aspects of social space, bibliographic control, and public discourse regarding the value of libraries and touches on different historical ideas. I think these examples, which appeared after I wrote my review of Black's New History in 1996, indicate lines of historical narrative and explanation that I could pursue profitably, if I wanted, without being “tunnelistic” or uncritical. Awareness of different models, theories, interpretations, and publications in library history is crucial and I can’t really understand, for example, why Joyce’s work hasn’t drawn any attention in the library literature to date.
Having said all this, I liked the ideas in Popowich’s article – where have our Marxist-leaning library historians been all these years? It is not such a bad stance; Marx has had an incredible influence on the writing of history for more than century-and-a-half. And I must admit, I prefer a dash of Habermas rather than Foucault on my library history plate.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Good news -- a new article in the autumn issue (vol. 98, issue #2, 2006) of Ontario History about James Bain Jr. and the Toronto Public Library before the First World War by Mary F. Williamson -- "The art museum and the public library under a single roof."

It is a great article with many informative research notes about the growth of TPL's art collections under James Bain, who was often interested in extending library services beyond books. Williamson details how Bain worked to gather art works and tried to build the concept of an art gallery into the public library at a time when the idea had few supporters.

Bain died in 1908 but his ideas lived on not only in Toronto -- the article points out that other Ontario public libraries followed suit and that art gallery space and shared facilities in public libraries has become more accepted over the years.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


For the past decade the project HBIC has worked to develop three print volumes on Canadian book history that is broadly based in cultural, literary, social, and economic studies. Of course, libraries of all types have been included and the articles on libraries in the two published volumes prior to 1920 have been very interesting. Volume three, covering 1920 to 1980, is scheduled for publication in another year, 2007.

Along with a printed record, the project has developed websites and searchable databases that include many facts and outline events in library history. The databases are searchable at the website hosted by Dalhouse University-- by using Internet Explorer NOT Netscape or Firefox -- HBiC Databases.

Generally, the five databases on Canadian book history and the book trade provide thorough geographic and biographic data about Canada's print history from its beginnings in the 16th century to the present.

The site is a great resource, not just for libraries, but all related aspects of book history and print culture. Updated guides for further research on the internet are also available.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Jean Weihs' short histories / chronologies of library technician programs that started in Canada in the early 1960s is a great place to start to looking at the framework for diploma programs that developed across the country. The author has written much about technicians over the years from the perspective of a director at Seneca College, Toronto. Technician programs have expanded over the years, others closed, and some moved to internet-based courses.

These pages are part of a larger historical effort by the Ex Libris group -- mostly retirees who are interested in Canadian library history. Ex Libris is almost 20 years old and has produced many articles over the years.

Monday, March 20, 2006


Libraries Today--a blog space for me!

At last: a more convenient way to post information, reviews, and comments about Canadian library history. Maintaining a web site for ten years while standards change from HTML to XHTML or XML, etc. can be very exacting. The development of weblogs or blogs in the past three years has been very impressive -- in fact I was considering changing the old site "Libraries Today" into a blog, but I think best to try both for a while.

Technology may change again -- blogs may go the way to the old BBS services of the late 80s and early 90s. For now, I will try to post ideas, etc. about Canadian library history, or even general library history, via a blog rather than trying to further develop the old Libraries Today ( further.