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

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, May 20, 2014


Well, after years of research, I have published something on Angus Mowat, Ontario's irrepressible Inspector (later Director) of Public Libraries for three decades. And in the latest issue of Ontario History, a favourite regional journal for professional and local historians alike. The tweet just came out --> Great news! The Spring 2014 issue of ONTARIO HISTORY has been printed and is now available! More info:

"An Inspector Calls: Angus Mowat and Ontario's Rural Libraries, 1937-40" Ontario History (Spring 2014, vol. CVI, no. 1) covers a short period just before the Second World War when Mowat began his lengthy career in the Ontario civil service. Mowat was an inspirational voice for public library work during the Great Depression. In 1937, after he became the Inspector of Public Libraries in the Ontario Department of Education, he helped revive spirits and raise service ambitions in smaller libraries. Building on the "modern library" concept popularized after World War I, he re-energized trustees, librarians, and library workers with hundreds of visits to promote local efforts in the immediate prewar period. His inspections encompassed the advisement of trustees on management and financial processes; the promotion of librarianship and staff training; the development of adult and children’s collections; the reorganization of functional building space; the formation of county systems; and support for new school curriculum reading reforms. Mowat’s wide-ranging inspection method not only brought renewed optimism it laid the groundwork for genuine progress in the provincial public library system after 1945.

During the waning depression era, Mowat travelled to all parts of the province encouraging library development and making many friends. Unquestionably, he stimulated thought about enhanced services and helped libraries cope at a critical time. When his army duty (1940-44) ended, he resumed inspections with his usual enthusiasm; however, his term as Inspector ended when he became Director of Public Libraries in 1948. The regime of library inspections lingered into the 1950s, but Mowat’s new title signified his expanded role in advancing provincial policies, financing, and legislation for Ontario’s public library "system." By the time he retired in 1960, a colourful, personal period in Ontario’s public library organization had given way to more systematic, modern administration.

The article covers (1) Depression Era Public Library Service; (2) The Beginning of Inspections in Summer 1937; (3) Library Boards and Trusteeship; (4) Librarianship and Collections; (5) Library Accommodation and Buildings; (6) Library Cooperation; and (7) The End of Inspections in Summer 1940. Mowat's ups and downs in rural Ontario took many turns! Mowat was a library enthusiast for sure -- an administrator with an eye to the irreverent, but always able to cast a serious judgement or offer sage advice when necessary. By the time of his retirement party in 1960 at the Park Plaza, public libraries had undergone many changes and, although he retained many older ideas about how to do things, he was not adverse to try something new.

In recognition of Mowat's efforts, a provincial award, the Angus Mowat Award of Excellence, recognizes a commitment to excellence in the delivery of Ontario public library service. The award is made annually for services that can be old, new, and ongoing.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Reviews—Ottawa and Nepean Public Libraries in 20th Century by Phil Jenkins

The Library Book: An Overdue History of the Ottawa Public Library 1906-2001. By Phil Jenkins. Ottawa Public Library, 2002. 150 p. illus. paper. Also available as Une bibliothèque vivante: l'histoire tant attendue de la Bibliothèque publique d'Ottawa, 1906-2001.

       Popular history! What’s that? Well, here it is for librarians and the history of libraries in Ontario. Phil Jenkins, the well-known Ottawa area writer and book lover, has authored award winning works such as Fields of Vision: a Journey to Canada’s Family Farms (1991) and An Acre of Time (1996). Now he has turned his attention to libraries.

       Jenkins’ Library Book was commissioned by the Ottawa Public Library in 2000 to highlight OPL’s history prior to amalgamation arising from Ontario’s municipal reforms in the 1990s. Not surprisingly, Jenkins has aimed at a general audience and provides his own insights along with engaging anecdotes and particulars.

       Popular history takes many forms and directions. It is not simply a matter of recognizing differences between academic jargon vs. journalist style. There are many examples of valuable popular histories – Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919, Pierre Berton’s Klondike, and Peter C. Newman’s Company of Adventurers. These are trustworthy, interesting histories that fill a void in the historical record. Some academics might argue that Jenkins’ approach is too biographical and lacks both analysis and argument. But Overdue History strives to engage the public reader and even attract a new audience to library history through local-regional interest. In this context, Jenkins’ work is valuable in its own right.

       Popular histories have some appealing characteristics. They are normally narrative in structure and less analytical. Historical narratives often feature interesting characters, with entire sections devoted to one or more person to demonstrate their influence. Of course, serious writers will integrate some analysis with various important issues. Interestingly, narrative history has made resurgence since the 1980s, even in academic circles. Another common argument vs. popular history is that it is “too political” or “too traditional.” In the current historiographic library history debates in the UK and the USA “too institutional” might be another criticism. But at the micro-local level other approaches are not always suitable or viable. Further, community groups and formal organizations like public libraries are integral parts of social history, worthy of being “central characters” to build history around. Although popular histories may lack the sweep of broader social and economic aspects that influence the development of libraries and the professional makeup of librarians, they do offer up facts and events that can be used to illustrate broader trends. Finally, a more forceful argument is that many popular histories seldom offer new or useful contributions or interpretations to our understanding of history. This is not the case with Jenkins’ Library Book because the author returns to what he considers the central mission of libraries from time to time while describing changing services and operational modes.

       Jenkins’ traces the evolution of Ottawa's public library (and eventually its branch system) in nine chapters, six which are shaped around the chief librarians — Lawrence Burpee (1905-12); William Sykes (1912-36); Frederick Jennings (1936-53); Claude Aubry (1953-79), who received in Order of Canada in 1974; Gilles Frappier (1979-95); and Barbara Clubb (1995-present). The Library Book covers many highlights prior to 2001. Only a few can be mentioned here:

-- an effort by the Council of Women in 1895-96 to establish a free public library, a campaign that was defeated decisively for a variety of reasons;
-- Andrew Carnegie’s $100,000 gift for a new library which opened in 1906 and served the city until its demolition in 1971;
-- the opening of Rideau branch by former Prime Minister Robert Borden during the depression year of 1934 (a bilingual branch declared a heritage building in 1998);
-- the implementation of the ever-popular bookmobile service in 1953 (which has survived many budget scenarios);
-- the opening of Carlingwood, a small branch in a shopping centre in 1957, an innovation that would spread to other public library systems in cities across Canada;
-- a barcoded circulation system, ULISYS, in 1980;
-- establishment of Friends of the OPL in 1981 (the library’s 75th anniversary);
-- the creation of a writer-in-residence program in 1987;
-- the 1996 launch of library services on the internet via web browsers;
-- the amalgamation in 2001 of surrounding municipalities that expanded OPL from 8 branches to 36.

        The Library Book is illustrated with revealing portraits of people and building projects, logos, and snippets from reports and newspapers (one on Adrienne Clarkson using children’s books when she was 10). The cover cleverly displays an important chronology of OPL dates stamped on an old date due card that was library staple for many decades prior to the advent of computerized circulation systems. Jenkins offers a short account of a typical “day in the life” at the busy Main library starting at the early hour of 6:30 a.m. for the library’s staff, readers, librarians, courier services, computer terminals, and all involved in operating a complex system. The author finishes with some futuristic thoughts. In the 21st century, computers and digital works may replace books as the most used items. Physical buildings may decline in number and size. But the library’s rationale for providing reading materials, knowledge, and personalized public service will continue. Jenkins thinks there is more work to be done! I think he’s right. OPL’s story is not over – in fact, I will also review his other library history on Nepean, completed in 2005, in the near future.


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

Reviews—Artistic features in Ontario public libraries: Mural Paintings and Carved Figures

       From time to time, public libraries are featured in works that are primarily focused on art or architecture and often overlooked by people interested in the history of libraries.

       In keeping with the theme of design and art in libraries, the book A National Soul : Canadian Mural Painting, 1860s-1930s by Marilyn J. McKay (McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 2002) discusses the role libraries played in the context of Canadian mural paintings, highlighting how our country was glorified as a modern nation-state and how social-economic themes of patriarchy, progress, and cultural dominance were imparted at various government levels.

       An entire chapter is devoted to mural painting in local public libraries -- an almost forgotten chapter in Canadian library history due partly to neglect and the destruction and removal of these murals. Chapter 8: "Progress, patriarchy, and public library murals" describes the murals in Toronto Earlscourt library (opened 1913, renamed Dufferin/St. Clair Branch in 1973) that were painted over in a mid-1960s renovation project. Two murals in particular -- "Community" and "Story Hour" -- indicate the roles of men and women during this period, i.e. the 1920s. At a political level, the murals were elitist and democratic at the same time, providing a basis for civic and national pride but also for social control by inculcating predisposed ideas about social relations.

       Earlscourt rightfully takes centre stage in this chapter, for unfortunately other murals in libraries, e.g. at Collingwood painted by Elizabeth Birnie, were destroyed (the Carnegie library burned in 1963). Birnie's other work, at Penetang, is now relegated to storage. The reading room for the House of Commons in Parliament was also decorated with murals after WWI by Arthur Crisp and is a notable reminder of this era as a 1990 Canadian parliamentary web article reveals.

       Professor McKay's book is extensively illustrated and a valuable contribution to art history and to library history. Interestingly, the "mural movement" she describes happened almost simultaneously with the "public library movement" which stretched between the 1850s and 1930s in Ontario.

Late in 2006 a another book by the journalist, Terry Murray, appeared: Faces on Places: A Grotesque Tour of Toronto (Toronto: Anansi, $24.95). This is a great read for librarians interested in architecture and it includes some Toronto libraries as well in the more than 50 buildings discussed and illustrated.

Faces on Places tells the story of Toronto's buildings that are adorned (guarded perhaps?) by gargoyles, grotesques, and griffins carved into the facades of buildings. Libraries like the Runnymede branch and the new Lillian H. Smith library are featured along with Deer Park and the old Toronto Reference Library on College Ave. (now the University of Toronto bookstore).

The book is wonderfully illustrated and the price is right! For those interested in library architecture and design it provides a very different perspective -- form and function do not share centre stage in this production!

The libraries described are as follows....

Toronto Reference Library (College Ave): describes Alfred Chapman's various Graeco-Roman figures that were used to decorate doorways.

Deer Park: sculpture of two figures above entrance around a "lamp of learning." Deer Park opened in 1952 and the styling is less classical and more modern.

Lillian H. Smith library (1995): griffins -- with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle -- at the entrance symbolize a protective state through strength and watchfulness.

Runnymede Library (1929): and oft-featured library by architect John Lyle has Canadian images of beavers, totem poles, and native carvings in the strong sense of the 1920s and the Group of Seven work that Canadian culture ought to be celebrated.

This is an unusual book that includes libraries with other Toronto buildings. It shows that architects introduce designs and features in public libraries as a matter of course in traffic areas to heighten the awareness of culture and learning.

These reviews were posted earlier in 2008 and 2009.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


Karen and I have just reissued a revised edition of our older Public Library Boards in Postwar Ontario, 1945-1985. It was originally published in 1988 as an occasional paper by the University of Dalhousie School of Library and Information Science. Long out of print. But now its back in print again with updated information for the original text and references plus a new chapter to continue the story from 1985 to just before 2010. Most of the original text has been retained.

Contemporary library boards in Ontario are mostly administrative entities, but this was not always the case. Local government today is very different from the pre-1945 era. Over the years, accountability has trumped representation (a political concept) in local government and provincial statutes controlling local agencies. The municipal government has overtaken many local bodies--clearly, elected local officials in larger government entities created after the 1960s in restructuring exercises now hold powerful positions in relation to other community agencies. But councils are by no means absolute. Local representative agencies, such as Ontario library boards, still possess interesting positions in local decision making and continue to exist through separate provincial legislation (for public libraries dating to 1882) and retain some influence over services.

The transformative period for Ontario library boards was no doubt framed by the remarkable growth and development of local government after 1945. By 1985, with the enactment of new library legislation, the issue of accountability for non-elective library boards was mostly resolved. Since that time, trustees and boards have accepted  new roles and power relationships alongside municipal councils. But the original sense of community representation still remains a strong element in thinking about library operations and administration.

You can get a free preview for this book on Google. The contents and paging for the new version of Public Library Boards is as follows:

1.  Introduction                                                                                                          1
2.  Library Boards Prior to 1945                                                                               3
3.  Political Representation and Responsibility                                                          15
4.  Influence, Power and Authority of Local Boards                                                   30
5.  Intergovernmental Planning for Public Libraries                                                    50
6.  Professionalism in Library Administration                                                            81
7.  Trusteeship, the Internet, and the Digital Library                                                   95
8.  Conclusion                                                                                                          128
Tables                                                                                                                      131

If you are interested in having a copy, you can get a preview and request a copy for $15.00 by going to

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

Monday, April 06, 2009


Recently a paper on IPLO was published by Greg Linnell in the Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science : The Institute of Professional Librarians of Ontario; On the History and Historiography of a Professional Association. Greg is interested in library history and is currently at the Library Services Centre in Kitchener, ON.

Greg Linnell's descriptive analysis of the histories of the Institute of Professional Librarians of Ontario (1960–1976) reveals not only the circumstances surrounding the creation, growth, and decline of this singular expression of the professionalization of librarianship but also foregrounds the ways in which the historical narration of the profession must look beyond the traditional delineation of intrinsic traits in order to circumscribe librarianship more adequately. To that end, consideration is given to one important factor, the Royal Commission Inquiry into Civil Rights (1964–71). It is evident that historical recovery of this sort is crucial to the profession’s self-understanding as it negotiates its contemporary stance with respect to both librarians and the publics that they serve.

Greg has agreed to let me post this here, so please take time to read about. IPLO was an important Association, esp. in the 1960s, that expressed many librarians' views about professionalism in Ontario and their efforts to create a professional organization that could speak for librarians in all types of libraries.

To download Greg's article just go to : IPLO

If you have information IPLO that you would like to share, just point to the comment and let us know about your ideas.