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

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 01, 2013

Review—Library Spirit in the Nordic and Baltic Countries (2009)

Library Spirit in the Nordic and Baltic Countries: Historical Perspectives edited by Martin Dyrbye, Ilkka Makinen, Tiiu Reimo, and Magnus Torstensson. Tampere, Finland: HIBOLIRE, 2009. 188 p. illus. Still available for purchase through the HIBOLIRE website for 17 euros - .

       The authors involved in this publication belong to HIBOLIRE, The Nordic-Baltic-Russian Network on the History of Books, Libraries and Reading, a multinational and multidisciplinary network of scholars. They consider the development of Nordic public libraries to be relatively influential and successful in a broad northern geographic arc from Greenland to the Baltic States. My interest in this library history is on the comparative aspects that I recognize from a Canadian context, not surprising because the Nordic "library spirit" often incorporates Anglo-American ideas about public libraries stemming from the 19th century that were also prevalent in Canada.
        In terms of public library development, several countries evolved services from a variety of pre-1900 'public' institutions: reading societies, school and university libraries open to the public, commercial and scientific groups, parish libraries, and folkbiblioteken (Sweden) to assist lower classes with less access to reading materials. In many ways, this parallels the Canadian experience with a host of "social libraries" -- library associations, mechanics' institutes, athenaeums, literary societies, mercantile libraries, etc. -- that existed in Canada prior to 1900. The transformation of these libraries into free public libraries, i.e. libraries regulated by government legislation, managed as a public trust, financed by municipal tax levies and open to local residents, is recounted a number of times, especially for Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, where Anglo-American concepts took hold at an earlier stage. Of course, state aid was crucial in the development of the public library concept. It is interesting that financial assistance begins in Norway in the 1830s in the same time period as Canadian colonial government grants to mechanics' institutes commence. By the last quarter of the 19th century, popular or people's libraries in the Nordic-Baltic countries were prominent in many communities.
      Canadian provinces began experimenting with general legislation for local libraries and government support as early as 1851. Of course, proximity to the American border states and colonial association with Britain sparked many ideas about libraries, especially after Confederation in 1867 colonial status after 1867, when Canada began to emerge as a fully sovereign nation. Public library legislation for the Nordic-Baltic experience evolved at a slower pace, but many Anglo-American ideas circulated and help promote library progress. Especially, important was the "library spirit" -- the idea of the library as an active educational force that facilitates access to collections and promotes community development though a variety of ever-changing services. Fused with two major concepts, Bildung and Volksbildung, the Nordic library spirit continues today, a combination of self-cultivation or improvement and popular or adult education in the broadest sense. I find these underlying philosophic ideas to be unique, and really without parallel in Canada where early library promoters were mostly influenced by Utilitarian ideas disseminated from Britain.
       The formation of national library associations and librarianship is another focus I found interesting. In Canada, association formation came at the provincial and local level prior to a national organization in 1946, promoted mostly by the need for a national library "voice" and coordinating body. Major Nordic countries had formed national bodies decades before this date, inspired by leading intellectuals and publications about libraries/librarianship. A Finnish association was formed as early as 1910, even before the country's independence from Russia during WW I. Associations not only attempted to improve library services, they sought to improve the social standing and working conditions of librarians. There are insightful chapters on the development of the library profession -- from volunteer status, to vocation, to profession -- in Denmark. The concept of public service for professional librarians was expanded to align with societal needs. As in Canada, this change mostly took place after 1945 as national systems of libraries developed rapidly and educated personnel were required. The development of Library Science as part of the Nordic educational curriculum and training for librarianship also was a crucial development during this period.
       It would be too much to try and summarize all seventeen chapters that record the history of libraries within national cultural and educational progress in the Nordic-Baltic spectrum. Some presentations, such as the Soviet era in the three Baltic Republics, represent discontinuity in library development and a complete rejection of Anglo-American influences. The Scandinavian style of library architecture was obviously influenced by the International Style at an earlier stage than Canada, thus functional forms, open interior design, and horizontal elements as evidenced by the Nyborg Public Library had arrived by 1939. Comparative analysis, like the final chapter which summarizes the work of preceding authors, is important, yet in many ways each chapter has a distinct history based on differing perspectives about libraries.
       Comparative histories usually follow the path of identifying a variable, such as "library spirit," examining various cases to determine similarities (and differences), and then offering an explanation for why (or how, who, or when) the variable succeeded, developed, changed, or varied by case or geography, etc. An important journal in this field is Comparative Studies in Society and History from Cambridge University. A historiographical study by Marc Bloch, The Historian's Craft (translated from French in 1954), still is a reliable and useful guide to comparative history. Bloch was a pioneer in comparative studies, specializing in medieval feudal societies.
        Hopefully, the HIBOLIRE network can continue to produce informative histories that broaden our knowledge about libraries, books, and reading. The comparative approach offers the possibility of identifying recurring social mechanisms and structures as well as observing how different outcomes are possible.

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
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