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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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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.

2. It has been brought to our attention that the lack of a National Library does not mean that the nation owns no books. Books have, in fact, been accumulated in embarrassing quantities. The Librarian of Parliament stated that his collection now comprises over 550,000 volumes, some of them rare and valuable possessions. They are still contained in a building considered too small to hold the 83,000 volumes owned by the Library when it was built. The books are now crowded two or three deep on the shelves, or packed away in vaults. Ordinary access is becoming extremely difficult, the fire hazard is grave and the 6,000 volumes acquired annually add inexorably to the already serious congestion. The library staff, surrounded and even overwhelmed with books, endeavours to maintain essential services for Members of Parliament, and also, in the absence of any other agency, to put their valuable resources at the disposal of students and of the general public. The usual friendly and helpful relations are maintained with other libraries, particularly with university libraries.

3. The Library of Parliament also maintains mutually helpful relations with other depositories of national books, notably with the thirty-four departmental libraries in Ottawa which together contain some 1,380,000 books and 316,000 pamphlets. These various collections probably contain unsuspected wealth. They also naturally contain a good deal of necessary or unnecessary duplication.

4. The proper organization and utilization of existing departmental or


governmental libraries clearly suggests the need for some central organization to provide a union catalogue, an information and procurement service, and a central place of deposit for books which are needed only occasionally. Such an arrangement would enable the Parliamentary Library to retain on its immediate premises a small working library and to have speedy access to its less active collections. It would also relieve many government departments of volumes of great value but not in constant use, now requiring both space and labour. There is general agreement that for federal purposes alone, the organization of a National Library is most desirable.

5. The question of a National Library, however, has not been of interest only to the Federal Government. It has been brought repeatedly to the attention of the government and of the public by the Canadian Library Association which has for years endeavoured to perform, with its very limited resources, some of the services which properly should be provided by a national institution. For the Association's invaluable work of providing a Canadian periodical index, all libraries and all Canadians interested in Canadian affairs are deeply in its debt. It has also undertaken another project of special interest to historians, the microfilming of old or rare Canadian newspapers. For this purpose a grant was secured from the Rockefeller Foundation. By November 1950 the microfilming of early files from fifty-eight newspapers throughout Canada had been completed; the work is going on briskly in accordance with the historical importance of the material in the newspapers, and with their physical condition. Older newspapers on better paper which are less subject to deterioration are often set aside in order to photograph recent more perishable issues. Some of the newspapers thus preserved and reproduced for the use of scholars are essential to an understanding of our past. It should be a matter of pride that this service of great national importance has been rendered by a voluntary group of busy people not over-burdened with resources.

6. It is however not a matter of pride that these and similar services are left to chance or to casual benevolence, still less that they have been financed from abroad. The Canadian Library Association, realizing the inadequacy of its best efforts to meet the needs of the nation in this matter, has devoted its entire brief to our want of a National Library and to the functions which it should perform. This organization with its 1,300 members, French and English-speaking, and its various activities is one of the leading voluntary groups in the country. Other library groups and many other organizations have supported the brief of the central organization explaining or amplifying the principal recommendations. We summarize here the representations made to us on the functions of the proposed National Library and on the progress already made.

7. It has been mentioned that Canada is the only civilized country in


the world lacking a National Library. Yet we in Canada particularly need a National Library, since our entire book holdings, public and private, are singularly small and widely scattered. Universities have been the great collectors of books, but only three universities in Canada have more than 500,000 volumes, and some have fewer than 100,000; the largest at Laval University reports 800,000 volumes. Good collections of Canadiana are rare in Canada. The three best collections in the world are now in the United States, in the Library of Congress, in the New York Public Library and in the Library of Harvard University. As a rule, Canadian books have appeared in limited issues which in a few years have disappeared from the market; not infrequently even those in libraries are brought to light only after prolonged search.

8. These circumstances have led the Canadian Library Association and others to state that the greatest national needs in this field are catalogue, information and procurement services. These should not and need not wait for a building or for the collection of books, but could, it was maintained, be provided by a Bibliographic Centre requiring only small premises and a small but highly trained staff. Partly as a result of these efforts, Parliament more than two years ago (June 1948) approved the principle of such a Bibliographic Centre as the first step toward a National Library. A National Library Advisory Committee, including members from all the provinces, was established under the chairmanship of the Dominion Archivist, himself a distinguished librarian. After some months of preparatory work the Centre came formally into existence with the appointment of the present Director, May 1, 1950.

9. The Centre is now proceeding with the preparation of a national union catalogue in Ottawa. Without going into technical details it is sufficient to say that the catalogue is not to be primarily a catalogue of Canadian material but will embrace all books of all countries to be found in Canadian libraries. By means of microfilm, important collections throughout the country, beginning with federal government collections in the Library of Parliament, and elsewhere, will be reproduced. With the resulting catalogue the Centre will be able to offer, almost from the beginning, information to libraries on the location of rare books which then may be procured by inter-library loan; eventually the National Library will itself be able to offer complete procurement services. Meanwhile, through its catalogue, the Bibliographic Centre will effectively pool Canadian library resources, enabling the nation to secure the maximum use from its slender store of books and revealing, it may be, many treasures unknown to those best able to make use of them. The statement was made during our hearings that although the resources of famous libraries are fairly well known, many scarce and sought-for books undoubtedly lie hidden in small collections. The value of such a loan service, particularly for scientific periodicals, was stressed by a scientific organization.


Another interesting comment on the significance of a union catalogue and a procurement service came from a group interested in local history which noted that rare books on the history of a particular region might easily turn up in quite another part of the country where their value would not be recognized. These matters, commonplace to the librarian, have too long been unknown to the Canadian public.

10. Closely connected with cataloguing and procurement services is the bibliographical service which the Centre will render. The Centre will acquire standard publications from the United States, Great Britain, France and elsewhere. It is proposed also to prepare and publish certain periodical guides to Canadian publications for which we have hitherto depended largely on the United States and on voluntary or local effort. The value of such aids to the student and scholar need not be explained; and librarians count upon them to serve the general public.1 The Centre has already assumed responsibility for the Canadian Catalogue, the annual list of books published in Canada, about Canada, and also those written by Canadians, which was published by the Toronto Public Library for nearly thirty years. A catalogue of all publications of the Government of Canada, an urgent need emphasized by a number of librarians, is also being planned. The success of both these projects depends upon the co-operation of publishers in depositing copies of all publications with the Bibliographic Centre. Some librarians suggest that the Centre should also, if possible, issue lists of provincial and municipal publications. In addition to current lists, the Bibliographic Centre has plans for a number of special bibliographies. It also hopes to secure and make available to the nation certain rare works through the use of microfilm.

11. All these services can be initiated by the Bibliographic Centre without either a library building or a formal collection of books. Yet there is general agreement that an adequate Library building and a regular policy of acquisition are of urgent importance. The overcrowding and the fire hazards in the Library of Parliament have already been mentioned. The Parliamentary Librarian and the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on National Libraries agree that many valuable books which would otherwise be given to the nation are being withheld for lack of space to receive them. This is less important than the fact that the collection which the nation should be making for itself is delayed because there is no place in which to put it. There have been many statements urging the construction of an adequate and appropriate building for the National Library.

12. There is general agreement that the need to acquire books for the National Library is immediate. We have already mentioned that Canadian books go rapidly out of print. Authorities state that the ideal for a Canadian National Library (a complete collection of all books by Canadians and of any other books about Canada) can now probably never be


completely attained. However, by a strict enforcement of the Copyright Act the neglect of the past may be remedied in the future, and by patient search many existing gaps may be filled. For practical purposes, moreover, the collection could be made complete through the use of microphotography and by the courtesy of those American libraries which possess relatively complete collections of Canadiana. That the continuous collection of Canadian and other important works, particularly in English and French, should now proceed is agreed. At the same time, it seems apparent that the union catalogue should be completed before any extensive acquisitions are made. Since it is proposed to make a complete collection of Canadiana and an adequate representation of other books available in Canada by pooling library resources, it is essential to know first the nature and extent of these resources, in order to avoid wasteful duplication, particularly of rare and expensive items.2

13. On the policy of acquisition a number of suggestions have been made. The Société de Géographie de Montréal suggests a map library--a depository library for all maps published in Canada; this library should also build up collections of maps published abroad and should prepare a catalogue. Other groups have suggested special collections of music, particularly of unpublished Canadian music, and of art. There have also been representations on collections of films and recordings of national importance.

14. We have had numerous representations suggesting how the National Library can be truly national. It was proposed at our sessions that one function of the National Library would be to send out books to areas lacking adequate library services. This proposal is not approved by professional librarians; they insist that the National Library should be a library designed primarily to serve librarians and libraries; an essential condition of its usefulness must be the efficiency of the local library. We also heard proposals that collections might be decentralized, for example, by maintaining groups of books of special historical interest in the area of the country to which they may pertain. This problem, however, could be solved by the use of microfilm; copies of catalogues of special collections, and even microfilm copies of the books themselves could be placed in the possession of interested libraries. Finally, we found that it was generally assumed that a National Library would be a centre of advice and encouragement to local groups struggling with local library problems.


15. Of local library problems we learned much during our travels. It was impressed upon us that among local institutions of education and


culture the public library must always hold a key position. It has its own legitimate and universal appeal, and serves also as an essential auxiliary to the museum, the art gallery, and to all other institutions of culture and education. Moreover, the library enjoys an advantage denied to the museum and the gallery in that its services are not limited by time or space. A library is working whenever and wherever its books are read.

16. We do not propose to offer here any general survey of Canadian libraries, valuable though it might be. We are confining ourselves, as we do with other institutions, to a summary of the information which has come to us in the briefs and at our hearings and to a statement of certain pressing needs which in the opinion of many must be met by some form of public aid.

17. We have been impressed by the variety of library institutions which have taken the trouble to give us information on their work and on their problems. These institutions range from the wealthy city library in Ontario which boasts of reviving and expanding the work of the old mechanics institutes (but with the addition of luxurious surroundings and modern visual and auditory equipment), to the box of books delivered from time to time through the Women's Institutes to the Alberta farm kitchen and issued to the visiting neighbours by a careful housewife with an anxious eye on her freshly-scrubbed floor. We have heard also from a number of specialized libraries of scientific organizations, of labour institutes, of universities, and of Provincial Governments. In these varied institutions we have been struck by the deep professional pride and devotion of their librarians and officials, and by the extent of their mutual understanding and co-operation. As one librarian put it, librarians have so many problems to meet that they tend to become "extraordinarily clannish", but without any loss of loyalty to or pride in their own local institutions.3

18. We have seen evidence of this friendly and fruitful co-operation in our many discussions with librarians. Although nearly a hundred groups and individuals have discussed library problems with us, our most helpful sources of information have naturally been the organized groups of librarians which have come before us in every part of the country. We have already spoken of the Canadian Library Association and its many activities. Most of our information on local conditions, however, comes from provincial associations of librarians in the West and in the Maritimes from which we received somewhat gloomy comments on the general level of Canadian library services.

19. Forty per cent of all municipal library appropriations in Canada is expended by six city libraries, four of them in Ontario; and sixty city libraries spend eighty per cent of the total sum. This we learned in Alberta. Saskatchewan, calculating in books rather than in money, stated that the number of library books per head of the population ranges from one for every person in Ontario to one for every six persons in Manitoba.


Saskatchewan has two books for every seven persons in the province as a whole, but only one for every nine in the entire province outside the cities of Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. The Maritimes, especially New Brunswick with only two public libraries in the province (Saint John and Moncton) are also deeply concerned at the inadequacy of their library services. We were also interested to learn that there are in Quebec hundreds of parish libraries containing books for general information and recreation in addition to religious works.

20. Some fifteen organizations expressed the need for better, or at least, for some library services. "The vast distances of the West, the long winters and isolation, make the adequate provision of reading an educational and emotional necessity . . . Financial restrictions where income is dependent on the vagaries of the weather are a serious drawback . . .", we were told in Saskatchewan.4 Librarians are agreed that the paucity of the service is mainly a financial problem. One western province spends on library services only sixty-five cents per head even in its five chief cities, and only three and a half cents in rural areas. The optimum sum has been set a $3.00 and the minimum at $1.00. For most parts of Canada this minimum seems to be the unattainable maximum.

21. This does not mean that nothing has been done. Library services are usually a responsibility of the municipality. Municipal libraries, however, offer effective library service only in urban or well-settled regions, and provincial authorities have for this reason taken measures to meet the needs of the rural areas. Provincial travelling libraries have long existed in the Western provinces. More recently, other provinces have dealt with the problem and there is now provincial library legislation in eight of the ten provinces. The preferred modern plan is to develop regional libraries instead of trying to serve the province by mail from one centre. The regional plan provides for buildings, not costly but adequate, in the regional centre, and depots in smaller centres throughout the area. The depot may be a special room, but very often the facilities of a post office, a store, a schoolhouse or even of a private house are used. It is considered desirable that the regional librarian should have professional training, but he may have to depend on untrained and part-time help.5

22. In establishing this regional library service in Canada, experience gained in the United Kingdom and the United States was found helpful. From the United States has come, in addition, financial help. With the aid of grants from the Carnegie Corporation a regional library was established in the Fraser Valley in the 1930's. A grant from the same Corporation installed a complete library system in Prince Edward Island, which is now maintained by the Provincial Government. British Columbia has extended its regional library system. Nova Scotia has begun a regional service, and Saskatchewan has a region (Prince Albert) in the planning


stage. According to the Canadian Library Association, the rural situation is now more promising than it was a few years ago although the improvement may be almost imperceptible. Perhaps seven to ten per cent of rural Canada now has a library service as against five per cent in 1937.

23. Professional librarians were not alone in bringing this problem before us. A citizen of New Brunswick told us how, failing help from provincial sources, she was forced to carry on researches in local history with the aid of the library in Bangor, Maine, which, for her benefit, set aside the rule that its books should not leave the country. She urged the importance of libraries remarking: "Too many of us have thousand dollar kitchens and ten dollar libraries. I should like to see Shelley have as much prestige as Bendix."6 She admitted however that it was very difficult to persuade municipalities to pay any part of the cost, or to persuade individuals to volunteer their help. The same problem appeared in other places; there seems to be some question whether the provision of library facilities should get too far ahead of the demand for them.

24. The answer, we were told, lies in the provision of trained librarians and in a better understanding of their duties. Reading is an acquired taste. "Functional illiteracy", we learn, is a serious problem in adult education. Librarians therefore everywhere urge that regional libraries must have at least a core of trained and experienced staff. The books must not only be provided and circulated, they must be "sold" to the people. Librarians must know their books and how to care for them; they must also know their community and how to serve it. The librarian must be a community leader, like the minister and the schoolteacher.7 The fact that many people in rural areas are not interested in books is an indication of their need for them. But the taste, we were told, is readily acquired. Regional libraries may take some time to establish, but once in being they become an essential part of the community.8

25. There was general agreement among librarians, both in the West and in the Maritimes, that library training facilities in Canada are inadequate. The fact that little or no advanced training is available in Canada was regretted; but this is regarded as less serious than inadequate facilities for fundamental training. It was stated that more library schools are needed in Canada. The Western provinces would like to see one in the West. The Government of Saskatchewan encourages library training by offering three annual scholarships, but this is only a partial solution.

26. A special problem, mentioned in various parts of the country, is the dearth of children's libraries. Children's departments exist, of course, in good municipal libraries; and we received an interesting brief from one of the children's libraries in Montreal, the Bibliothèque des Enfants de Montréal, which is supported by private donations as well as by municipal and provincial grants, and receives a good deal of voluntary help. This library, with very inadequate provision for books and salaries, not only


serves one of the less privileged districts of Montreal, but sends out a travelling service to fifty-seven districts throughout the province.

27. That such service is badly needed was indicated by many different groups. Many children get books from their school libraries but, especially in poor or rural regions, this is not enough. Efforts are being made by school authorities to remedy the situation, and the Imperial Order, Daughters of the Empire has generously placed book collections in many schools. Much yet remains to be done. In particular, we had convincing representations from the British Columbia Parent-Teacher Federation which has tried to help by preparing and publishing guides to reading for the use of parents, and by organizing holiday reading clubs which now number forty and have enrolled 3,000 children. This delegation said that there are not enough books (half a book for every school child in the city of Vancouver), and that parents do not sufficiently understand the importance of the matter. Vast sums of money are spent on health; but moral and spiritual well-being, equally important, is forgotten. The prohibition of crime comics is approved, but positive action is needed. "Each Canadian child should have the opportunity to read books which portray the actions and thoughts of men in memorable speech. Quality, not quantity of what is read is what is important . . ."9

28. We had many suggestions from professional and other organizations on the manner in which federal organizations might properly help in library work. Possible help from the National Library has been mentioned. There were also some fairly urgent requests for financial aid to municipalities or to provinces for the creation of libraries, especially rural libraries and children's libraries. Others suggested contributions of specialized books, particularly of government publications of all kinds. Another group suggested a national microfilm service to enrich the holdings of small libraries. Three other groups made interesting proposals for central library services. The Saskatchewan Library Association recommended that the present National Library Advisory Committee be charged with advising the Government on library problems of all kinds; in particular, that they formulate proper standards of library service and consider what measures may be taken to achieve them. The British Columbia Parent-Teacher Federation urged a national investigation of the whole question of children's reading, including the measures to be taken to remedy what they regard as a most unsatisfactory situation. The New Brunswick Museum wanted a similar survey with a view to the further establishment of regional libraries.

29. We have not given here a complete survey of Canadian local library services, but rather we have recorded our impressions of the helpful information and stimulating comments offered for our consideration. Between ninety and a hundred groups discussed library matters. They


showed us that professional librarians and many others are deeply concerned by the fact that Canadians are, as they put it, so intellectually under-nourished that many of them now feel no hunger. They fully recognize the responsibilities of local governments; but they are convinced that what is almost a national scandal requires national action.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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