Libraries | The Canadian Encyclopedia



The earliest libraries in Canada were private collections belonging to immigrants from Europe. The first known library belonged to Marc Lescarbot, a scholar and advocate who came to Port-Royal in 1606.

Early religious orders accumulated libraries: volumes from the Canadian Jesuit Mission of 1632 and the Jesuit College in Québec City (established 1635) still exist. Libraries were maintained in the 18th and 19th centuries in settlements, fur-trade or military posts - at Selkirk's Red River Colony, at the Hudson's Bay Co post at York Factory, by John McKay on Vancouver Island, by Roderick McKenzie at Fort Chipewyan [Alberta], and at the Halifax garrison by Lord Dalhousie.

Public Libraries

 In the 19th century, mechanics' institutes and subscription, social, school-district, university and professional libraries assumed increasing importance. Most public libraries that existed in the early decades of the 19th century were supported by subscription fees, eg, Governor Haldimand established a library at Québec City in 1779, the Montreal Library was founded in 1796, and a library began operation at Niagara in 1800.

By mid-century, libraries were firmly established in British North America. The first free tax-supported public libraries date from 1883 at Saint John, Guelph and Toronto. However, the development of the public library as it is known today was a slow evolution through a variety of forms, in response to the geographic, economic, cultural and demographic conditions of each province. Predecessors of the modern, tax-supported public library were school-district libraries, mechanics' institutes and association or social libraries.

University, College and School Libraries

University and college libraries are integral parts of the academic community in which they are located, and are supported with a percentage of normal operating funds (5-8%), with additional special grants from partnerships or endowments. A university chief librarian/director usually reports to an academic official, such as the office of vice-president, academic, and is represented on senior academic decision-making bodies of the university. College libraries receive a smaller percentage of operating funds and the administrative structure varies greatly in and between provinces.

Special Libraries

Special libraries serve the needs of a sponsoring organization, which may be federal, provincial or municipal governments; companies, associations or industries; or public institutions such as hospitals or museums. Special libraries can also be distinguished by a subject such as law, finance, insurance or health science. The origin of special libraries in Canada dates from the 17th century when 2 libraries at the Hôpital-général and Hôtel-Dieu in Québec City were opened to provide patients with religious materials. Most special libraries in Canada have been established since WWII. They are represented nationally by the Canadian Association of Special Libraries and Information Services, and by subject-oriented associations such as the Canadian Health Libraries Association and the Canadian Association of Law Libraries.

Library Associations

There are over 150 library associations in Canada, including national, provincial, regional, local, and ethnic associations, and groupings by library type such as public, academic, government, school and special libraries. The first was the Ontario Library Association, established in 1900; other provincial associations followed: in BC (1911), Québec (1932), the Maritimes (1935), Manitoba (1936), Saskatchewan (1942), Alberta (1944) and the Northwest Territories (1981).

The Canadian Library Association (CLA) was formed in 1946 as a bilingual national association but became unilingual in 1973. The CLA is subdivided into 5 type-of-interest associations, eg, the Canadian Association of College and University Libraries, and it also sponsors a number of interest groups and committees. Some of the major activities of the CLA have included microfilming of Canadian newspapers of historical importance; compiling and publishing the Canadian Periodical Index 1948-86; encouraging publication of reference works; developing standards; maintaining liaison with national and international library associations and with the federal government; and providing opportunities for continuing education for library staff through conference programs.

Association pour l'avancement des sciences et des techniques de la documentation (ASTED) is the national association of francophone libraries. Like CLA, ASTED has a substructure of sections for academic and public libraries.

Library Building

Although some public and university libraries had separate facilities before 1900, the Andrew Carnegie grants for public library buildings led to the construction of 125 Canadian libraries between 1901 and 1923. Influenced by the beaux-arts design common in public buildings of that period, classical columns and other elaborate ornamentation were features of even the smallest buildings. Unfortunately, these early libraries, although functional for the services of that period, proved difficult to modify or expand to meet an increased user population, changing services and new technologies.

A second surge in public library construction in the 1960s and 1970s, with emphasis on internal rather than external monumentalism, led to aesthetically pleasing but not necessarily functional libraries. The Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library (now the Toronto Reference Library), which opened in 1977, attracted international attention for the dramatic access it provided to its collections. Academic library buildings experienced a renaissance during this same period, with new central or divisional libraries constructed on every major university campus in Canada.

The period of financial restraint in the 1980s and 1990s focussed attention on renovations and additions rather than new construction for both academic and public libraries, although some new libraries were built. The Vancouver Public Library, designed by Moshe Safdie, attracted worldwide attention; the expanded McMaster University Library is an elegant example of a successful renovation and expansion. Technological developments such as electronic compact shelving became the basis for accommodation of collection growth without additional construction. In southern Ontario, three neighbouring universities integrated their catalogues and established a shared storage facility for less used materials, reducing the space required for the individual collections but greatly increasing the resources accessible to all members of the three academic communities.

Contemporary Developments

In the postwar decades all types of libraries in Canada responded to the increasing information requirements of users. Collections changed to encompass such new formats as microforms, audio and video cassettes, compact discs, films, talking books, braille and kits. Programs for cultural or minority groups became an important part of public library service, and information retrieval, frequently from external computer-based bibliographic data bases, became a major component of reference service in public, academic and special libraries. Service to adult learners has become very important in college libraries and is gaining importance in university libraries as well.

These expanding services have been facilitated by local, regional, provincial and national co-operative agreements or resource-sharing networks and encouraged by support from the National Library and CISTI, both of which readily make their own collections available on loan or photocopy to libraries across the country using various services, such as SwetScan, which CISTI is marketing to North American libraries.

Since 1960 the most dramatic influence on libraries of all types has been the introduction of new technologies with implications for services, staff, collections and buildings. At the end of the 1970s advances in computer technology permitted the development of local systems at costs that most libraries could afford; and information networks, encouraged by the National Library and CISTI, provided mechanisms for resource sharing and data exchange.

Library services were changed and expanded with the introduction of computer-based systems which made available the very latest materials. CISTI made major data bases available through CAN/SDI (selective dissemination of information) and CAN/OLE (on-line enquiry), and encouraged electronic messaging for the transfer of interlibrary loan requests and for the delivery of documents (CAN/DOC). The National Library has made its extensive bibliographic data base (AMICUS) available to other Canadian libraries for on-line searching and introduced a public web-based catalogue in 1997. ISM Library Information Services, which purchased the University of Toronto Library Automation System, founded in 1971, now provides computerized library-related services, products and systems to about 2500 libraries in North America, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. Geac, a Canadian-based computer company founded in 1971, sold many on-line circulation and cataloguing systems worldwide, eg, Vatican Library, Bibliothèque National, Smithsonian Institution, during the 1980s and continues to sell products which automate standard library tasks.

Graduate university library educators have responded to changed requirements for librarians by adding computer and telecommunication technologies to their curricula and by providing continuing-education programs in the new technologies. Library technician programs have been offered at many community colleges. Requirements for accommodating new and future information systems and resources have become major considerations in the design or renovation of library buildings. To complement educational programs, there are about 75 newsletters and journals which currently serve the Canadian library community. Some, such as Emergency Librarian, Feliciter, and Canadian Journal of Information and Library Science, publish on a national scale.

The enhanced potential for gaining access to electronic resources and sharing library collections, which has been made possible by the new technologies, has presented new challenges, such as licensing of electronic resources. The creation of library systems and consortia which combine the resources of all types of library in flexible administrative structures will need to be carefully considered. This pattern is evident in the creation in 1996 of the Alberta Library, a multitype, province-wide library network, and the 1998 establishment of the Grande Bibliothèque du Québec, centred in Montréal. Support for the library and information networks of the 21st century will have to be co-ordinated at the national and regional levels if Canadian libraries are to succeed in meeting the greatly increasing demands of an Information Society.

School-District Libraries

School-district libraries were initiated by Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia and Egerton Ryerson in Canada West (Ontario) in 1850. Both men felt that children and adults could be served by local school authorities, with some financial and organizational assistance from colonial legislatures. New Brunswick (1858) and PEI (1877) followed this example, but after Confederation school-district libraries were less successful owing to local disaffection with the centralizing tendencies of departments of education.

Mechanics' Institutes

Mechanics' institutes originated in Great Britain in conjunction with working men's societies. In 1828 the first Institute library was formed at Montréal. They became popular in communities such as Halifax, Hamilton, Toronto and Victoria because they offered the working class inexpensive access to books and newspapers. Interest began to wane after Confederation, and many institutes eventually became part of a public library. In Ontario, for example, this process was facilitated after 1882 by allowing the assets of institutes to be transferred to free libraries. Legislative grants were similarly transferred, with the result that the institutes ceased or were replaced by public libraries.

Association or Social Libraries

Association or social libraries dedicated to a variety of interests flourished in eastern Canada after 1800. The collection of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec (est 1824) was particularly noteworthy. Most associations provided a meeting place for lectures, discussions, or other programs and a reference or circulating library for members. Like the mechanics' institutes, association libraries were public by virtue of serving a membership beyond class, ethnic or religious limitations because they catered to broader cultural, musical, literary, or sporting tastes; many eventually became free public libraries, though the type still exists in some areas, eg, BC.

Free Libraries

In 1882 an Act of the Ontario legislature provided for the establishment of free libraries, supported financially by a levy of one-half mill to be assessed on the value of all real and personal property. A local board composed of 9 members appointed by the municipal council and school boards was to provide leadership. The Toronto Public Library was the largest among the first libraries to choose free status. This Ontario pattern of legislating tax support for library services usually was followed in other provinces: BC (1891), Manitoba (1899), Saskatchewan (1906), Alberta (1907), New Brunswick (1929), Newfoundland (1935), PEI (1935, repealed 1936), Nova Scotia (1937), Québec (1959) and the Northwest Territories (1966).

Modern Public Libraries

The modern library selects, acquires and organizes books, periodicals, newspapers, government publications, reports, microforms, maps, audiovisual materials, computer tapes and other materials, and makes them available to users. Materials selected to meet user needs are acquired and processed for the shelves using a cataloguing and classification system to provide the user with access to the library collection. Reference service offers assistance to the user in determining what is needed and how to find it. Provision of additional services, eg, children's programs, audiovisual services, and access to electronic and Internet resources, depends on the clientele of the library and financial resources.

Public libraries in Canada are governed by provincial statutes and are primarily financed by municipal tax revenues and other local income, with provincial grants supplementing local funding. Public libraries are normally the responsibility of a local or regional library board with authority to appoint or dismiss employees, control library property, establish policies, and budget for library operations. Service has varied depending on the commitment of local communities and their library boards.

The period in public library development immediately after 1900 was marked by construction of Carnegie library buildings and expansion of collections and services. With an emphasis on broadening the membership base, open access was permitted, children's departments were introduced, and standard cataloguing and classification systems were adopted. Travelling libraries were introduced to BC, Ontario and Québec shortly before 1900 to provide library extension in rural areas. Similar libraries were operated by the universities of Manitoba, Dalhousie, McGill and Alberta, and by provincial authorities in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Newfoundland. Although public library development was checked during the Depression and WWII, the expansion of service resumed after 1945.

Following the 1960s' emphasis on education, more than 125 new or remodelled public library buildings were constructed in Canada, in part with Centennial grants, and public library service expanded. Library development has been adversely affected by the inflationary period of the 1970s and two major recessions after 1980. Often libraries are caught between increasing demands from the public for enhanced services and pressures from municipal or regional jurisdictions to reduce or stabilize expenditures, resulting in consolidation of jurisdictions, eg, Halifax-Dartmouth and Metropolitan Toronto. Nonetheless, resources and services are still impressive and continue to grow: in 1995, the National Core Library Statistics Program (NCLSP) reported that 1034 public libraries held 81.8 million volumes, circulated 234 million items, performed 24.6 million information transactions, and employed 13 564 people at 3668 service points across Canada.

Regional Libraries

Because of Canada's demographic composition, provincial legislatures and professional associations have encouraged the formation of larger units of service such as county, regional and provincial library systems. The first regional systems were demonstrated on a trial basis in the early 1930s in the Fraser Valley and in PEI. After WWII other provinces adopted the regional forms. Some, such as Saskatchewan, have found that a regional system is the most effective solution to serving small communities separated by great distances - the province's large municipal libraries serve as backup to the regionals. Administrative frameworks and financial support for regional systems differ in each province.

Government Libraries

The federal government funds the Library of Parliament, the National Library of Canada, the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI), libraries of government departments and crown corporations, the public library service of the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon Regional Library System, and it contributes to the provision of library service for Indian bands. Federal libraries are responsible to their departments, but co-operate on matters of common interest through the Council of Federal Libraries established in 1976, whose secretariat is provided by the National Library. The parliamentary librarian reports directly to Parliament; the national librarian, with the status of a deputy head, reports to Parliament through the minister of communications. The growth of provincial departmental libraries has been determined by factors influencing the development of their respective provinces, eg, since 1965 they have developed rapidly in Ontario, Québec and Alberta.

Legislative Libraries

Legislative libraries had their beginnings after 1758 when a colonial legislature was created for Nova Scotia; by 1800 legislative libraries were being established in PEI, New Brunswick, and Upper and Lower Canada. In 1867 the Library of Parliament was officially established in Ottawa, based on collections from the legislative libraries of Lower and Upper Canada (1791-1841) and the Province of Canada (1841-67). Until the creation of the National Library in 1953, the Library of Parliament received deposit copies of all books published in Canada. It serves as a reference library for MPs and senators. Provincial legislative libraries are financed by provincial governments and serve MLAs and sometimes civil servants. Their holdings are an important resource for the history and development of their areas. In Québec the position of the Bibliothèque nationale is unique; it acts as a depository for all Québec publications, co-ordinates Québec bibliographic projects, and through its mandate to promote literary activity, has entered into cultural agreements between Québec and France.

Professional, Business and Industrial Libraries

Among the earliest professional libraries were law libraries. The Law Society of Upper Canada was established in 1797, and by this time law collections were being used at Halifax and Québec City. As industry and business expanded rapidly, larger firms founded libraries: the Grand Trunk Railway's library for its employees, opened at Montréal in 1857, was typical in this regard. Modern industrial libraries, eg, Esso Resources Canada Ltd library in Calgary, tend to be in major cities where there are strong concentrations of business and industry, as in Montréal and Toronto. By the 1980s scientific and technical libraries formed the largest single group of special libraries.

Libraries in Nonprofit Organizations

Important literary collections pertaining to fine art, science and technology exist in many libraries attached to nonprofit organizations such as museums and art galleries, in particular the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the National Gallery in Ottawa, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Museums of Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum. Libraries associated with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Music Centre in Toronto serve as information centres for broadcasters and composers.

In 1995, the NCLSP reported that 571 government and private special libraries held 17.3 million volumes, circulated 4.2 milion items, provided 1.5 million information transactions, and spent $137.1 million.

University Libraries

 The first academic library as they are now known opened in 1789 with the establishment of King's College in Windsor, NS. Though libraries were included in many colleges and universities founded in the early 19th century in eastern Canada, academic collections remained relatively small until 1950, when Canadian academic libraries escalated rapidly in response to a new emphasis on education and research.

Typical of this rapid growth was the establishment of 5 new universities in Ontario, which opened their doors with completely catalogued basic collections thanks to the Ontario New Universities Library Project of the early 1960s, one of the first large-scale uses of library automation in Canada. Other provinces, most notably BC, also funded university library development, and the Canada Coucil, and subsequently the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council provided special grants for the enrichment of collections of national distinction.

In the late 1960s co-operative programs were introduced to allow the reorganization and sharing of collections. The Ontario Council of University Libraries developed a co-operative library network that included a transit system, a structured interlibrary loan system, automated union list systems for serials and government publications, and interuniversity and reciprocal borrowing agreements. In BC the Tri-University Libraries initiated a government-funded union catalogue project that included college libraries. Similar activities occurred in Québec under the library council for the universities. The most ambitious project, UNICAT/TELCAT (1974-79), was a union catalogue and support system shared by 18 Ontario and Québec university and government libraries; it was disbanded when newer technologies made local integrated systems linked to each other via Telecommunication networks more cost-effective. Subsequently, the Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL) was formed to develop and manage an infrastructure for information, research, and instructional services to assist university work in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC.

College Libraries

College libraries have developed rapidly in Canada since 1960 - in Québec in Collèges d'enseignement général et professionel, in Ontario in colleges of applied arts and technology, and in the other provinces in technical institutes, vocational training centres, or community colleges. These libraries are learning resource centres, emphasizing nonprint materials as much as traditional print collections. Recent developments involving Internet-related technology and resources have been of special interest to community and technical college libraries. A 1996 national survey found that most libraries were well placed to deal with two key issues facing libraries in offering Internet access, ie, the provision of effective training for library staff and the allocation of resources to meet rising user expectations about services and accessibility in the library.

The collective resources of post-secondary university and college libraries have developed dramatically since 1960. In 1995, the NCLSP reported that 219 academic libraries held 160.7 million volumes, circulated 40.2 million items, provided 6.1 million information transactions, expended $568.4 million, and employed 8312 people across Canada.

School Libraries

School libraries originated in the 19th century, but did not begin to develop rapidly until the educational reforms of the 1960s. For many years, provincial school-library associations as well as the Canadian School Library Association and Association for Teacher-Librarianship in Canada (established 1989) have discussed or proposed standards for the size of collections, for staff and physical facilities, and for the role of the librarian in curriculum development. The role of the school library depends on the willingness of the individual school board and principal to provide space, personnel, funding and materials. In an effort to maintain quality, supervisors or consultants are employed by many school libraries to help organize and oversee libraries.

Throughout the 1990s, funding for school libraries has been cut back. However, the National Symposium on Information, Literacy and the School Library held at Ottawa in 1997 reaffirmed the role of the school library for self-directed learning, reading, and media/computer literacy. Today, in our information-rich society, school libraries continue to be learning-resource centres for students and teachers and serve as essential "knowledge-navigators" in the teaching process.

Further Reading

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