CHAPTER XIV
FINAL COMMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS
THE natural expectation of any one whose interest in the Canadian library situation has led him to follow the facts and interpretations set forth in preceding chapters will be that some general observations and recommendations, Dominion-wide in their scope and application, will be given as the conclusion of this Report.
This expectation would be justified, were the library problem of Canada a single and unified problem. Unfortunately, but emphatically, however, it is not.
The opening chapter stated that there were not one, but five, Canadas, each with differing backgrounds, conditions and outlooks. These five sections, for purposes of administration, are divided into nine provinces, each with equal and clearly defined political powers, in the exercise of which each is supreme. Among these powers is the control of education within their own borders. The library field is obviously included as part of this territory. It is evident, therefore, that there must be at least five differing sets of library problems confronting Canada, and that the solution of these rests in the hands of nine different authorities.
An exact parallel to these conditions in the Dominion exists in the neighbouring Republic. There education is the prerogative of the State, as in Canada it is that of the Province. There, too, the conditions of life in different sections vary as widely as they do in Canada. Even had the national government at Washington the power, it would be the height of legislative folly to attempt to impose one library policy on the whole United States. That which would be successful in Massachusetts would be a failure in Mississippi--the conditions in Montana require a different system and set-up from those necessary in Pennsylvania or in Alabama. Four dozen library laws, each adjusted to special conditions, would be required fully to meet the library needs of the United States, and each, in order to be effective, would have to be administered by separate and specially designed organizations.
A similar situation prevails in Canada, where the library problem at large divides itself into nine compartments, corresponding to the nine political areas constituting Confederation. In each of these, the problem
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is subdivided into the natural classifications of public library activity. There is the problem of the municipal library--city, town or village: that of the library in formal education--elementary and secondary school, college and university; problems of the technical, professional and government library; the problem of removing the existing discrimination against the lover of books who lives on a farm; the problem of providing reading material for the book-lover pioneering beyond the fringes of organized society. All these separate problems are further complicated--by differences in race, origin and language in education and historical background; in occupation and industry; in popular interest or indifference; in governmental encouragement or apathy.
The Dominion, as such, cannot be invoked or appealed to, even as a co-ordinating factor, in library planning for Canada. This is true to an even more conclusive degree than in the United States, for in no part of the Republic is there a homogeneous, centralized minority, constituting twenty per cent of the total population, composed of a people of a racial stock, and speaking a language, different and distinct from the majority, and insistent on the exercise of their guaranteed rights.
Among the federal departments at Washington is a Bureau of Educa-tion doing valuable work in correlating educational effort throughout the whole country. There is no such organization at Ottawa, nor the slightest present likelihood of one's being established. Educators regret-fully admit this; administrators become nervous at the prospect, with the deep and delicate problems such a project would inevitably involve and evoke; politicians become alarmed at the mere suggestion. It can therefore be accepted as a postulate that there is not the remotest danger of the Dominion's making any effort to modify, control or abrogate any educational rights conferred on the provinces by the British North America Act--corresponding to the constitution of the United States--more than sixty years ago.
These statements make plain the reasons for which this Report deals with the public library problems of the Dominion in chapters devoted to the several provinces. The particular library situations therein discussed had to be considered in relation to many other factors, the sum of which constitutes the present outlook and attitude of the province concerned. In each case lines of practicable library progress have been suggested, and in the majority of instances definite recommendations made. The suggestions and recommendations of necessity had to recognize, and to conform to, the local and provincial milieu.
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Nevertheless, from out the often confusing, though at all times interesting welter of evidence, presented to or discovered by the Commission in the eighteen months devoted to this enquiry, some conclusions and convictions that are general and national, as distinguished from local and provincial in their bearing and significance, have emerged. Some of them may be stated in this place.
The first is, that four-fifths of Canada's population of ten and a half million people are utterly without library service of any kind. Only three of the nine provincial governments as yet give more than a pious, theoretical approval to the principle that the library is an integral part of a people's welfare and education programme, or that, as such, it deserves and demands attention, direction and support, as a governmental policy, responsibility and duty. Everywhere throughout Canada is responsibility recognized as applying to the school, but only in Ontario, and to a much lesser degree in British Columbia, is a corresponding official interest taken in the public library.
Without question the reason for this situation is that the desire for reading facilities (outside two of the provinces) has not expressed itself as a public expectation or demand. Were it so expressed, those in authority would be quick to hear and to heed. In modern democracies, as in ancient Rome, Vox populi, vox Dei. Members of provincial legisla-tures would listen to their masters' voices, could voters be induced to speak with clear articulation, loudly, insistently and peremptorily. But eight million Canadians have no knowledge whatever as to what constitutes an organized public book service. Such a service is outside their expectation--perhaps their comprehension--as being within the ambit of practical politics, as understood by both voters and candidates at election times. The questions on which parties and partisans then join issue are in nearly all cases material and financial--railways and highways, motor licenses and income taxes, and such-like matters. Province-wide campaigns of education must be carried out, and a strong and general public opinion created, before the legislatures will embark on progressive library undertakings.
But there are many signs to show that this would not be the slow and discouraging process that might be expected. It can be most positively asserted that interest in book service exists in every part of the Dominion. That interest may be latent, rather than active, but it is everywhere present. Given the slightest prospect of realization, it reacts at once, quickening latent interest and hope into active resolve. Many
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instances might be cited in proof of the immediate response to the stimulus of a prospective or actual library service. Two years ago no resident of the Fraser Valley, in British Columbia, had any thought that such a service was within the realm of the possible. For forty years no effort had been made to establish a service of this sort. Farmers and towns-people were, to all appearance, reconciled to leading lives in which the library played no part. A library was, however, established--and the whole Valley has become a little world of readers. Study clubs and discussion groups are meeting in farm-houses and school-houses, and 20,000 volumes are not nearly sufficient to meet a new and ever-growing demand.
From every province this Commission could cite similar cases of latent, but indisputable interest in, and desire for, the service of books. The Commission believes this to be a Dominion-wide condition. The appetite for reading grows by the books on which it is fed. Given a few books, people ask for more. Given a poor book service, people demand a better.
There should be placed on record, however, in this place, an apparently contradictory assertion. The greater part of such library progress as has been made in Canada came, not from popular demand, but from enlightened leadership. A few men and women saw, by faith, a Vision--and the beauty and the glory of it were henceforth forever before their eyes. Certain leaders in public life caught something of their contagious enthusiasm, and ventured on some experimentation in the library field as part of a provincial policy. The appreciation resulting from their experiments stimulated extensions. Other and opposing political parties saw the wisdom of endorsing these programmes of enlarged book service. In Ontario three successive governments, each of a different political persuasion, extended the library policies of their predecessors. In that province, at least, there is little need to persuade or convince men in public life that support and encouragement of libraries is "good politics." The forewords preceding provincial chapters in this Report give the considered judgments of other Canadian leaders, clearly indicating their favourable personal attitude. As circumstances warrant, and condi-tions permit, it is their intention to put into effect, in their own communities, some of the plans of book service that have proved effective and popular in Ontario, or have been suggested by, and discussed with, this Commission.
Throughout eight of the provinces--Ontario is again the honourable exception--public libraries have been abandoned by the government to
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the municipalities. For city and town libraries no supervision is exercised, no standards of service set, no encouragement given. Too often the library is the Cinderella of the municipal family. Money is recognized as necessary for efficient fire, police, school or street-cleaning systems, but many councils are habitually indifferent to the claims and needs of their public for book service. The mind does not need cultivation.
This condition can easily be remedied. It can be done by the legis-lative assertion of the principle that the public library is part of the educational system under the control of each provincial government. For its proper and satisfactory operation these governments should declare and exercise full responsibility, as throughout the whole of Canada they to-day do for the public school.
As stated in the preceding chapter, "Suggestions for Provincial Acts relating to Public Libraries," all legislation required to meet these conditions is in need of partial or complete revision. The British Columbia Library Commission has spent two years on its own Act, which is now reported as ready for consideration by the government.
In that chapter the essential requirements
of public library policy and legislation are set forth. Such policies and laws
are the foundations on which all public library work must be built. They constitute
a Dominion-wide need, for in the most progressive provinces (in a library sense)
time has proved the necessity for amendments, while in others there might almost
as well be no library law at all. As these conditions apply, in greater or less
degree, to the whole Dominion, the necessary features of a sound and workable
library law are important enough to be re-stated or summarized in this final
chapter. They are:
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for co-operation between existing libraries, or combination or creation
of library units into county or regional libraries.
All these things cannot be done at once, but power to do any and all of them could and should be taken. As interest increases, public opinion warrants, Opportunities arise and revenues permit, more and more of the different phases of library activity, specified in the Library Acts, should be put into operation. The Acts themselves would be a constant stimulus to further endeavour. They would be ideals at which to aim, programmes from which to select points of attack for the present and the near future, and yardsticks by which to measure the progress of the past.
These are matters that the provinces, and the provinces alone, can undertake, for the Dominion has not the authority to give leadership to library projects, in any national sense. One extremely valuable contribu-tion to library progress, however, the Dominion has power to make, were the government so inclined. It might reduce to one-half, or even one-quarter, the postal charges on books sent by a public library to its borrowers, or on parcels of books sent by provincial travelling libraries to remote pioneer communities. Such action would be a continuation of the splendid contribution, originated by Canada, and since followed by many other countries, of sending free through the mails books printed in Braille, or other types used by the blind.
This would be an immensely valuable concession, especially to readers in rural and remote districts, where all book service must be given through the post office. There are hundreds of readers in Alberta alone, who, during the past years of poor harvests, have notified the libraries which for years have mailed them books, that the service must be discon-tinued--they had not money to pay postage costs.
As set forth in the chapter devoted to the subject, the Dominion has a great task before it in setting its own libraries--those of Parliament and the departments--in order. And, if the Dominion Government chose to embrace it, a glorious Opportunity to-day presents itself to create in Canada a National Library, comparable to those already established in other countries--one worthy of Canada's place among the nations. These are large enterprises, and of the utmost importance. They are
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the only means by which the national government at Ottawa could give to Canada any leadership in library matters. Exploration of all the circumstances, pursued throughout the present enquiry, has convinced the Commission that little is possible in other directions. Even as a co-ordinating factor, mediating and harmonizing the library work of the provinces, there appears to be nothing the national government can do.
This has been the impression of many Canadian librarians for some years. There was, at the same time, a strong feeling that some national library agency was in the highest degree desirable. This feeling found expression in the discussions in 1926 and 1927, which resulted, at the Toronto Conference of the American Library Association, in the determination to form a Canadian Library Association. This new organization was not in any sense to be a rival to the A.L.A., which, though American in title, is international in activity, and numbers hundreds of Canadian library workers in its membership. The Dominion body was projected as a society that would be a national rallying point for all Canadian library activity, a clearing-house for library information, a forum for library discussion, an organization that might co-ordinate, and perhaps do somewhat to unify, the library work of the several provinces. Its programme was to be principally educational, but partly executive, for it was hoped it might undertake, on behalf of library interests throughout Canada as a whole, the working out of certain special and primarily Canadian problems, in which all friends of libraries in the Dominion are interested. As stated in an earlier section, the present enquiry was one direct result of this widely-accepted point of view.
This Commission has strong convictions as to the value of such an Association, with a small but thoroughly competent, technical staff, co-operating with other educational workers and agencies throughout the Dominion. For it can clearly be seen splendid avenues of usefulness. This Commission firmly believes that such an Association, properly organized and staffed, would do much to speed up library progress, and give to library workers incentive and enthusiasm. The scope of its proposed activities has been discussed, planned and accepted by those interested, from Atlantic to Pacific.
But this Commission reluctantly and regretfully reports that the organization of such an Association is out of the question, at least for the present. Canadian libraries are, speaking generally, insufficiently staffed, and library workers have too much to do to undertake, as a voluntary
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activity, the large amount of work and correspondence, and the not incon-siderable expense, of launching and operating a new national association. True, the American Library Association was originally so organized, but conditions were very different more than half a century ago.
To be successful, the Canadian Library Association must have a paid professional staff. The absolute minimum would be two, an executive and a secretary. The former would be away from Ottawa--the general opinion is that headquarters should be in the national capital--a goodly part of the year. He (or she) would be assisting in field work, conferring with Library Commissions, giving educational addresses, and doing similar work, while the routine duties would continue to be attended to at headquarters. Costs for office rent, circulars, correspondence and publicity would have to be met, and travel and living expenses provided. A minimum budget for a staff of two persons would be $12,000 or $15,000 a year.
This Commission cannot see how such an enterprise can be financed. Nothing can be expected by way of an annual grant from the Dominion Government, several members of which took the ground, in discussion, that library matters were the concern of the provinces and the munici-palities. Grants from the provinces are likewise out of the question. Two-thirds of them have manifested little interest in their own libraries. They would scout the suggestion that they make a contribution for the general welfare of library work throughout Canada. One Minister of Education put the case unanswerably: "If this Government decides to put any additional funds into library enterprises, you can be sure of one thing; the money will be devoted to the improvement of book service in this province, and not of that of the Dominion at large."
It is frankly impossible for the library workers of Canada to finance such an organization. They are a very small professional class, a few hundred in all. Their salaries are low--less than those of teachers of similar ability, training and experience. Most of them are already members of their own provincial associations, where such exist; many are members of the American Library Association, and some of other profes-sional societies.
Perhaps some day some Canadian of wealth, in search of a philanthropic investment that will give its returns in enriched and enlarged satisfactions of the mind and the spirit of Canada, may see in this matter a suggestion and an opportunity. He might finance a Foundation to render such a project possible, or, at least find funds to ensure its trial
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operation for a limited period of years. The United States has produced several such enlightened philanthropists. Their benefactions have mitigated suffering, broadened the bounds of knowledge, and extended the domain of happiness. And, incidentally, they have conferred on themselves the nearest approach to immortality possible in this world, for "their name liveth for evermore," held in grateful remembrance by generations to whom, but for their intelligent benefactions, they would have been utterly unknown.
In the fulness of time one such may arise
in Canada. In the meantime it would appear that, with such patience as may be
summoned, we must abide the day of his coming. Pending his arrival, a useful
project, national in its hope and promise, must be set aside.