Series GR-1387 - Library Services Branch records

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Library Services Branch records

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  • 1919-1979 (Creation)

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7.2 m of textual records

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Biographical history

The Library Services branch is the successor to the Library Development Commission, and was established in 1978 in accordance with the Public Libraries (Amendment) Act (SBC 1978, c. 35). The mandate of the branch is to “foster the vision of efficient, effective and connected library programs and services” by “overseeing the legislative and governance framework for public libraries, serving as a liaison between libraries and provincial or federal governments and offering funding, advice, and leadership to libraries and province-wide library programs and initiatives.”

Although the Library Services branch initially operated several field offices, a 1987 report recommended the closure of several of these offices. Dawson Creek was the first office to be closed following a merger with the Prince George office, which was itself closed in 1995. The 1987 report also recommended that several programs be phased out, including the Open Shelf books-by-mail program which eventually ceased all service in 1995 after 73 years.

The Branch has changed ministries on several occasions. Between 1990 and 2001, it was located within the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, Recreation and Housing, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. In 2001, the Branch was moved to the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal, and Women’s Services where it remained until a 2006 move to the Ministry of Education.

The branch has changed names several times, and has been known as the Library Services branch and the Public Library Services branch. As of June 2016, the body is known as the Libraries branch and is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education.

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Biographical history

The Library Development Commission was established in accordance with the Public Libraries (Amendment) Act (SBC 1968, c.44). The Commission was the successor to the Public Library Commission, which was established in accordance with the Public Libraries Act (SBC 1919, c. 48). The functions of both the Library Development Commission and its predecessor were to operate a system of traveling libraries and to cooperate with public library associations, public library boards, and librarians on the organization, maintenance, and administration of public libraries.

The LDC was comprised of five individuals appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council. Each appointee served an unpaid term of three years, and the Commission’s duties remained largely the same as those of the Public Library Commission. The LDC provided grants to libraries, and by the end of the 1969-1970 fiscal year, the Commission had received $500,000 in legislative appropriations, which it distributed as grants to libraries and library associations.

In an effort to expand library service across the province, the LDC operated a variety of book mailing and bookmobile programs. By 1968, the Open Shelf book mailing program boasted a circulation of 115,000 volumes, which were delivered by parcel post to individuals for periods of six weeks.

In 1973, the Commission elected Roy Culos of Burnaby as chairman, a position in which he served until the Commission was disbanded in 1978. Under his leadership, 10 public library systems were integrated, and the Greater Vancouver Regional District became a federated system. The first integrated system was launched in January 1974, and was originally known as the Thompson Nicola Regional District. The system served communities from Merritt north to Clearwater, and from Clinton east to Chase. In 1975 the system changed its name to the Cariboo-Thompson-Nicola library system when libraries in the Cariboo district joined. The LDC provided financial assistance and helped to set operating standards for the newly integrated system. 1975 saw the launch of the Greater Vancouver Library Federation, which was to include 25 branches. This amalgamation was the first of its kind in Canada, and member branches continued to have control over their own expenditures, policies, and operations.

By 1978, the provincial government cancelled grants that had previously been provided to libraries wanting to join a regional or integrated service system, with the mandate that such initiatives would come at the library’s own expense. When the LDC protested, Recreation and Conservation minister Sam Bawlf disbanded the Commission. Under the Public Libraries Amendment Act (SBC 1978, c. 35) the LDC was replaced by a Library Advisory Council. This body was to be comprised of appointees who were to advise the Minister on matters affecting public library service and the application of the Public Libraries Act. Final decisions were to be placed with the newly-created Library Services branch.

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Biographical history

The Public Library Commission was under the Dept. of the Provincial Secretary from 1919 to 1942. It was next under the Dept. of Education from 1942 to 1961, when it was returned to the Dept. of the Provincial Secretary. On April 6, 1968, the name of the Public Library Commission was changed to the Library Development Commission. In June 1978 the name was changed again, to the Library Services Branch.

Custodial history

Scope and content

This series contains correspondence, statistical returns, and reports of the Public Library Commission (PLC) and its successors, the Library Development Commission and the Library Services Branch. The series includes files of PLC pioneers Helen Gordon Stewart, H.N. Lidster, and C.K. Morison, plus records of PLC members at Provincial Library and Archives. The records also contain documents relating to regional libraries in Fraser Valley, Okanagan district, and Vancouver Island, along with correspondence pertaining to provincial library schools and associations.

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Transferred by Director, Library Services Branch, 1983.


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These records are subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or other acts and access may be restricted. Please contact the BC Archives to determine the access status of these records.

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General note

The public library system in British Columbia developed in part from the Free Libraries Act of 1891 (54 Vict., c. 29). This act empowered incorporated cities and municipalities to establish local libraries and news-rooms, which were to be open to the public free of charge. The act did not, however, provide for any financial assistance to the community libraries, nor did it encourage the establishment of free libraries outside the province's three main metropolitan centres. B.C.'s small, rural communities were not provided with effective library services until 1919, when the legislature passed the Public Libraries Act (9 Geo. 5, c. 48). This act, which was administered by the Provincial Secretary, established a Public Library Commission (PLC) and made provisions for "public library associations." With the approval of the PLC, local library associations were able to secure operating grants from the provincial government and local library associations were also able to borrow boxes of "travelling library" books from the PLC's main depot in Victoria. The first chairman of the PLC was Dr. Helen Gordon Stewart. Formerly head of the Victoria Public Library, she was also one of the founding members of the British Columbia Library Association (1911). In 1930 she was appointed director of the PLC's Fraser Valley library unit demonstration. Funded by the Carnegie Corporation, this programme was intended to demonstrate the feasibility of large, regional libraries. The demonstration was a success and led to the establishment of other regional library units in the Okanagan and on Vancouver Island. Hugh Norman Lidster was chairman of the PLC while the demonstration was underway. A solicitor by profession, Lidster helped to maintain the Commission's work during the difficult years of the Depression. Other individuals who played a prominent part in the PLC during the period were Provincial Librarians and Archivists, John Hosie and W. Kaye Lamb. C.K. Morison, the PLC.

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Accession number(s): G83-018, 91-3650

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