Public Library Commission

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 newspaper reading-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.

Rural communities in British Columbia 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 borrow boxes of "travelling library" books from the PLC's main depot in Victoria.

In many rural communities, library associations worked with local school boards to develop school libraries. The PLC assisted the cause of school libraries in other ways. In 1923, for example, the Library Commission worked with the Department of Education to produce a comprehensive catalogue of school library reference books.

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 superintendent who began his career driving a bookmobile in the Fraser Valley, was also an important figure.

In April 1968 the PLC was renamed the British Columbia Library Development Commission. The title of the commission's chief executive was changed from Superintendent to Director. In June 1978 the Commission was again reorganized and renamed the Library Services Branch.

Written by Patrick A. Dunae