Skip navigation links (access key: Z)Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives CanadaSymbol of the Government of Canada
Français - Version française de cette pageHome - The main page of the Institution's websiteContact Us - Institutional contact informationHelp - Information about using the institutional websiteSearch - Search the institutional - Government of Canada website

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

BriefsReportRoyal 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

(FOR RELEASE THURSDAY, AUGUST 18th, [ 1949 - Rédacteur ] at 2:30 p.m.)

its Eventual Character and Scope.*

A Brief submitted to the Chairman and Members of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences, by the CANADIAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION - ASSOCIATION CANADIENNE des BIBLIOTHEQUES [sic], July 12, 1949.


The Canadian Library Association - Association Canadienne des Bibliotheques [sic] esteems the invitation of the Chairman and members of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences to present a brief on the eventual character and scope of the National Library of Canada.

Since its organization in 1946, the Association, which now has a membership of more than twelve hundred persons, has studied the nature and services of the great national libraries of the world. Being fully convinced of Canada's need for a national library, the Association has taken such action as seemed expedient to promote its establishment.


The Association takes this opportunity of directing the attention of the Royal Commission to A Joint Brief on a National Library for Canada,(1) which it prepared in collaboration with the Royal Society of Canada, the Social Science research Council of Canada, the Canadian Historical Association, and the Canadian Political Science Association, and forwarded, with a covering letter, on December 18, 1946, to the Prime Minister. On January 25th, 1947, the Secretary-of-State, who represented the Prime Minister, discussed this brief with representatives of all the above-mentioned associations and one result has been the appointment in 1948 of the National Library Advisory Committee under the chairmanship of the Dominion Archivist.


The following brief takes a long-range view of the National Library and does not deal with matters which are already under consideration by the National Library Advisory Committee. The Association welcomes the programme already initiated by the


National Library Advisory Committee and is confident that in the Committee's plans for a Bibliographical Centre, a sound foundation has been laid on which to build the services of Canada's National Library.


The distinguishing characteristic of a Canadian National Library will be its extensive collection of Canadian material. The aim, in the opinion of the Association, should be completeness.

There are fairly extensive collections of Canadiana in the United States, notably in the New York Public Library, Harvard University Library, and the Library of Congress; and much of the early material in these and others collections, being unique, is only procurable by photographic reproduction. Such libraries, however, are noted for their generosity and, doubtless, would cooperate by allowing their materials to be reproduced for use in Canada's National Library. Similar arrangements could, in all probability, be made with La Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the British Museum, and other libraries abroad.

Copies of all materials copyrighted in Canada should be deposited in the National Library.(2) At present, by special favour of the librarians of Parliament, one of the two copies of all such material legally deposited in the Library of Parliament is reserved for the National Library. The Association, though duly appreciative of this generous action, respectfully suggests that the Copyright Act ought to be so amended that the National Library shall become the legal depository for at least one copy of all material copyrighted in Canada. Furthermore, there is no penalty clause in the present Act, and that section which deals with legal deposit seems not to have been enforced. The legal deposit clause of the Copyright Act, therefore, should be strengthened.


Multiple copies of all Canadian government documents issued by the King's Printer and other agencies should be deposited, by authority, in the National Library. The National Libarry would then act as a central distributing agency to other libraries. This would lessen the work of the government departments concerned, simplify order procedure for libraries, and ensure a constant and complete supply of documents from one distributing centre.

Although books, periodicals, and newspapers will be the nucleus of the collection, pamphlets, broadsides, and other ephemeral publications should also be collected. Since it is impossible to ascertain the eventual importance of seemingly ephemeral material, it will be necessary to collect all of it. Falconer Madan aptly expressed the value of ephemeral material in the phrase "The dust of today is the gold of tomorrow".(3) The problems of storage and preservation of such materials can be solved by microfilm reproduction.

The National Library of Canada should collect, in addition to printed material, phonographic records of Canada's dialects, folk-lore, and music. An archival and reference collection of Canadian films should also be made.

Although the primary responsibility of a National Library for Canada will be to make a complete collection of Canadiana, the ultimate usefulness of the library for reference and research purposes will naturally depend upon an adequate general reference section. Collections in the National Library, therefore, cannot be confined to Canadiana alone.


Whereas the National Library will give direct service to the Government of Canada, and research workers in Ottawa, it will also serve as the prime library of the nation, and will, to the best of its ability, meet the needs of any person in Canada, wherever he is situated, either by furnishing the actual material required by means of an inter-library loan, or, in the case of rare holdings, by lending, or supplying at cost, photographic reproductions or microfilm. Thus its services will extend into fields far beyond the reach of local libraries.


A detailed account of the various bibliographic and reference services has been fully described in the previous brief.(4)


The site of the National Library should be given the earliest consideration. The Canadian Library Association - Association Canadienne des Bibliothèques, urges that the site be centrally located in Ottawa, within easy access of the Library of Parliament, the Archives of Canada, and the central group of departmental buildings. It is important to note that a wise planning of the building cannot take place until the site is chosen.


The design of the National Library should bear a direct relation to the various functions which will be carried on within it. Architectural plans should be drawn up only after considerable study of operating methods used in modern libraries. When Canada plans its National Library, it will have an opportunity of demonstrating the advantage of a National Library built along "functional" lines, as is the National Library of Switzerland, and thereby of giving leadership to the planners of provincial and local libraries.

It should be observed that there can be no point at which a National Library ceases to grow. It will not discard material as a public library does. For this reason, it is essential that any building designed as a National Library should be planned with a view to future expansion. Only thus can its ever-expanding contents be suitably housed and easily administered.


The National Library's primary function will be to collect books that have been written by Canadians, or that, though written by non-Canadians are of appreciable significance to Canadians. It should regard these publications and other media of information as vital to the diffusion of knowledge, the well-being of Canadian life, and as tools to be put to use for Canadian citizens. Operating to a


large extent in cooperation with provincial and local libraries, the National Library should make its resources available to all government services, business men, workers, teachers, scholars; in short, to all the people of Canada.

All of which is respectfully submitted by:


46 Elgin Street,
OTTAWA, Canada.


(1) Exhibit A

(2) The practice of legal deposit was initiated by Francis I when he promulgated the Ordonnance de Montpellier in 1537, directing that one copy of every book printed in France should be deposited in the Librairie Royale at Blois and that one copy of every book printed abroad and sold in France should be offered there for purchase.

(3) Exhibit B
      Arundell Esdaile, past-president of the Library Association and for many years secretary of the British Museum in discussing the necessity of collecting contemporary materials for the use of the student of tomorrow, writes: —

"Falconer Madan hit on an excellent phrase when he said that 'the dust of today is the gold of tomorrow'. It is absolutely true. What do real students most use? Hardly at all the 'best books' — the best books of, say, 1880, on some branch of medicine is useful only as a milestone in the history of medicine or as a part of the life and career of its author . . . Everything in such a book which is not rejected by later knowledge is subsumed into later books. But the contemporary criticism of the passing world, public and private, the baggage books — plays, poetry, imaginative literature in all its branches, books for children (these a fascinating and most valuable record of the understanding and treatment of the young by their dull elders), every sort of fugitive matter are what are wanted, and art exactly what, without a thorough system of legal deposit and of patient preservation, go clean out of existence."
COBB LECTURE: "Great Libraries and their functions" by Arundell Esdaile in Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, December 17, 1948. P. 59-69.

[ The text of footnote 3 was missing from the National Library's copies of the brief, and is taken from the brief as it was published in Ontario Library Review, vol. XXXIII, no. 3, August 1949, p. 229. - Ed.]

(4) Exhibit A

*From: Canadian Library Association. The National Library of Canada, its Eventual Character and Scope : a Brief Submitted to the Chairman and Members of the Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Ottawa : Canadian Library Association, 1949. 5 p. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

Proactive Disclosure