Legislative and Parliamentary Libraries in Canada: Two Hundred Years of Service, Support and Information.

AuthorWhitmell, Vicki

Legislative and parliamentary libraries have come a long way from their humble (and sometimes informal) beginnings. In this article, the authors trace their history, outline their roles and functions, discuss some challenges they face, and look to future development. While each legislative and parliamentary library is unique, reflecting local needs and histories, they also share common responsibilities to parliamentarians and legislative staff as they do the work of parliamentary democracy. The authors note how the founding of the Association of Parliamentary Libraries in Canada/L'Association des bibliothecaires parlementaires du Canada (APLIC/ABPAC) has permitted the country's parliamentary libraries to work together to identify and share best practices. They conclude by suggesting that these libraries will continue to monitor trends, evolve and adapt to new technology as they look to the future.

Background and History

The early growth of legislative and parliamentary libraries (1) in Canada from the late 1700s to the early 1900s mirrors the development of legislative libraries in other western-style democracies. Designed to support and inform Members as they make policy, debate, pass legislation, oversee the government, and serve their constituents; these libraries continue to provide specialized and innovative research and reference service and to acquire and curate extensive and varied print and electronic collections. All are focused on meeting the day-to-day and long-term information needs of parliamentarians.

The Assemblee Nationale in France created the first parliamentary library in 1796. Four years later the formidable Library of Congress was created to serve the US Congress. Today in Canada all provinces and territories (except Yukon) have a legislative library and the federal parliament has the Library of Parliament. As our timeline shows, each library's individual history parallels the political maturation of their jurisdiction and their entry into Confederation.

It seems fitting that the first legislative library in Canada was in Prince Edward Island, the location of the founding of Confederation. The library originated with the establishment of the Legislature in 1773, although it did not have a permanent home until it moved into the second floor of the Colonial Building (now known as Province House) in Charlottetown in 1847. New Brunswick established its library in 1841, although it had been functioning informally since the province was formed in 1784. The Nova Scotia Legislative Library began in 1862, although the House had purchased statutes and journals from other jurisdictions as early as 1758. The Newfoundland and Labrador Legislative Library traces its origins back to 1835. It was dismantled from 1933 to 1949 during the time of the Commission of Newfoundland. Following Newfoundland's entry into Confederation in 1949 the library was re-assembled.

Book collections first emerged in the House of Assemblies of Upper and Lower Canada in the 1790s. Upper Canada formally began to fund its library in 1816 and its first librarian was hired in 1827. In Lower Canada a resolution was passed in the House of Assembly in 1802 to create a library, and the first librarian was hired in 1829. These two libraries operated separately until the Canadas united to form the Province of Canada in 1841. At that time, the two collections were purchased from the legislatures by the new government. The newly created library accompanied the Legislature of the Province of Canada as it travelled for more than a decade between Kingston and Montreal, and then between Toronto and Quebec, before finding its permanent home in Ottawa as the Library of Parliament in 1867.

Saskatchewan's legislative library originated in 1876 as the North-West Government Library, a working collection that moved with the territorial administration. After 1905 and the establishment of the Provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta, the library became the Saskatchewan Legislative Library. Alberta was granted $6,113.25 in lieu to establish a new library for the province.

Although money was voted for a library in 1858 in...

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