History of the CBRL
"Your Bridge to the Future" Cape Breton Regional Library's 50th Anniversary
The establishment of the Cape Breton Regional Library in 1950 came after many years of hard work on the part of numerous people, both professionally involved in the library field and concerned citizens interested in developing library service for the counties of Cape Breton and Victoria.
In her library survey of Nova Scotia, published in 1938, Miss Nora Bateson noted special conditions and problems for library service for the counties of Cape Breton and presented what she believed would be viable solutions in a "suggested program for Cape Breton County".
Twelve years after her report, the Cape Breton Regional Library came into existence. The 1951 annual report notes a total book collection of 21,994 with branches in Sydney, Glace Bay, New Waterford , North Sydney, Dominion, Louisbourg, Donkin, Florence, and Reserve Mines, as well as a Bookmobile. Total book circulation for that year was 186,900. Membership in all branches and the bookmobile totalled 18,779. Total population statistics for the region was 111,468.
In 1955 book stock had increased to 49,148 with a total of 234,814 circulation in nine branches and the bookmobile. Considerable gains had been experienced in the acquisition of qualified staff, and in the words of Miss Ruby Wallace, Regional Librarian, "Library service in Cape Breton County has become part of the life of the people"
The latter part of the 1950's saw the popularity of television increase dramatically and those in the library field held their collective breath, wondering what impact this technology would have on the reading habits of the population. This fear, coupled with the fire in December of 1959, which destroyed the Court House where the Cape Breton Regional Headquarters and the Sydney Library were housed, created many worrisome problems for all - problems which were overcome with great enthusiasm and dedication.1960s
The tenth anniversary in 1960 was highlighted by the opening of the new James McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney. Although book stock was low due to the unfortunate events of 1959, the region still saw a circulation of 334,718 books for the year.
Over the next ten years, the circulation of books and other materials fluctuated, with increases shown some years, decreases in others; but generally as the book stock increased more residents took advantage of the facilities, not only to borrow but to do research for school and college courses.1970s
The 1970's heralded in a decade of rapid change in the library region. Book stock increased, additional professional staff were hired, and plans were started for larger and better facilities to serve the public. In common with most services, the library was beset by inflation and an effort to maintain the standard of service built up over the years was oft-times a struggle. By 1979 book stock had reached 145,416 with a region-wide circulation of 324,352.1980s
Rapid changes and technological progress continued into the 1980's. There was a demand for more varied services and larger facilities in which to provide these services. Planning began for the leap into the world of computers. These machines are now indispensable to library operations as they are to most other businesses and educational institutions.
In 1982, Miss Mary Fraser, Regional Librarian, retired after a long and distinguished career with the Cape Breton Regional Library. Miss Fraser's dedication to the people of Cape Breton and their libraries created a solid foundation on which to build the future. Her keen interest in local history and her encyclopedic knowledge of these events helped to establish the Nova Scotia Collection at McConnell Library, Sydney. This collection is used by many people, both scholars and amateur history buffs to increase their knowledge and understanding of our most colourful area.
Mr. Ian MacIntosh became Regional Librarian upon Miss Fraser's retirement. A native of North Sydney, Mr. MacIntosh has taken the regional library through many changes since his tenure began. The expansion of the McConnell Memorial Library became a reality with the opening of a new children's wing in 1988. The headquarters staff and the bookmobile now occupy the lower floor of the new wing.
Active membership in the region totalled 28,739 and book stock reached 167,010. Magazine subscriptions totalled 381, video cassettes number over 1,000 and inter-library loans to other regions in Canada totalled 1,214 in 1989.
Children's programming has expanded, especially during the past decade with ongoing programs of storytelling, films and videos; after-school programs of book talks and crafts, along with library visits by school classes and youth groups. Regularly scheduled preschool programs continue to be very popular. The summer reading club, organized by children's librarians from across the province, continues to play an important role in focusing on books and reading. Each year all twelve branches and the Whitney Pier bookmobile service participate in this program. Special programs of stories, videos, films, and crafts are presented during March Break and the annual Canadian Children's Book Festival, held in November. The 1989 annual report states that 11,117 is the active juvenile membership and that 157,073 children's books were circulated during the year.1990s
The final decade of the 20th Century, and especially the year 2000, which will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Cape Breton Regional Library, are years worth celebrating. The efforts of the previous four decades, where providing quality library service was paramount, continues into the 21st Century.
A number of notable events in the 1990's have included the addition of a Video Library and the opening of a Branch Library in Ingonish in 1993. This newest branch was realized after many years of negotiations by residents and librarians for a permanent library 'North of Smokey'. It is interesting to note that the Victoria North Regional Library Branch has been recently expanded to accommodate the ever increasing library usage of the area's residents. Glace Bay moved to a new location in 1991 and saw further expansion of it's facilities in 1995.
The mid 1990's saw steady increases to the membership statistics, as well as increases in the circulation of library materials. The most recent economic downturn, and the resulting out migration of young families, have impacted the library, and by the year 1997 circulation statistics were declining. Other indicators however, such as the actual number of people coming into the library has increased. Thus, the library remains a viable information centre for residents of Cape Breton and Victoria Counties.
The automation of library procedures became more evident in the region in the mid 1990's. NcompasS, the province-wide online catalogue became available in the Headquarters office in 1993, and by the end of the 1990's all Branch Libraries (with the exception of Bookmobiles) were using the computer to search library holdings instead of the card catalogue.
In 1996, the Cape Breton Regional Library began offering free public access to the World Wide Web. People who would otherwise not have had access to the Internet would now be able to utilize this technology first hand from any library branch.
The daunting task of automating the circulation began in the early 1990's, and to date there are 132,384 records in the database. A newly designed 'barcoded' library card is now being issued at the McConnell Branch and will begin to be issued at all Branches within the next six months. Our goal is to see the circulation system fully automated within the next two years.
In 1998, the McLennans of Petersfield web site was launched. The site was designed and created by Regional Library staff. The site traces the history of one of Cape Breton's prominent 20th century families. The McLennans of Petersfield is housed on SchoolNet, a highly respected educational data base.
In March 1999, the first annual Library Card Month was held. This successful promotion resulted in 1359 new library card owners region wide. Subsequent year's Library Card Months have been and are expected to be more successful than their predecessors.
The library, in a continuing effort to be participants in community activities, was proud to participate in the Annual Celtic Colours Festival, and in the "Leave a Legacy Project". Library Programs, both for adults and children continued to be offered, and continued to be well attended. The 50th Anniversary Committee was very active as the year 2000 unfolded. To celebrate, there were open houses for all 13 Cape Breton Regional Library Branches.
As the 20th century drew to a close the Cape Breton Regional Library continued to be a vibrant, relevant presence in the community. The motto chosen for the 50th Anniversary, "Your Bridge to the Future," represented the Regional Library's continuing commitment to provide for the informational, recreational, and cultural needs of the community it serves.