September 15, 2015 marks the hundredth anniversary of the Legislative Library's service in its current home: the stunning south wing of the British Columbia Parliament Buildings.
In its one hundredth year of operation in the library wing, the Legislative Library continues its mandate to serve the information needs of B.C.'s MLAs, their staff, the Officers of the House and legislative support staff. The Library continues to broaden its services and support embracing electronic resources and archiving and digitizing current and historical content.
The Library itself was born before
the confederation of the province,
established by a small grant from the
Colonial Legislature of Vancouver Island
in 1863. A few books were purchased and
shelved unattended in a single room.
Statutes, parliamentary papers, and
reference materials were added slowly
over time, and when R. E. Gosnell was appointed the first Provincial Librarian in 1893, there were between two and three thousand items in the Library collection. Gosnell had big ambitions for the Library, envisioning services and resources that could support not only the Legislative Assembly, but also the rest of the Province. He purchased as many works as possible to further his vision, and when the Parliament Buildings were completed in 1897, the Library moved
from the 'Birdcages' into new quarters inside.
Thanks to Gosnell and his successor, E.O.S. Scholefield, the Library rapidly outgrew this space as well. Within six years, eighteen-thousand volumes were spilling into nine rooms, and Legislature staff even considered converting the kitchen and dining room into additional Library space. When plans were made to build additions to the Parliament Buildings, it was clear that a new Library had to be included. Francis Rattenbury, architect of the original buildings, returned to design the expansion project in 1911.
Building a New Home
In September of 1912 the Governor-General, His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, arrived in Victoria to lay the cornerstone for the Library wing. At the time, it was noted that the Duke had granted his name for the Library’s use, and the press spent great pomp and ceremony praising the future ‘Connaught Library’.
The name did not stick much beyond that
year and, in line with Gosnell's vision,
shortly became known as the 'Provincial
Construction of the expansion took three years, and by the summer of 1915, the Library began moving into its current home. Reports from that year indicate that the entire collection – tens of thousands of items – was moved by the small but enthusiastic Library staff. Scholefield, then the Provincial Librarian, noted that the task was completed so ‘cheerfully’ that the move was finished in only a few weeks.
The Library opened its beautiful new space to the public on September 15, 1915.
The Provincial Library
The early librarians' ideal of creating a library that could serve the whole Province had a hand in forming library and archives services all over British Columbia. From almost the beginning, the Library curated a separate, smaller collection to focus on the history of British Columbia. Materials were painstakingly selected from all over the province for decades. These items became the bedrock of the Provincial Archives. For many years, the Provincial Librarian also received the title of ‘Provincial Archivist’,
and the archival collection was managed
and stored by the Library. In 1970, the
B.C. Archives separated from the Library and moved into a building of its own nearby.
Starting in 1898, the Library also maintained a travelling library program, which sent small collections of fifty books to anywhere in the Province that required it. This included smaller communities without library service, schools, lighthouses, even ships at sea. When the Public Library Commission was established in 1919 they took over this service; by that point almost two hundred travelling collections were in circulation.
In spite of managing these and other projects, the Library continued to provide important services to Legislative staff and members of the Assembly. This included everything from research and reference, to supplying publications and other materials, and eventually to technical and computer support.
The Reference Department itself has a history almost as long as the Library wing. It was established in 1920, and at the time was lauded as the first distinct Legislative Reference Department in Canada. The Department was created to “furnish the Ministers and their Deputies, Members of the Legislative Assembly, and the Legislative Counsel and other public officials such information as they require.” It continues with this mission today.
The Legislative Library
With the Archives separated and
public library services long-since
flourishing, during the 1970s the
Library decided to re-focus and
prioritize their services to members of
the Legislative Assembly. They stopped
using the 'Provincial Library' name and
instead took up their
statutory title: the 'Legislative
Over the years, the Library
has maintained a strong focus on
Legislative services. However, true to
its roots, a small amount of 'Provincial
Library' services remain. When staff are
not working to support the Legislative
Assembly with research or materials,
they find time to help government
employees, public scholars, historians,
The Legislative Library has surpassed
R.E. Gosnell's dreams: a comprehensive
collection that supports the political
and the public, staffed by a long line
of talented and passionate individuals.
The Library staff are proud of the work
they do for each and every client, and
they look forward to the challenges
brought on by the next hundred years.
Legislative Library Historical Timeline