History of Public Library Development in Saskatchewan

Over the years, Saskatchewan has developed a province-wide system of public libraries for the benefit of all its citizens. Today the provincial public library system consists of seven regions, two municipal libraries in Saskatoon and Regina, a northern system and the Saskatchewan Provincial Library.

The purpose of the provincial public library system is to ensure equitable access to basic library services for all residents of Saskatchewan.  Equitable access is achieved by all public libraries:

  • contributing to the union catalogue;
  • offering reciprocal borrowing to every resident of Saskatchewan; and
  • participating in the interlibrary loan system.

Following is a chronology of developments of the provincial public library system.

1900 Mechanics and Literary Institute Ordinance Territorial (Legislative) Library established.
1906 The first public libraries act.
1909 Regina Public Library established.
1912 At the request of the Women Grain Growers, the Open Shelf Service is initiated to provide books of literary and educational value and is the responsibility of the Legislative Library.
1913 Saskatoon Public Library established.
1914 A system of travelling libraries is developed in Saskatchewan. These travelling libraries consist of large wooden boxes of 60 to 80 books that are loaned to a group or a community for a period of one year. In the beginning, books from the Legislative Library are used, but as the demand for materials increases, a separate collection is established.
The travelling libraries are placed under the supervision of the Bureau of Publications. The Open Shelf mails materials upon request to individual borrowers and places an emphasis on providing reference materials.
1945 The Open Shelf Service become the Public Information Library.
1946 As a result of the recommendations of the Saskatchewan Library Advisory Council, The Regional Libraries Act is passed to provide for the appointment of a Supervisor of Regional Libraries with responsibility for promoting the development of such libraries. By this time, it was recognized that libraries in rural Saskatchewan could not exist except in larger units of service or regions.
1950 The first regional library, North Central Saskatchewan Regional Library, is formed. (This region is now the Wapiti Regional Library).
1951 First Provincial Librarian, Mary Donaldson, is appointed.
1953 The Provincial Library is officially created with responsibility for library extension work in the province. There are 851 travelling libraries in Saskatchewan, containing slightly more then 38,000 books.
  The Public Information Library Division and the Office of the Supervisor of Regional Libraries are transferred to the newly-formed agency. Circulation increases from 52,000 in 1954 to 131,794 in 1966, and the reference questions answered increases from 800 to 4,243 during the same period.
1958 Centralized cataloguing service is added to the Provincial Library’s responsibilities. This involves cataloguing all books acquired by municipal and regional libraries, and allows the creation of a union catalogue of books to facilitate resource sharing and interlibrary loan.
  The Saskatchewan Library Advisory Council is formally established in legislation. The first members, some of whom served on the Council previously, include: Dr. Carlyle King (Chairman), Gustave Baudais, Mrs. J.B. Harrington, Mrs. Kathleen McDonald, Mrs. Henry Nelson, Wilson Parker, and Dr. J.W. Tait.
1965 Southeast Regional Library is formed.
  The Library Inquiry Committee is appointed by the government to study development of library service in the province. Included in the Report are recommendations that the Provincial Library act as a clearing house for interlibrary loan and provide in-depth information services. Committee members are: Judge John H. Maher (Chairperson), Dr. W.A. Riddell, and Rusty H. Macdonald.
The remaining five regional libraries are formed. Two regions, Wheatland and Parkland, are formed in 1967, while Chinook, Lakeland and Palliser are formed in 1971, 1972 and 1973 respectively. Zealous promotion and concerted activity on the part of the Provincial Library, as well as devoted work on the part of local volunteers, has established an effective co-operative network of libraries. 
In 1969, the Library Development Board replaces the Library Advisory Council. The new members of the Development Board are: Rusty H. Macdonald, Mrs. E. N. Davis, Miss Marion Graham, Wilfred L. Harvey, Willard Kallio, James S. Porter, Mrs. P.J. Sherman, and Mrs. A.B. Van Cleave.
  The Public Information Library Division is changed to Readers’ Services Division and greater emphasis is placed on reference services. Less than 5,000 reference requests are answered in 1968; 21,000 are answered in 1981. Automated information retrieval expands the capability of providing specialized research information.
  The collection of books in the resource collection expands from about 100,000 volumes in 1968 to 180,000 in 1981, while circulation increases from 189,000 to 344,000.
Bibliographic Services Division is formed in 1969 to provide expanded interlibrary loan service. Five thousand interlibrary loan requests are received in 1968; 10,600 in 1969; and 87,000 in 1981. 

Technical Services Division handles 17,000 requests for cataloguing in 1961; 86,000 in 1979; and 46,000 in 1981. The cataloguing system is automated and partially decentralized in 1980.

1981 The Bureau of Management Improvement evaluates the automated cataloguing project and the organizational structure of the Provincial Library. Several recommendations are implemented in June, 1981.
1981 The Committee to Review Library Legislation is appointed by the Minister-in-Charge of Libraries in April, 1981. The Committee holds public hearings throughout the summer of 1981. Members of the Committee include: Merry Harbottle (Chairperson), Allan Quigley (Vice-Chairperson), George Bothwell, Vic W. Hay, Rowena Lunn, Rusty H. Macdonald, Charles Phelps, and Marion Sherman.
1982 A new funding formula is introduced in the spring of 1982.
  The Development Branch is disbanded in July, 1982.
  Provincial Library policies are formulated, discussed widely with interest groups, and implemented. These clarify the services of the Library, and, in effect, decant some services to the local level.
  Reference and Research Services Division replaces Readers’ Services Division.
1983 A Design Team prepares a Discussion Paper on Library Legislation. Feedback and responses are presented to the Minister in June, 1983.
  A Joint Venture Agreement between Regina Public Library, Saskatoon Public Library and Provincial Library is signed in February, 1983, to convert the pre-1980 holdings of the three libraries to the automated database.
  A Request for Proposal to research a provincial automated database is approved by the Minister and Treasury Board in February, 1983. An Automation Task Force is established in March, and a consultant with widely recognized expertise is contracted to assist with the analysis.
1984 The Public Libraries Act, 1984, a new Act, is passed by the Legislative Assembly.
  The Provincial Library is renamed the Saskatchewan Library and the Library Development Board is renamed the Saskatchewan Library Board. The new Act updates the mandate of the Saskatchewan Library by strengthening its research, coordination and leadership role. The role of the Minister’s Advisory Board is strengthened and expanded. The autonomy and development of the regional libraries is given greater recognition. Members of the reconstituted board include: Nick Gabruch (Chairperson), Leola Moore, Vi Spencer, George Hyde, Isabelle Butters, Peter Foga, Don Burton, Beverly Tansley, Edith Kerr, Val Kononoff, George Cook, Claude Cauthier, George Bothwell, and Rolland Pinsonneault.
1987 The Saskatchewan Library becomes a part of Saskatchewan Education in a reorganization of provincial government departments and agencies. Saskatchewan Library takes on the new name of Saskatchewan Provincial Library.
1988 The Northern Library Services Section of Provincial Library moves to La Ronge in preparation for a new northern library system governed by an autonomous board and responsible for co-ordinating library services in the north.
1989 Provincial Library is automated with the installation of the Dynix Library System. Provincial Library Collection Policy is released.
1990 Legislation to enable the formulation of the northern library system is passed in August; the first northern board meeting is held in December.
1991 Provincial Library becomes part of the newly formed Saskatchewan Community Services and subsequently changes to Saskatchewan Municipal Government. Northern library office receives the official name of Pahkisimon Nuye?áh Library System.
1994 The Multitype Library Development Advisory Committee is appointed by the Honourable Carol Carson, Minister of Municipal Government.
1995 The Saskatchewan online union catalogue at Provincial Library is made accessible through the Province-wide Library Electronic Information System (PLEIS).
1996 The Public Libraries Act, 1996. For the first time, the Act defines the purpose of the provincial public library system and mandates participation of municipalities in the public library system, thus beginning universal access for all residents of Saskatchewan. 
  The Libraries Co-operation Act is passed to foster cooperation across all types of libraries, including public, school, post-secondary and special libraries.

Think Globally...Search Locally: A Strategic Plan for the Implementation of a Multitype Library System in Saskatchewan is published.

  A Review of regional library funding and services in Saskatchewan is undertaken. The final report is released in 1997.
1997 The final report of Province-wide Database Licensing: A Project to Research Licenses to Commercial Information Databases for All Types of Libraries in Saskatchewan is published by the Multitype Database Licensing Working Group, led by Provincial Library. 
1998 First Multitype Library Board appointed. Merrilee Rasmussen, Chair. Other members are Colleen Warren, Darlene Fichter, Jeffrey Barber, Michael Keaschuk, Valerie Laliberte, Helene Stewart, Beverley Scarrow, Ernie Pappas, Janet Merkowsky, and Maureen Woods.
1998 First province-wide license for all residents of Saskatchewan to access online magazines and journals. The Multitype Database Licensing Program (MDLP) is made possible through financial contributions from public, school, special and post-secondary education libraries.
“Every Library Connected by the Year 2000” project uses federal and provincial funds to purchase public access computers in 298 public libraries.
  The Legislative Instruments Committee directs the Municipal Affairs department to find a resolution to the participation of First Nations in the library system.
2001 A Minister’s Advisory Committee on Library Services for Aboriginal People is appointed to review the status of library services to First Nations and Métis people which results in the final report of the committee entitled, Information is For Everyone.
  The Gateway, which permits an electronic search of all public library catalogues in the province at one time, is launched.

Ask Us! a province-wide shared electronic reference service is established as a permanent service which allows anyone to ask a question, and librarians from all of the public library systems share responsibility for the answers.

2002 Provincial Library is transferred to Saskatchewan Learning, thus creating a focus on lifelong learning.
  CommunityNet brings high-speed Internet access to 162 public libraries.
2003 The Public Libraries Regulations, 1996, are amended to ensure First Nations access to public libraries, and provincial government funding of an additional $250,000 is provided to the base grants for library systems for Aboriginal Library Services, thus completing universal access for all Saskatchewan residents.
  The Multitype Database Licensing Fund is created as a special account within the provincial government to enable Provincial Library to manage all funds for the MDLP, including receiving contributions from partners and making payments to vendors.
2004 The Multitype Library Board holds Digitization Forums in Regina and Saskatoon to bring together libraries, archives, museums and other community organizations to create a province-wide strategy for digitization.
2004-2005 A Government Online project establishes patrons’ ability to request interlibrary loans online (RSS) and allows access to magazine databases from home through the remote patron authentication software (RPA).

A Libraries Online promotion campaign features all of the recently developed online services more easily accessible by the public.

2006 Public library directors begin working on a strategic plan that establishes a framework for the future development of a single integrated library system, and stronger community services that focus on literacy and lifelong learning.

The Saskatchewan Digital Alliance is established by the Multitype Library Board with representatives from all library sectors and archives to provide recommendations and expertise on the province-wide digitization.


The Provincial Library assembles a Working Group, with representatives from each of the ten public library systems, to consider the development of Aboriginal library services in Saskatchewan. The group becomes known as the Committee for Aboriginal Library Services (CALS).

2006-2008 The Provincial Library works with Saskatoon Public Library to host the first of a series of four Round Dances in an effort to build relationships between public libraries and Aboriginal people.

Saskatchewan Learning establishes a 3 year pilot program to foster cooperative projects, related to collections, programs and services, between school divisions and public library systems based on common goals.  Over 3 years, $900,000 funded 14 projects, many related to literacy.

2007 The first Digitization Pilot Project grants are issued to two projects: “Our Legacy” and “Culture and Heritage Image Bank of Southwestern Saskatchewan” project.
2008 The Literacy Office joins the Provincial Library to become the Provincial Library and Literacy Office Branch in the Ministry of Education.
  $5.2 million is provided by the Ministry of Education for a single integrated library system which will connect all of the province’s public libraries ensuring that each library has the same access to information and service options and providing the foundation for a universal library card for all residents.  Additional funding is provided to extend the CNet program to all public libraries and upgrade line-speed.

The Provincial Library and Literacy Office hosts the first-ever Government and Public Libraries Forum, Finding Our Common Ground, to provide mutual understanding and an opportunity to identify commonalities between government and the public library systems.

2010 All ten library systems and the Provincial Library are live on the Single Integrated Library System.
2018 In 2018 John M. Cuelenaere Public Library (JMCPL) in Prince Albert became the third municipal library in the province.