Lending Libraries: Private Sector Fills Public Gap

Before there was a network of branch public libraries in Vancouver, the demand for inexpensive reading material was met in large part by the private sector. Not principally by new or used booksellers, but by an entirely different category of for-profit book provider — book lending libraries. We in the 21st century are so accustomed to equating “libraries” with “public libraries” that it takes a while to conceive that a library can be a for-profit venture!

In 1929, there was only one VPL branch in addition to the central library at Hastings and Main: the Kits branch at 2375 W 4th Avenue (today, the site is part of a Safeway parking lot). That was it. If you lived in Marpole or the West End or most any other Vancouver neighbourhood, there was no public library within relatively easy walking distance.

1929 was also the year of the stock market crash that started the Great Depression. For the better part of a decade, most Vancouverites had precious little disposable income for books and other non-essentials. Thus, there was a market niche to be filled by the private library.

The details of how private libraries did business are very sketchy. I suspect many would have had a 1-year membership card (see the Eaton’s card below) which a client would purchase and then have a ‘license to borrow’. Other libraries, like the Spencer’s Lending Library (left), had daily and monthly fees.

It seems that independent private libraries obtained their stock principally from wholesale book distributors and sources of deaccessioned public library books (Province, 26 Oct 1930).

One thing seems certain: the proprietors of these private libraries didn’t become wealthy!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the libraries listed below got started around 1929. And I don’t think it a coincidence that private libraries faded to black, for the most part, by 1955, just when the VPL system had bolstered its network of public libraries to seven branches.

Today, private lending libraries in Vancouver are a thing of the past and alien to most of us.

CVA 303-1 Vancouver Public Library – Kitsilano Branch, ca 1929. At the time, this was the only branch public library in the VPL system. Kits branch was opened in 1928.

A List of Private Libraries

I have attempted to identify as many private libraries as I can, including the rough period during which they were in business, where the library was located (and when) and the names of the proprietors.

Abbott Library (1928-33) – 916 Robson. Proprietor: Mrs. May Abbott (1928-1930). In 1928, the address in the directory was 914 Robson. In 1931, the library became Abbott Book Store.

Blenheim Lending Library (1929-37) – 3353 W. 4th Ave. (1929-34); 3639 W 4th (1934); 2252 W 4th Ave. (1935); Proprietors: Miss D. Millar; R. H. Hague [1896-1958] (1931); H. Martin (1932); Miss M. Richardson (1933-35); Mrs. B. C. Scott and Mrs. M. H. Mason (1936-37).

CVA 1376-521 – The Stanley Library, 2820 Granville. 1933.

Cosy Corner Library (1932-46) – 1307 Commercial Drive; 1830 Commercial Drive (1940-41); 1303 Commercial Drive (1941-42); 1022 Commercial Drive (1943-46). Proprietors: Mrs. M. M. Shoebotham [1888-1958] (1932-39); Mrs. M. J. Henderson (1940); M. W. Corbett (1941-45); F. Carothers (1946).

Dunbar Heights Library (1931-38) – 4311 Dunbar Street. Proprietors: T. Smith (1931-35); Miss E. M. Watson (1936-38 ). Name change to Dunbar Heights Book and Stationery Lending Library (1935-36). Name change: Dunbar Lending Library (1937-38).

Good Companion Library (1933-41) – 1405 Robson. Proprietors: Mrs. Charlotte M. Cole.

Harlequin Lending Library (1929-1940) – 1194 Davie Street. Proprietors: Miss M. Harvey (1929-31); Miss A. Van Kleeck (1932- 33); Miss L. J. Taylor (1934-38); Mrs. F. M. Riddell (1939-40).

15 June 1933 West End Breeze. Courtesy: Neil Whaley*. According to this clip, the VPL system shut down during July and August in the 1930s!

Hudson’s Bay Company Books and Lending Library (1915-ca1949 ) – Granville and Georgia. Part of HBC department store.

Kerrisdale Book Nook (1928-1955+) – 2166 W. 41st Avenue. (1928-40); 2176 W 41st Avenue (1941-51); 2135 .W. 41st Ave. (1952-55+). Proprietors: W. S. Bosworth (1928-31); Mrs. H. Blair (1932-34); J. A. Henderson (1935-39); H. M. Jewell (1940-47); Mrs. C. T. Crossing (1948-55+).

The Lending Library (1933) – 2425 E Hastings Street. Proprietor: C. C. Backhus.

“Western House [Private] Library” stamped over “Collingwood Public Library Association”.* Image made from the fly leaf of a book at The Paper Hound Bookshop with permission of the proprietors.

The Library (1925-51) – 2820 Granville Street (1925-1933); 2830 Granville (1934-35). Proprietors: Mrs. J. R. Davidson (1925-36); Mrs. D. M. Kirby (1937-51). This library was named “The Library” perhaps with the vain hope of exclusivity!

E. D. Macfarlane’s Circulating Library (1933-47) – 2606 Granville. Proprietor: Erle D. Macfarlane.

Mayfair Library (1932-35) – 1540 W. 41st Avenue; 2166 W 41st Avenue (1935). Proprietor: J. A. Henderson (1932-35).

West End Breeze, 16 Sept 1932. Courtesy: Neil Whaley*

Modern Lending Library (1932-42) – 1009 W. King Edward. Miss Proprietors: Miss P Blake, R. Sidaway (1932-34); Mrs. E. Denton (1937-38); Miss M. A. Baum (1939-42). Name change to Modern Book Shop in 1943. Proprietor remained Baum. Address still 1009 King Edward. No mention of there being a lending library associated with the shop, so assuming the library became a bookstore.

Oak Street Lending Library (1930-41) – 3129 Oak Street (1930-35 ); 3216 Oak Street (1936-41). Proprietors: Mrs. M. McTavish (1930-37); Mrs. M. I. Scott (1938-40); Mrs. E. Cool [1884-1958] (1941).

Oxford Book Shop and Lending Library (1929-54) – 2164 W 4th Avenue (1929-1934); 1039 Granville (1935-37); 1540 W 41st Avenue (1938-52); 5737 Granville (1953-54). Proprietors: Miss D. Dashwood [1881-1950] (1929-31); Mrs. M. I. C. Key [1898-1985] (1932-34); S. B. Farmer (1935-37; Miss G. Carfrae (1938); S. B. Farmer (1939-40); Miss G. Carfrae (1941); G. R. Ellingham (1942-54).

Point Grey Lending Library (1929-55) – 5510 Dunbar Street (1929); 5525 Dunbar St (1931-34; 5691 Dunbar Street (1935-38); 5557 Dunbar (1939-55). Proprietor: F. S. Robinson (1930-55).

Popular Lending Library (1929-42) – 4479 W 10th Avenue (1929-34); 4489 W 10th Avenue (1935-37); 4451 W 10th Avenue. Proprietors: Mrs. M. F. Vulliamy [1886-1963] (1929-36); Miss D. Howden (1937); Mrs. D. Arnott (1938-39); Mrs. N. C. Clarke (1940-42).

Eaton’s Book subscription membership card 1935. I suspect a card similar to this was necessary to borrow books from other private libraries in Vancouver. However, it could not have been a membership card for Vancouver, as Eaton’s didn’t have a Vancouver store in 1935. The department store came to Vancouver in 1948 after buying out David Spencer, Ltd. MDM Collection.

Ridgewell Lending Library (1929-54) – 3494 Dunbar. Proprietors: Mrs. Alice G. Ridgewell [1876-1960] (1929-31); H. Gatenby [1895-1969] (1932-54).

Spencer’s Leading Library (1934-48) – Hastings and Richards. Part of the Daivd Spencer, Ltd. department store. Spencer’s was purchased by Eaton’s in 1948. Presumbably, Eaton’s established their own local library then, although I can’t confirm that.

Stanley Library (1934-44) – 2820 Granville Street. Proprietors: Miss L. J. Leslie (1934-42); Mrs. H. Raymer (1943-44).

Western House Library (1933-51) – 957 Denman Street. Proprietor: Miss Louise Grant (1933-51).

Windsor Lending Library (1932-33) – 916 Robson (1932); 1056 Robson (1933). Proprietors: Gwendolyn P. Jones (1932); Percy James (1933). Windsor library was sold to Percy James of Kensington Arts in 1933. The library seems not to have been retained with a distinctive identity following the merger, however.

Ye Booke Nooke (1929-55+) – 1063 Denman Street (1929-32); 1187 Denman St. (1933-57) Proprietor: Mrs. Elsie W. Beach [1888-1969] (1929-55+). Claim made in 1932 ad that non-members could borrow books for 3c/day, with a minimum charge of 5c. “The monthly [membership?] charge for adults is 65 cents,and for children, from 6 to 14 years, 25 cents.” (West End Breeze, Sept 16 1932)*. “….Mrs. Beach has 5000 new and proven books upon her shelves.” (West End Breeze 6 Oct 1933)*.

Yew Lending Library (1931-55+) – 1508 Yew. Proprietor: Miss O. A Wilde (1931-55+).


*Neil Whaley has very kindly granted me permission to reproduce clippings and information from the West End Breeze , a four-page community newspaper published between 1932 and 1933. Neil has a bound edition of the Breeze — quite possibly the only such copy extant — which was the editor/publisher’s copy. “The format was that there was one real story of a reasonable length (perhaps 500 words) and then everything else was one-paragraph blurbs which talked about businesses in the West End — who not so coincidentally advertised in the WEB.” (Email message from Neil Whaley to MDM).

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