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Photo exhibition shows extensive history of Prince Edward Island's numerous libraries

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There are 25 libraries on Prince Edward Island and photographer Doug Dumais has explored them all.

Pads, His exhibition at the Charlottetown Library Learning Centre highlights some of the island's smaller libraries.

He says he spent a few hours in each museum, photographing the rooms and talking to the librarians about their history.

The project was started because Dumais wanted to find out how Prince Edward Island came to have so many libraries in such a small area.

“A public good”

“The Carnegie Corporation of New York ran these pilot projects for rural libraries,” Dumais said recently in an interview with Island Morning Laura Chapin.

Photographer Doug Dumais’ fascination with the history of Prince Edward Island’s libraries led to his exhibition “Circulations.”Photographer Doug Dumais’ fascination with the history of Prince Edward Island’s libraries led to his exhibition “Circulations.”

Photographer Doug Dumais’ fascination with the history of Prince Edward Island’s libraries led to his exhibition “Circulations.”

A fascination with the history of Prince Edward Island libraries inspired photographer Doug Dumais to create the exhibition “Circulations.” (Jared Doyle)

“So there was a plan to build libraries all over the United States, and they wanted a nice place to test these regional libraries.”

That place was Prince Edward Island.

In 1933, the company hired a librarian named Nora Bateson from McGill University. Her task was to build a regional library system within three years.

“She went into these communities, talked to women’s organizations and advocated for support for libraries,” Dumais said.

He says many of the libraries she helped build in the beginning were in people's homes or at available locations in the community.

“She drove to the small communities in a very old car. One can imagine that in the 1930s she had modified [the car] to hold 300 books,” said Dumais.

When Bateson began, there were three libraries on Prince Edward Island. By the end of three years, there were 22.

The photographs in the collection are designed to resemble book covers.The photographs in the collection are designed to resemble book covers.

The photographs in the collection are designed to resemble book covers.

The photos in the collection are designed to resemble book covers. (Gregory Ellison)

When she published her report on the project, it showed that people borrowed thousands of books over a period of several months, making the program a resounding success.

Bateson was a tireless advocate of rural libraries. pads Among the exhibits is a brochure that Bateson published in 1944, entitled Rural Canada needs libraries.

“It was a kind of manifesto for the post-war era. It showed how important these community spaces were going to be as we rebuilt the Canadian identity. … This idea that you have to provide a public good to your people, and that's what democracy looks like, and that's something that shouldn't be taken for granted,” Dumais said.

Exhibition of PEI's past

Dumais likes to photograph subjects associated with change: construction sites, coastlines and now libraries, as many of the island's libraries have moved from small rooms in private homes into their own buildings and have changed both ownership and contents over the years.

The exhibition runs until May 25th.The exhibition runs until May 25th.

The exhibition runs until May 25th.

The exhibition runs until May 25. (Gregory Ellison)

“It's still up to the communities to provide the space. … It could be an old liquor store on Prince Edward Island like in Stratford or an old train station like in Alberton,” Dumais said.

He loved touring the libraries and he says it is difficult to choose a favorite, but his would probably be the Alberton Public Library because of its historic location.