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History of the Legislative Library

The earliest evidence of a need for legislative documents to support the work of the House of Assembly can be traced to October 4, 1758, when the House of Assembly asked that “the Governor place all the Resolutions of his Majesty’s Governor and Council heretofore made and the English statutes in His possession” before the House. This request, occurred just two days after the first sitting of the House. Similarly, the Journals of the House of Assembly report that the laws that were enacted and the Journals were sent to print. At that time, the House was meeting in the Court House, so it is not clear where these volumes were held.

Scattered documents

On July 23, 1761, the House “Resolved that the Statutes at large as far as the same are printed be purchased in England for the use of the House of Assembly with the last abridgements thereof … to be paid for with the other contingent Expenses of the House.” This request marks the first purchase of external materials by the House for its own use and is thought to be the true beginnings of the Legislative Library.

Law library

The first reference to a physical library occurs in the Journals. On December 15, 1806, the Committee on the Subject of the Building at Present Occupied by the General Assembly (Cochran’s Building) reported “That the building facing Granville Street, commonly called the New Kitchen, should be fitted up for the reception of the Law Library.” The next instance on January 12, 1809, verifies the existence of a library space. “Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that, the sum of fifty-pounds, should be granted for purchasing the British Statutes at large, and the Journals of the House of Commons, to be placed in the Law Library.”

Continued existence of a library space is confirmed by an 1817 grant from the House for another 50 pounds to be “expended under the direction of the President of His Majesty’s Council and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, in purchasing such Books as they may deem necessary for the Province Law library” (Journals, 1817, p. 116). In spite of this support, the plans for a new legislative building did not include a library space. When Province House opened its doors in 1819, it is likely that the small collections of the Council and the House were held in various rooms or remained in the “New Kitchen”.

This oversight was noticed on March 23, 1823, when:

A Petition of H. H. Cogswell and others, Members of the Bar, and Attornies of the Supreme Court, was presented by Mr. Archibald and read setting forth the expediency of appropriating that part of the Province House, above the Bench of the Supreme Court, for the purpose of making a suitable apartment for the better preservation of the Books of the Law Library, and praying a Sum of Money may be granted for the same.

There is no indication that this ever came to pass. However, the Journals show that by 1834, there was a Law Library in Province House, because money “was granted and paid to the Keeper of the Assembly House, Council Chamber and Law Library.” (Journals, 1834, p. 637, 659). These grants continued until 1860. In 1861, the grant was only for the keeper.

Further support for the library occurred on March 29, 1828 when:

On motion of Mr. Fairbanks, resolved, that during the recess, the volumes to complete
the Commons' Journals to the present time; also the latest edition of the Statutes
at Large to the present time, and the usual Books on the Law of Controverted Elections,
be imported for the use of this House; and that this House will, at the next Session,
provide for the expense attendant thereon.

Then, on February 22, 1836, the Bar Society in Halifax showed its support when it petitioned the House of Assembly. They requested “a return of Duties paid by them, upon certain Law Books, imported from the United States of America, for the use of the Library, and also that measures may be taken for removing the restrictions upon the importation from the United States of reprints of British Works of Literature.” (Journals, 1837, p. 72). The response is telling. “The facts stated in the Petition are true, and as the Law Library is a valuable repository of information, to which Members of the Legislature, during the Session, and all others upon proper application, have access, they recommend that the prayer of the Petition be granted” (Journals, 1839, app. p. 64).

Library committee appointed

In 1845, a committee was appointed to enquire into the state of the Library of this House. The report indicated that it had a list of the books in the collection prepared and found that the House and Legislative Council were missing copies of their own journals and those of the other British North American Colonies. It recommended that an exchange program be developed. It further recommended that the library receive a complete copy of the Journals of the House of Lords and Commons, among other things. Its report did not recommend uniting the libraries of the House and the Legislative Council.

The same committee reported back to the House in 1846. Unlike the previous report, this report recommended unifying the House and Council libraries and finding a suitable place for the use of both Houses. The report also suggested, for the first time, that the room occupied by the Supreme Court, which was inadequate for the Superior Courts, be converted into a library.

In 1847, another report by the same committee indicated that the responsibility for the library had moved from the Law Clerk of the Legislative Council and was now under the charge of the Sergeant-at-Arms. The committee again recommended that the two libraries be united into one and that the room occupied by the Supreme Court would make an ideal location.

In 1853, a new committee was formed on the subject of the formation of a legislative library. They reported to the House on March 11, 1853, “That a bill for providing a building to contain the supreme court will leave ample room at the disposal of the legislature in this building, and they are of opinion that at least five hundred pounds should be appropriated this year for the purpose of commencing so desirable an object.” (Journals, 1853, p. 24). On March 26, the House approved the funds.

In 1857, Joseph Howe moved a resolution asking the House to make provision for Nova Scotia’s “ancient records and documents … to be preserved and arranged, either for reference or publication.” As a result of this motion, Thomas B. Akins was appointed the provinces record commissioner and first provincial librarian. His 1860 report details how he gathered the materials that he found scattered around Province House and obtained many more books from outside the province. The 1700 documents and books he collected formed the basis of the collection for the Legislative Library. Some of these items were later moved to the Nova Scotia Historical Society and then to the Public Archives of Nova Scotia, however the present Library still has many of these volumes in its collection.

Legislative Library opens

Finally, in 1862, the Legislative Library opened its doors. It was managed by a joint committee of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council. James Venables, the keeper of Province House, was its first librarian. He reported at that time that the library had 5060 volumes.

Key events

1876-77 Rev. Dr. Dodwell is hired to arrange the books in the Legislative Library.
1879 The Nova Scotia Historical Society Library and the Legislative Library merge.
1880 The first Legislative Library Act passes.
1954 The Legislative Library Act is repealed and the library becomes part of the Provincial Library service under the direction of the Department of Education. Holdings of the Nova Scotia Historical Association are moved to the Public Archives of Nova Scotia.
1954 Shirley Elliott is appointed legislative librarian. She was the first person with a degree in Library and Information Science to hold the post. She catalogued and organized the library according to library principles.
1979 The responsibility for the Legislative Library moves to the Office of the Speaker.

Legislative librarians

1862-1879 James Venables
1879-1882 John Thomas Bulmer
1883 Francis Blake Crofton (library custodian)
1884-1906 Francis Blake Crofton
1906-1954 Annie Donohoe
1954-1982 Shirley Elliott
1982-1984 Ilga Leja
1984-2015 Margaret Murphy
2015 – Present David McDonald