Free Books for All


Free Books for All provides a detailed and reflective account of the people. groups, communities, and ideas that shaped library development in the decades between 1850 and 1930, from Egerton Ryerson to George Locke, from Mechanics Institutes to renovated Carnegie libraries. A chronological narrative, lively writings by the people involved, tables, maps, graphs, and period photographs combine to tell the stories of the librarians, trustees, educators, politicians, and library users who contributed to Ontario’s early public library system.

The book brings to life a fascinating period of library history. The movement to use the power of local governments to furnish rate-supported library service for citizens was a successful Victorian and Edwardian thrust. Today, more than 500 public libraries span the province, serving as intermediary points between authors and readers and providing a wide scope of information and programming services for educational and recreational purposes.

The libraries themselves are, in part, a tribute to the men and women who worked tirelessly to promote library service before 1930. This new study will deepen our understanding of the people and processes that established the foundation for modern public library service in Ontario and Canada.


Lorne one of Canada’s finest library historians. With exemplary scholarship and impeccable logic, he has marshalled a vast array of contemporary accounts from books, pamphlets, newspapers, magazines, archives, and government publications to describe how Ontario acquired the finest library system in Canada...Anyone involved with or concerned about Canada’s public libraries needs to read Free Books for All.

Quill and Quire

Bruce relies on a prodigious amount of original research and his judgements are measured and thoughtful...Free Books for All makes an important contribution to the scholarly history of Canadian libraries.


Bruce has crafted a well-written examination of the topic...the author has provided a study that helps to shed light on an important development in Canadian society and, as such, it would be a valuable addition to any library’s history collection.


From modest beginnings to becoming part of “the very bone and sinew of the nation’s development”, the progress of the public library movement is here chronicled. Marvellous old photographs and cartoons as well as tables, maps and graphs enhance the text.

OHS Bulletin

This book stands out. It is beautifully researched, and a rare gem in library literature. One only hopes it finds a place among the popular readership.

St. Catherine’s Public Library

About the Author

Lorne Bruce

Posted by Dundurn Guest on December 6, 2014

Lorne Bruce

Author Lorne Bruce has worked as chief librarian at Hanover and King Township public libraries and is currently a collection development librarian at the McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph. He is the author of a number of journal articles and monograph publications on public library history in Ontario and elsewhere.