William Kay was the first librarian of the Windsor Public Library when the library and reading room opened in 1894. He took his job very seriously and reported to the board: “It has been said that a public library is the people’s university. It is our wish that the people of Windsor may regard ours as such and may take increasing interest in it and make the fullest use of it.” (William Kay, WPL Annual Report, 1894) A trained teacher, Kay preferred to work as a librarian and remained in the post until his death in 1902.
Marcelle Frebault was hired at Walkerville Library in 1918 and was succeeded by Anne Hume the following year. At the Windsor library that year, Miss Agnes Lancefield was appointed librarian, the first trained professional to hold the position. In 1924, Helen Langford successfully completed studies at the Ontario Library School, bringing the library’s number of professionally trained librarians to two.
Angus Mowat, a veteran of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, was a Chief Librarian in Windsor from 1929 to 1932. Afterwards, he spent a short time as Head Librarian in Saskatoon, and was appointed Inspector of Public Libraries in Ontario in 1937. He was the author of two novels, but best known as the father of novelist Farley Mowat, who also began writing when the family lived in Windsor.
Anne Hume was appointed Chief Librarian of the new City of Windsor after amalgamation in 1937. She was a passionate supporter of the raising of professional standards for both women and librarians serving as executive on the Local Council of Women, the Canadian Association of Adult Education, as a councillor and president of the Ontario Library Association, a charter member of the Canadian Library Association and was an active member of the American Library Association.
At her gala retirement dinner, after 37 years of public service, colleagues heaped praise on Anne Hume’s work, one even referring to her as the “’mother of Essex County library services’” (W.K. Sidey, quoted in Windsor Daily Star, April 29, 1957). Hume graduated from Queen’s University in 1914 and earned her Library Science degree in 1919. As a fresh graduate, she joined the Walkerville library in 1920 and organized the first Arts and Letters Club, and was a founding member of the Windsor Art Association, and served on its executive. It was Hume who managed to persuade the National Gallery of Canada and the Royal Ontario Museum to share exhibits at the new Art Gallery section of the Walkerville library at Willistead.
Hume undertook academic research on top of her other duties, and compiled histories of Windsor libraries, the art movement in Windsor and often wrote articles for book trade and library professional periodicals. She later received an honourary doctor of laws from Queen’s University for her contribution to the profession of librarian. At Anne Hume’s retirement in 1957, over 500 community leaders and librarians joined her at a dinner in her honour at the Prince Edward Hotel to recognize her work with the Windsor Public Library.
Angus Mowat paid tribute to Miss Hume, calling her, “’a woman who is noted for the help she has given to libraries across Canada” (Mowat, Windsor Daily Star, April 26, 1957).
Gladys Shepley succeeded Anne Hume as Chief Librarian in 1957. Appointed assistant chief librarian in October, 1955, she was also the head of the Carnegie Branch. Shepley was born in Essex County, raised in Amherstburg and attended Windsor Collegiate, also known as Patterson Collegiate.
Shepley was another president of the Ontario Library Association and acted as the Ontario Library Association representative to the American Library Association and served on the executive of the Canadian Library Association. Shepley was a strong supporter of professional standards and frequently overcame severe staff shortages, praising her staff for their outreach and standards as their, “service has extended into many areas of community life as well as contributing much to the field of professional librarianship” (Shepley, WPL Annual Report, 1959). In 1964, she praised the quick detective work of librarians H. Ruger and L. Findlay who helped police recover stolen (music) records worth $2,800 from the Fine Arts Section, and ensured that the WPL Board recognized the two librarians with personal gifts. In September, 1986, a sculpture called “Shared Joy” depicting a librarian and child reading by Chris Rees was commissioned in memory of Gladys Shepley and the dedication featured venerable CBC broadcaster Lister Sinclair.
Fred and Callie Israel, both qualified librarians who had met at Kitchener Public Library came to Windsor in 1968. Fred Israel was appointed Chief Librarian – later Director. He was tasked not only with building a new Main Library building, but finding a suitable location for it. Israel successfully guided the Board in the construction of the new building, and also dealt with a sudden downfall in budget afterwards. Callie Israel worked at the WPL branches specializing in children’s programming. They retired in 1992, and the auditorium in the Main/ Central Branch is named in Fred Israel’s honour.
In recent years, others have served as directors or chief executive officers of the WPL. Under their leadership, the library has made great strides in technological advances, developing programs such as the Children’s Learning Centres at Riverside, Central and Budimir Libraries, developed the Windsor Public Library Foundation for fundraising and oversaw the opening of the Bridgeview (2002) and Fontainebleau (2005) libraries.
It is important to mention the many Windsor Public Library staff members, too. As in the past and still today, many WPL staff have begun working with the organization after completing their education, and have remained dedicated to their customers and work of the library for their careers. The WPL staff have shared their love of books and learning with their customers, becoming a second family to many.
William Kay, Chief Librarian: 1894 – 1902
Anne Hume, Chief Librarian: 1936 -1956
Gladys Shepley, Chief Librarian: 1956 -1968
Fred Israel, Director: 1968 – 1992
Steve Salmons, Chief Executive Officer: 1997 – 2004
Brian Bell, Chief Executive Officer: 2004 – 2008
Jean Foster, Acting Chief Executive Officer: 2008 – 2010
Barry Holmes, Chief Executive Officer: 2010 – 2012
Chris Woodrow, Acting Chief Executive Officer: 2012 –
The first librarian of the Windsor Public Library was William Kay, a teacher by training. The first professionally-trained librarian of Walkerville Library, Marcelle Frebault, was hired in 1918. Frebault was replaced by Anne Hume, also professionally-trained, and by 1924 two professional librarians were on staff.
The library board, concerned with getting and keeping experienced staff throughout the 1930s, reported the need for adequate pay to maintain high quality of service to meet the needs of customers. By 1940, of the 26 full-time librarians, 13 were professionally trained. The scarcity of suitable librarians forced the board to make the decision to reduce hours at the Main library and branches.
With the advancement of professional standards, and with the leadership of Anne Hume, the Essex County Library system began in 1940. The County Library system was headquartered at Willistead Library with Hume as County Librarian and selection, buying, cataloguing and distribution was performed by the Windsor Staff. In 1944 the County Library Board was financially able to support a trained librarian. WPL staff also took offices in the Ontario Library Association, the organization that supports all libraries in the province.
In 1946, new Regulations for public libraries were introduced which provided grants based on certification of librarians and municipal appropriations. This allowed the WPL Board to raise salaries and reverse the shortage of librarians. In 1965, the WPL participated in career fairs together with the University of Windsor librarians at the Chamber of Commerce and Board of Education.