WPL Beyond Bricks & Mortar

“[The library] is a custodian and distributor of culture in a much wider sense: through records, pictures, prints, films, film-strips and microfilm collections of newspapers and scholarly studies.  The trend is actually an extension of the nature of the book since the book is fundamentally a vehicle of culture.  It is basically an effort to create a library without walls, an effort to open the book to the great mind of the public.” – C.P. Crowley, C.S.B. Chairman, WPL Board, 1954


Pipers Escort the 99th to the StationIn an effort to bring the experience of the library outside its walls, Windsor Public Library, early in its history, introduced outreach programs designed to match the unique needs of the community.

In 1914, the year World War I began, the WPL Board established book deposits library services in the local army camps in Windsor to supply servicemen with titles that suited their preferences.  Books and magazines were also distributed to American troops passing through Windsor on their way overseas.  The WPL lent the Detroit Public Library a collection of war maps and posters.

Windsor Public Library initiated a branch library service in 1914.  Books requested by customers were delivered twice a week to a rented space at Lanspeary’s Drug Store on the east end of Windsor. Located in a heavily- populated residential area, this branch reached a circulation of 117,000 before it was closed given the financial constraints of the Depression. The Board of Education, unhappy with this branch closure, partnered with the WPL Board to open small lending library for children in Prince Edward School, and the following year in Victoria School. The partnership with the school board boosted library membership and the circulation of books. Librarians were also active in the community, acting as judges for public speaking contests, debates and speech contests in the schools, sat on service club committees and prepared many displays at conventions and group meetings.Victoria Branch Library

Beginning in 1947, the WPL allowed pre-naturalization citizenship classes the use of films and books at no charge to newcomers wanting to learn more about their new home.  These services were expanded in the 1950s.  The librarians created lists of books especially for customers whose first language was not English, and the demand for beginner English books rose.  Librarians selected and displayed newspaper articles of interest to new Canadians on a bulletin board.  Overall, the library became a welcoming place where New Canadians were informed about their community, learned English and made Windsor their home.

During the city of Windsor’s Centennial celebration in 1954, the WPL’s reference librarians were frequently called upon to act as the city’s “memory,” providing information about features of Windsor, such as the International Tunnel, biographies of Windsor’s celebrities, history of the ferry service, industrial population, and the date of the first wartime house in Windsor.

Extension Services

As well as cultural outreach, the WPL’s librarians began to see a need for outreach to those who could not physically visit the library.  Many librarians dropped off books to elderly or sick neighbours on their own time, or visited hospitals.  Before 1969, extension services by the WPL consisted of the loan of six books monthly to the Senior Citizen’s Day Centre and the volunteer work of individual librarians.

By the start of 1970, a library van was delivering regular exchanges to psychiatric patients at IODE Hospital; senior citizens at a Seniors’ hostel, Huron Lodge; “unwed mothers” at the Salvation Army’s Faith Haven; and the patients at the old Riverview Hospital.  Over 2300 books were exchanged in the first year.   In 1971, Extension Services librarians worked in partnership with the CNIB in order to distribute large print and audio books. The service to seniors and hospitals was augmented with games and audio books.   In 1975, the service was successfully extended to an Extension and Shut-in Service for disabled customers and was augmented by the work of volunteers.

In 2008, the Windsor Public Library joined with the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County to establish a “community branch” located at the Hospice on Empress Ave.  Books and audio-visual material are catalogued by the library, and a librarian visits once a week to refresh the books.

The Windsor Public Library regularly reaches out to various communities in the city, hoping to increase awareness about books, reading and literacy to children and adults through other activities, such as Sports and Technology.  Former NHL hockey champion Adam Graves, for example, was named Honourary Chairman of the Friends of the Windsor Public Library in 1996.  Graves appeared at the library to talk to children about his own love of reading and to read to eager fans who were happy to find sports-related books at the library. The Children’s area at Fontainebleau Branch is named after Graves and his wife Violet in honour of their fundraising efforts.  WPL staff also support local organizations with their own fundraising drives including barbeques and collecting food donations in lieu of library fines during Amnesty Week, last held in 2010.

The WPL formed partnerships with other community services such as the Windsor Fire Department.  In 1997, the Windsor Fire Fighters Benefit Fund donated $10,000 to the WPL to develop a section on public fire education and prevention.  The collection includes books and videos, which would be refreshed with new funds each year.   In 2012, Doug Diet, with the Windsor Fire and Rescue Services, became the Project Leader for their Library Project, and staged several presentations on fire safety for children at the library branches. The project also donated $2500 for children’s about safety.

WPL and Ontario Libraries

Windsor Public librarians took pride in conducting further studies and research in order to increase their standards of service to the public.  In doing so, they often collaborated with librarians from across Ontario and Canada through associations and educational institutions. WPL librarian Elizabeth Magee was a president of the fledging Institute of Professional Librarians in 1954, and she hoped not only to increase professional standards for librarians, but pay equity, too.  In 1959, the first official meeting of the Institute of Professional Librarians and of the Clerical Section was held in Windsor to further the work of Windsor staff in promoting the aims of the associations.

Those Institute meetings in 1959 were part of an Ontario Library Association convention with meetings at various library branches.  About 400 delegates from all over Ontario attended and a party was held for the delegates at the WPL’s most unique branch: the Hiram Walker Museum.  The Windsor Public Library was also one of the earliest participants in a Regional Library Service, founded in 1967.  Regional Library services allowed libraries to share resources and facilitate inter-library loans.

In 1987, smaller libraries in the region joined forces to found Southern Ontario Library Service which combined support for fundraising, staff training, and centralized purchasing to secure prices and keep costs down.  In 1989, the Southern Ontario Library Service was officially founded by the Ontario Ministry of Culture to support the work of regional libraries: “SOLS now serves the public libraries of almost 200 municipalities from Windsor to the Quebec border and north to Muskoka ….” (SOLS website).

Geoff Johnson-SOLSToday, the WPL still benefits from the services of Southern Ontario Librarian Service (SOLS), which operates from distribution centres in London and Cambridge.   In 2013, Geoff Johnson, one of the distribution personnel demonstrated his role to Cultural Engines staff.  Johnson delivers books on interlibrary loan to Windsor sharing with the region including Middlesex, St. Thomas, Essex, Chatham and Wyoming. Libraries rotate collections annually, and new books are delivered in a timely manner to Windsor four days a week.  These collections are a combination of interlibrary loans and the Southern Ontario Multi-Lingual Pool.  Customers are more aware of the availability of books because of book searches on the internet, so demand for interlibrary loans has increased over the last decade.


In libraries, technology influences the way librarians provide services and programs and how the public accesses information. When the library opened in 1894, to borrow a book, customers consulted a list of books available and the librarian would then retrieve it from the shelves.  The lists, usually arranged alphabetically by author to show what was available at the library and enabled customers to find a book.  Borrowers would fill out a slip of paper and give it to the librarian to retrieve the books.

By 1900, WPL printed catalogues of available books and copies of the catalogue were available in the library and for at home. The following year, librarians had included all of the books in the library with the exclusion of fiction and juvenile literature.  The catalogue demonstrated great value to readers who preferred to have a printed directory to look through at home.  By 1906, the catalogue had two supplements added to it and many books were not listed.  The library board considered compiling a new catalogue but realized the lists were out of date soon after they were published as books were added to the collection every month.  Instead, the WPL adopted the practice of other modern libraries, the card catalogue.Windsor Public Library Card Catalogue

The year 1910 saw the installment of the Browne Charging System, a distribution system for library books. The Browne system used envelopes and pockets for each borrower.  When a book was to be borrowed by a customer, the book card was removed and placed in the borrower’s card pocket which had the borrower’s name, address and registration number.  Borrower’s card pockets were kept at the circulation desk and proved to be popular with readers who were saved the trouble of writing out slips for the requested books. The Readers’ Advisory services were supplemented by printed lists compiled by staff to encourage interest in reading.  In 1925, George F. MacDonald, a member of the board at the time, donated a mimeograph machine which was used to print book lists for customers, students and teachers.

By 1927, the library had outgrown the Browne Charging System and a new system using identification cards was inaugurated.  Registered borrowers were given a card with their name, address, library number and date of expiration which had to be shown to take out books.  


In 1962 the Master Catalogue was microfilmed.  The Dewey Decimal Classification system with Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules and American Library Association filing rules had been adopted by the time of the WPL’s 75th Anniversary in 1969, “bringing [WPL] into the mainstream of current cataloguing and classification practice” (Hume, 1969).    Also that year, a Telex machine was in use, allowing librarians to place inter-library loan requests via text through phone landline technology.

Card catalogues were still in use until the 1970s, and in 1983, an automated circulation control and bibliographic information system was introduced, replacing the card catalogues.  It was known as the “COMPUCAT system.”   By 1985, a fully automated check-out system and computerized catalogue was implemented.  In order to save costs, the Windsor Public Library staff worked with a software company to devise its own programs, which turned out to be a “state of the art system” according to Director Fred Israel (Windsor Star, June 2, 1992). In 1998, the catalogue system, to an Integrated Library Management system and was replaced by the SIRSI Unicorn product.  In 2012, self-check out machines were introduced at Riverside Branch, with installation at the other locations soon to follow.   WPL librarians now carry tablet computers to assist customers in accessing information about books and resources.


In his Windsor Public Library Centennial Annual Report of 1954, Board President Rev. C.P. Crowley noted the library’s embrace of modern technology.  He suggested that even with the increasing popularity of television, librarians should not see “mass media as a threat,” but also a tool for librarians to start discussions about books connected with the information customers gained from television shows.

The WPL embraced film technology in particular and was proud of having acquired its first film projectors and educational films, many of which were purchased from the National Film Board. In September 1959, librarians sponsored a film workshop at the Art Gallery at Willistead to train church leaders on the use of the projector.  Nominal daily fees were charged for the rent of the projector and films, but these ceased in 1972.

The Willistead location came to have a film centre as one of its specialties by 1963, with fee exemptions for the Windsor and District Film Council members. A ceiling projector and microfilmed ceiling projected books were available for bed-ridden customers.  The library was still holding such events through the 1980s, with video player projections and workshops for local business owners when few members of the public had their own VCR recordings.  By 2012, the WPL offered video, DVD and Blu-Ray movies for borrowing.  The Windsor Public Library still has programs in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

Printing and photocopying

Microfilm Reader 1969Reproduction and copying technology was embraced early by the Windsor Public Library system and the main library was one of the few locations in the city that such services were available.    As early as 1960, it was possible for the book processing and repair department to have the use of a “Thermofax copier.” This machine allowed the library to save money on book purchases by copying and inserting a missing page into a damaged book rather than buying a new book.  This machine was available to the public for 15 cents a sheet.

“Now, No One Escapes Fines!” enthused the Windsor Daily Star in April, 1965: a $1,400 “Recordak Reader-Printer” was the library’s newest technological addition.  All books borrowed by customers were photographed with this machine, a microfilm camera, along with their library card.  When a book was overdue, clerical staff could include a print-out of the exact book and date with the notification mailing, thus ending arguments about dates or books borrowed.  Customers had been able to return books automatically with an AutoPage Book Return Box installed at Carnegie in 1955.

By 1969, the Xerox machine was available at five libraries and the public had made 77,000 copies that year.  The catalogue department was also given a new offset press and copier and an experienced operator in order to print their 85,000 new catalogue cards needed annually.

In 2012, the Windsor Public Library took the concept of copying to a new level by setting up a Self-Publishing Lab on the ground floor of the main library.  The Espresso Book Machine is an updated version of a print-on-demand copier, which was originally developed so that more valuable titles could stay in print with print-on-demand publishing rather than traditional expensive large print-runs. The system can print a book written and designed by local authors.

Audio and Music

The Windsor Public Library was also a destination for new musical technology, such as a record player and classical and semi-classical recordings donated to Seminole Library by the Windsor Star.  In 1955, it cost 25 cents to rent records for a week or a daily rate of 8 cents/day for 33 1/3 RPM records, or 2 cents a day for 78 PRM records.  If a customer didn’t have a record player at home, a listening station was available at Carnegie and Seminole.  In 1969, music fees were eliminated and the main branches of the library had music libraries. Technology at Carnegie

CNIB “Talking Books” or audio books have long been a part of the WPL’s accessibility services – at first on tape, and then cassette and CD, and now the “DAISY” format.  Educational kits are now available, with books, CDs and DVDs packaged in clear plastic bags for educators and the public to use.  Versions of these kits are even available for book clubs. Downloadable audio books, music and e-books are now available through the WPL website via Freegal or OverDrive Media software.


Until 1988, all newspapers carried by the Windsor Pubic Library, especially The Windsor Star’s editions from 1988, were placed on microfilm and are now available digitally or print.  In 2012, the WPL allows customers access to its newspaper database by subscribing to Newspaper Direct to allow customers access to newspaper information from across Canada from the library’s computers.

In the 1990s enhanced content or digital versions of titles were available on CD ROMs, a boon to educators.  Windsor Public Library was the first Canadian library to offer an Online Book Club in 2000.  Through a subscribed service, customers could read a chapter a day for five days, to sample a book, then order the book through the library’s website or sign it out at the library.   This was extended to Young Adult novels for teens later that year.  In 2006, the WPL subscribed to the Newsgroup Direct system which allows timely print-on-demand newspapers to be available to customers on the same day.  This service allows the library to download digital copies of newspapers from around the world and prints them on a local printer.

Information Technology

In 2000, a new vision statement was adopted by the WPL: Universal Access to the Universe of Ideas.

During the turn of this century, the Windsor Public Library initiated several grant-funded projects to produce a series of Digital Communities which are available through the library’s website.  Since 200, the WPL has been creating digital exhibits.  The Millennium Fund  provided funds to digitize local history.  Windsor’s Community is the latest addition to this collection. The Cultural Engines project is one of them, as is a valuable series of interviews with Canadian Veterans from the Windsor area.  In August, 2012, the WebCapture Department of the Library of Congress in Washington DC selected theWPL’s historic collection of materials related to the War of 1812 Bicentennial for its archives as they “considered the website to be an important part of this collection and the historical record” (Library of Congress, letter, August 16, 2012).

In 2013, the Windsor Public Library entered into a partnership with a group called Windsor Hackforge, a non-profit computer and electronics club with volunteers from the local Information Technology community, the University of Windsor and others to “spread excitement, interest and knowledge in technology, particularly among young people” (CEO Report, October 29, 2012).   Another technology initiative for youth took place on September 25, 2012, when WETech Alliance brought Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau to a Robotics Open House, in order to encourage schools to join Sandwich Secondary School in entering FIRST Robotics contests.


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