(published in the Fishermen's Advocate, June 12, 1942 and
transcribed by Melvin Baker, September 1997)
The story of the Joseph Clouter Free Public Library at Catalina is probably unique in our island. Like most philanthropic endeavours it is the result of sacrificial idealism on the part of a man imbued with a desire to serve, and who chose to serve regardless of handicap and discouragement. To appreciate this institution properly one has to know Mr. Joseph Clouter, the founder of this library system which bears his name. Mr. Clouter was born in Catalina just over sixty years ago. When little more than a boy he left home to see what fortune had in store for him on the Continent. he spent some time in both the United States and Canada, subsequently serving overseas in the first Great War. After the war he made his home in the United States and has lived for years in Watertown, near Boston. Mr. Clouter today is a healthy, young-looking man, vigorous and entirely unembittered. He is still alive to all beneficial ideas and in so far as possible contributes, wholeheartedly to aiding the progress of his fellowmen. Were it not so there would never have been a Joseph Clouter Free Public Library system at Catalina. A few years ago Mr. Clouter visited his home town of Catalina and decided that a library would be a great benefit to the community. In fact he considered a public library a necessity. Mr. Clouter soon found that there were many others who agreed with him. On his return to the United States he began to collect books preparatory to founding a library. Now I would ask you to remember that Mr. Clouter is not a wealthy man. He is a man of but moderate means, and hence you can appreciate better the faith and driving purpose of the man who decided to build up a library starting with nothing. But he did it and of course it did cost him quite a bit of money. However, by advertising and contacting various organizations, he carried out an amazingly successful book collecting campaign, and the year following this first visit he notified his friends in Catalina that he had the books and it was up to them to start the library going.
However, starting a library is not nearly so easy as it sounds. You can't just go out and tell people that "here we have a lot of books for you and you must start a library here, so please put up a building and hand out the money". It isn't nearly as easy as that. In the first place the idea is, unfortunately, new in most places around our coasts. The people have not been used to libraries and hence it follows that they have no reason, in many cases, to feel the need of them. They feel that what was good enough for their fathers is good enough for them, and as a people we are conservative and slow to change anyway. Often, many of us have considered change as almost criminal; and as regards the formation of our public library in Catalina we were just as bad - for a while. A public meeting was called and but few attended and the idea seemed to be going to die. It was then that other tactics were adopted which resulted in the formation of the Catalina Library and its branches and which may prove of invaluable help to other communities who will be seeking to obtain libraries under the regional scheme recently sponsored by the Public Libraries Board. The new attempt was made as follows: A number of public-spirited men were lined up to form a board for the purpose of creating a library system and to interest the public. This they did and the public instantly responded. We were fortunate in having in Catalina a retired gentleman of great energy who persistently refused to remain retired. I refer to Mr. Dugald White, first Chairman of our library board, who still holds that position. Mr. White lent his talent for leadership to the Library's cause and has virtually lived for libraries ever since, and in my opinion no history of local libraries will be complete without the story of this man's unselfish perseverance in organizing libraries. Soon the books arrived and Mr. Clouter came too. Then Mr. S.W. Mifflin placed a most suitable office building at the disposal of the newly organized committee and Mr. W.S. Shields, then manager of the Bank of Nova Scotia at Catalina now in a similar capacity at Grand Bank, gave painstaking care, as first Secretary-Treasurer, to working out a business system, and a working policy for the library. At the time it was thought possible to maintain the library by voluntary aid alone, that is, that volunteer librarians would deal with book exchange and voluntary contributions would supply what little money then though necessary. It was stipulated too that there would be no fee charged for the use of books for it was to be a free public library. Provision was made however to enforce a small fine on overdue books. This worked for a year, when it was discovered that the circulation of books had grown to such proportions that it would be necessary to engage a librarian and pay a salary. Also the library at this time was serving the district from Port Union to Little Catalina, and it was felt that the time had come when a branch at the latter place would be better, owing to the distance from the centre of Catalina where the Library was located.
At about the same time, too, the idea of a branch library system originated and came up for discussion during one of Mr. Clouter's visits here.
Obviously, to institute a library service around the northeast coast would require money - much more than could be raised locally. It was then we turned to the Public Libraries Board for assistance and they were so impressed by the work which our little library was doing that they arranged a grant for us. As soon as the grant and a really good librarian were secured the Committee, keeping in touch with Mr. Clouter, who had already fathered a branch library idea, worked out the present scheme, which was original, at least in this country. A rough outline of the scheme is as follows: The Central Library at Catalina would provide 300 books for any town on the Northeast coast, within a reasonable area, which desired a library. As soon as 100 books were read they were to be returned for immediate exchange. Thus, the branch library had a continuous supply of 300 books with constantly changing titles. In return, the town or village which desired a library was asked to provide a committee of around five or more who would agree to look after the books, their housing, exchange, etc. By advertising our scheme by radio and press and by personal contacts we soon had more applications than we could fill and our cry was more books. Meanwhile, Mr. Clouter had been zealously collecting all the books he could and our requirements were supplied by him. At the present time the Clouter Library is operating 9 branches in the following towns - Little Catalina, Elliston, Eastport, Champney's E., Heart's Delight, Green's Hr., Gooseberry Cove, Blackhead and Musgravetown. Apart from its branches the local circulation of the Central Branch, which serves Catalina and Port Union, continues excellent. The population of the two towns is about 1400. Yet the last annual report of the library gave 470 registered borrowers, with 8,244 volumes borrowed for home use during the year. Of these over 1500 were non-fiction or reference books - which is considered a fairly good average. This does not include reference books used in the library. I might add that our shelves are filled with all types of literature and our books of reference contain the best of its type obtainable.
The library has sponsored also a local essay contest which was held for two years. Each year cash prices to the amount of $25.00 were distributed to the writers of the best essays on certain subjects. Previous to last year all books came from Mr. Clouter, but then in addition to what we received from the founder of the library, some juvenile literature and reference books were supplied by the Gosling Memorial Library.
Probably the most gratifying news that we have hear of late is the announcement by the Public Libraries Board that it has adopted a regional library scheme for Newfoundland similar to ours. The idea is to establish central libraries such as the Catalina Library, and the central library will operate branches in various places in its own particular section of the country - thus distributing books throughout the region.
Just how the setting up of the regional scheme will affect, if at all, the future of our library is difficult to determine. It should lead to even closer co-operation between the two boards. It may mean that the necessity for further expansion is eliminated. Rather I would say the extent of its operating area may be limited. However, this will be adjusted between the Public Libraries Board and our local board. Be that as it may, the main thing I wish to do tonight is to help the advancement of public libraries for they are necessities. The Joseph Clouter Free Public Library has proven its worth well more than the efforts it took to create it. Essay writing has improved vastly, more people are reading a wider variety of literature, more people are being educated. While it is true that all books are not good books, it is also true that most books make people think, which is good. For as long as men and women think they will combat popular evils. Ignorance is the blood-brother of slavery and it follows that education is the friend and ally of true liberty, and how best to free men's minds than through a system of public libraries, with the best thoughts of the world's great minds made available to all, young and old, rich and poor!
It would seem that a great stride forward along educational lines has been taken by the formation of the regional library scheme. Now the benefits of the Catalina Library system will be made available to the whole island through the regional scheme of the Public Libraries Board. It is true too that this scheme places certain responsibilities on community leaders in places where libraries are needed. It may not do to wait until popular opinion unanimously demands libraries. Rather it is the duty of forward-looking community leaders to try and raise enthusiasm by spreading the gospel of Public Libraries, as Mr. Joseph Clouter, Mr. Dugald White and their friends did in Catalina.
During the five years the Joseph Clouter Free Public Library has been in operation, it has steadily become more and more an integral part of community life and has become an institution, and the earnest wish of its founder and committee is that it will be a lasting monument to progressive development in outport community life.