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Library Book Rate: a concessionary postal rate supporting Canadians and Canadian library development

Carrol D. Lunau
Strategic Office
Library and Archives Canada
November 2004

Canada's population is spread out over a very large territory. Canada has always understood that prosperity, a high standard of living, and quality of life were tied to our ability to design Canadian made solutions that provide Canadians with access to communications and knowledge. With this in mind, the federal government introduced concessionary postal rates for publications to encourage an informed and educated population by ensuring that all Canadians had equitable access to information and to remove barriers created by geography. The program originated in the 19th century and, in 1939, the mailing of library books was added. The rate was intended to provide access to reading material for those Canadians who, due to their location or physical disability, did not have access to a public library.

Canada is blessed with an excellent system of public libraries, serving Canadians from sea to sea to sea. Libraries exist in large cities and small towns. In cities and towns and through rural/regional/county networks libraries provide 3,600 accessible, citizen-centric service points. The concessionary postal rates have allowed the participation of libraries large and small in the national Canadian resource-sharing network; an amalgam of policies, services, agreements and communications technologies that share materials among libraries. Through this network of libraries a Citizen in Yellowknife can obtain material from a library in Toronto to support their small business development, learning pursuits or leisure activities. A senior citizen living in Nelson B.C. can obtain the large-print materials that are essential to their continued well-being and good health. A family living in a community in Newfoundland, accessible only by ferry, can order Books By Mail to help pass the time or improve literacy skills in the home. Without the concessionary postal rates, libraries would not have been able to support the delivery of material directly to people's homes in rural or remote areas or to afford to send the volume of material that is sent between libraries on interlibrary loan.

The Present

The library system, with the assistance of the concessionary postal rates, continues to be a vital component of the infrastructure supporting the Canadian government's objectives of economic prosperity, social inclusion and quality of life and overcoming barriers created by geographic isolation.

The government is committed to "equality of opportunity so that prosperity can be shared by all Canadians" (SFT)1 . One aspect of equality of opportunity is access to the information and learning materials needed to support early-stage business development, skills enhancement, and literacy. These are essential elements for building a strong economy and are supported by the public library network. A young person with an innovative new idea can, through the public library network, acquire material from anywhere in the country to refine their thoughts and find out how to develop the idea into a business. A worker wishing to upgrade his skills, be they technical skills or basic literacy/numeracy skills, can acquire the necessary support materials from a library anywhere in Canada. If the material is not part of the local collection, the library will acquire it from another library. These library services support regional and rural economic development by assisting with skills upgrading, research and community economic development.

Concessionary postal rates help libraries to maintain services that assist parents in home-schooling their children and providing in-home opportunities for children to learn. They also support seniors by providing information for them and fostering their love of reading and learning, allowing them to remain active and engaged in community life. Small rural and northern libraries cannot afford to buy the number or variety of materials that these patrons require but, because of the concessionary postal rates, they can afford to acquire them on interlibrary loan and to deliver them directly to the home, if necessary.

The government's New Deal for Canada's Cities and Communities acknowledges that they are "the front lines in building a better quality of life" (SFT). Libraries are a critical element of the foundation of Canadian cities and communities. The library is fundamental to supporting vibrant, healthy Canadian cities.

In order to meet the needs of off-reserve Aboriginal Canadians and newly-arrived immigrant groups, libraries rely on interlibrary loan to supplement their permanent collection of materials for these groups. Access to culturally appropriate materials is essential for helping these Canadians integrate into the broader Canadian society while retaining a connection with their heritage.

Library interlibrary loan services also foster cultural development by making the works of Canadian authors available to all Canadians as well as to the international community.

Impact of Concessionary Postal Rates

Concessionary postal rates have allowed Canadians, no matter where they live, to have equitable access to information. A Canadian living in rural Saskatchewan or in Inuvik can acquire the same information as somebody living in downtown Toronto. If the concessionary rates paid by libraries are eliminated or increased by a significant amount, these libraries will not be able to continue to offer these services. For example the province of Newfoundland currently spends about $25,000 to send material to their 500 communities and 96 libraries. Without the concessionary postal rate they estimate it would cost at least $100,000 to ship the same number of books. This would mean that they would purchase about 5000 books less per year.

Loss of the concessionary rate would unfairly disadvantage those Canadians who live in the North, small towns and rural areas. Libraries can play a major role in the government's recently announced intent to develop "the first-ever comprehensive strategy for the North … to foster sustainable economic and human development" (SFT). Access to information will be essential for the North to play this role and the concessionary postal rates will support libraries in providing this access.

The Future

The policy basis of the concessionary postal rate program for library materials was sound in 1939 when it was implemented and continues to be sound in today's environment with a government focus on the North, Aboriginal communities, regional development, skills upgrading, literacy, early childhood learning and socially inclusive and vibrant cities and communities.

The program needs to be modernized and improved, however, to include all information, whether the publication medium is a printed book or some other format, as technology continues to make information available in new formats and access to information in these formats is increasingly important to our knowledge-based society. Videos, microfilm, film, audio devices, DVDs have all found their way into library collections. Many patrons, especially learning-disabled and print-disabled Canadians, cannot use a traditional book and require information delivered in another format. Researchers often require information and records that are only available on microfilm. Mailing these non-book materials is expensive and because of this many libraries are not able to provide this service to those Canadians who need it.


It is essential for the maintenance of vibrant cities and communities that the library network be fostered and strengthened. Libraries contribute to the successful fulfillment of the objectives of the federal government and it is essential that the concessionary postal rates be continued with a minimal increase in cost and that the program be expanded to include other formats beside books.