An unassuming copy of “The Mother” by Eden Phillpotts, part of the collection at the Vernon Archives, holds more than just its literary content; a faded sticker on its front cover reads “The Circulating Library, Vernon BC,” revealing an interesting story of its own.

This little circulating library was located above the Cossitt, Lloyd, and Beattie Real Estate and Insurance office at the intersection of 30th Avenue and 31st Street. It opened on October 1, 1927, and according to a Vernon News article, consisted of 80% fiction and 20% non-fiction. The article also noted that “an effort [was] made to keep the latest books on the shelves,” and that “standard fiction [would] not be included.”

According to the book’s inside cover, the library was managed by a Mrs. Kidston and operated from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Patrons could exchange books as often as they liked, but they had to be returned every two weeks or a fine of $0.05 per day overdue would be charged. The subscription cost was $7.50 per year, $2.50 per quarter, or $1.00 per month. Interestingly, the library had a phone number with only three digits: 248.

Given the library’s opening date, it is believed that its director was Anna Euphemia Kidston (1866-1960). Anna would have been in her sixties when the library opened, but she was an energetic and active community member with an interest in people, making her a suitable candidate for running a small circulation library. Anna, who was born in Glasgow, arrived in Vernon in 1904, where she and her husband John ran an orchard and boarding house from their property on Kalamalka Lake, affectionately known as “Miktow.”

Anna Kidston with her sons Jack and Jim around 1900. Anna appears to be holding a book in her hands, a fitting detail considering her later establishment of a circulating library in Vernon. GVMA #5498.

Circulating libraries operated quite differently from today’s public libraries, focusing on financial gain and charging a subscription fee. Their collections were driven by public demand, resulting in larger selections of fiction, which was sometimes criticized for giving readers unrealistic expectations of life (while others, in turn, argued that this view of novels and their readers went beyond simple criticism and into the territory of slander). Popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, circulating libraries began to decline by the end of the 20th century.

Interestingly, circulating libraries were particularly popular with women, who made up their main clientele. These establishments also often employed single women, widows, and retirees, which may have influenced Anna Kidston’s interest in establishing her own circulation library in Vernon. The exact date when the library ceased operations is unknown, but like other circulating libraries, it may have been outcompeted by a public library, one of which had been operating in Vernon since 1904.

Gwyneth EvansArchives Manager