What public libraries could and should be
The stars aligning this week drove me to write this letter. It is a topic that I have waxed on about before, but this time, calamity in the cosmos compels me. It has knocked down my door.
I spent a few hours in the Halifax Public Library last week. I was moved by its design and the energy that it quite apparently returned to the grid of community consciousness. Awe, but then depression. Our leaders have not seen fit to embark upon such noble pursuits. Their collective agenda lies elsewhere. Libraries do not matter. If a single one of our public leaders disputes my claim, I challenge them to respond to this letter and reveal to the public their personal efforts on this front. We await your voice.
Speaking of which, I listened to CBC Radio’s “Atlantic Voice” last week. Angela Antle interviewed the CEO of the Halifax Public Library. For the politicians out there who are saying, “Why would this make for interesting airplay?” I ask them to set aside 26 minutes and 10 seconds of their all-too-busy agendas to listen to this interview. Please takes notes. As might be expected within a library context, you may learn something of value. It’s available as a webcast. Not that all of our society would have access to webcast technology. It would if we had a proper library in the downtown, but don’t let that stop you.
In addition, the EY Report on our provincial library situation also blossomed, but has yet to bring forth much in the way of fruit. That shrivelled seed was first planted back in October of last year when many participants could not get into the venue. The library space was too small. And not a politician to be found. Ruth Lawrence captured the general sentiment: “It’s a national disgrace!”
Two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars later, the report says that we should have a library strategy. Brilliant. It goes on to list 10 other recommendations that talk about service delivery models, recruiting librarians, reducing governance, roadmaps, etc. (By the way, these days you need a roadmap to get anywhere.)
Here’s my recommendation (absent from the EY report): we should elect politicians that support libraries. Those that don’t — fire their arses. Too direct for EY? That’s understandable.
A Toronto Libraries report indicated that for every dollar spent on libraries, five were generated in the local economy. The American Library Association says that workforce development is improved through access to classes and educational resources. The global library co-operative, the Online Computer Library Center, states that libraries provide job-seeking help and career assistance. They act as a resource for small business. They offer free Wi-fi access, technology training, meeting venues and creative space.
My own observations in Halifax further suggest that a downtown library is a destination hub, encouraging the use of public transportation and driving up real estate value, and therefore development, in the immediate vicinity. Finally, the library has stripped away all physical and socio-economic barriers. It is a model for all those who believe we must do more to become a truly inclusionary society.
Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada