Back off bul­lies, leave our li­braries alone

Our pub­lic li­braries, the lynch pin of Cana­dian so­ci­ety, must be pro­tected

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - PENNY GUMBERT Penny Gumbert is a life­long lover of li­braries and Hamil­ton res­i­dent.

You might think I’m a free­loader. I read my friend’s mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers. I bor­row CDs, books and videos. My friend even has a com­puter set up for my use. Not bad, eh? My friend’s al­ways there and knows the real me and my pen­chant for mur­der mys­ter­ies, Bri­tish movies and in­stru­men­tal mu­sic. Ev­ery­body needs a friend like mine. But wait! There is a friend like this in ev­ery com­mu­nity. It’s your lo­cal li­brary.

Li­braries have al­ways been im­por­tant to me. We moved a lot when I was a kid and find­ing the near­est li­brary was my se­cu­rity blan­ket. It was a friendly haven. More than that, it was a men­tor.

When I was in my teens an as­tute li­brar­ian, notic­ing my bore­dom with the young adult sec­tion, in­tro­duced me to Gra­ham Greene and C.P. Snow. At var­i­ous times in my life the li­brary has been a study hall, a meet­ing place, a cool place to be in the heat of Hamil­ton’s sum­mers and al­ways a source of in­spi­ra­tion.

What about the fam­ily that can’t af­ford books and com­put­ers? When I was grow­ing up my fam­ily’s in­come meant I re­lied on the li­brary for books. If new pur­chases are only to re­flect the fre­quency of use, li­brar­i­ans may have trou­ble jus­ti­fy­ing a bal­ance in their stock to re­flect all of their com­mu­nity. Should all sec­tors of so­ci­ety be de­prived of th­ese re­sources be­cause the lo­cal li­brary just can’t af­ford the ma­te­ri­als or must close two days a week be­cause it can’t af­ford the staff ? That ex­cel­lent li­brar­ian many years ago was the rea­son I wasn’t turned off read­ing.

More than 17 years ago I wrote the above, and more, about my love af­fair with li­braries. It was pub­lished in The Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor when I was one of a group of vol­un­teers who wrote on com­mu­nity is­sues.

Li­braries were un­der siege then, too. I feel the same way to­day, if not more strongly. My lo­cal li­brary is a bee­hive of ac­tiv­ity. Peo­ple who do not have In­ter­net ac­cess peo­ple the desks. Teens with head­phones find a safe place. Other teens gar­ner work experience stock­ing shelves. Tu­tors coach kids who need a lit­tle ex­tra help. Talk about democ­racy!

A book club with se­niors dis­cusses their lat­est read. In­fants lie on the rug mes­mer­ized by the book be­ing read aloud. Young­sters take pride in be­ing able to check out their own books. Lit­er­acy lives!

Like the is­sue of pub­lic ra­dio, the ne­ces­sity of pub­lic li­braries keeps be­ing de­bated and I do not un­der­stand why in ei­ther case. There is noth­ing to dis­cuss. Li­braries are not there to be turn­ing a profit and, if op­er­at­ing at a loss, so what? Our li­braries must be pro­tected. The li­brary is a lynch pin of Cana­dian so­ci­ety, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion and ser­vices to all. Ac­cess to a li­brary af­fects so­cial mo­bil­ity. It is a pass­port to democ­racy. Back off, bul­lies. The li­brary is here to stay.

Ac­cess to a li­brary af­fects so­cial mo­bil­ity. It is a pass­port to democ­racy.

JOHN RENNISON, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Wa­ter­down high school stu­dents, from left, Edyn Tay­lor, Rachel John­son, Ken­dra Hawkins, Kyra Mach­esano, and Laura McKenna study for an exam in the Wa­ter­down pub­lic li­brary. Li­braries are an es­sen­tial part of our fab­ric, writes Penny Gumbert.

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