Libraries are democratic
Open, free spaces support an informed community
I have been thinking lately about democracy and how it affects us in our daily life. There is so much talk in the media about the erosion of democracy in our world and the need to preserve fairness and equality.
From my perspective, it is clear to me that public libraries are the most democratic institutions in our communities. Libraries are open and free to everyone, with no expectation that you buy anything, and they provide information resources to all, which helps to support an informed community and an informed community helps support our democratic values.
Public libraries are unique. They provide people of all ages, beliefs, cultural and financial backgrounds with the resources they need to expand their level of knowledge throughout their lives.
To quote Fr. Jimmy Tompkins, one of the founders of the co-operative movement, public libraries are the “People’s University.”
There is nowhere else in our community that welcomes and encourages children as members; provides individuals with lifelong learning needs; and is dedicated to the acquisition and distribution of an extensive selection of reading and viewing materials for the public, at no charge.
Recently I was speaking with Canadian writer Kathleen Winter, featured author of this year’s One Book Nova Scotia, about the importance of public libraries.
As a writer, she feels that libraries support writers and those in our community who need a place to create.
“Libraries are safe spaces for people’s imagination,” she said.
To sit inside a public library on a busy day is an interesting experience. In the library will be the very young and very old, the poor and the affluent, the formally educated and the self-educated, all with a common purpose — to access the information and entertainment resources available from the library.
A friend recently shared an image with me of the welcome sign at the British Library that encapsulates the diverse role of a library in the community. It illustrates the concept that everyone who comes through the doors of a library has their own reason for being there. How people reach their goals in life is as unique as they are, and often, the library is one of the resources they use to reach these goals.
Public libraries are undergoing a renaissance in the 21st century with stunning new spaces being built, and people using the library in many ways.
Anyone who has been inside the Halifax Central Library can attest to the vibrant atmosphere of their new space. The public library is a third space in the community where home is first and work is second. Third spaces are the places in your community that help to build healthy, vibrant communities, where people meet and engagement happens. Libraries are community hubs because they are centrally located making them easy to get to, are perceived as trustworthy and are welcoming to everyone.
Libraries have always been there for people in the community, providing help and resources including books and well-educated library staff. Modern public libraries provide all of that but go further by providing space that is flexible and programming that speaks to the culture that surrounds us.
They are places to learn, but also places to have fun.
We deserve a new central library in Sydney that is a bright, welcoming centre for people to connect with learning, culture and each other in the heart of our community. This new space will continue to be welcoming to everyone, maintaining the tradition of the public library as a truly democratic institution.
The welcome sign at the British Library in London, England encapsulates the diverse role of a library in the community.