Li­braries are demo­cratic

Open, free spa­ces sup­port an in­formed com­mu­nity

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - Ros­alie Gil­lis Ros­alie Gil­lis is the co-or­di­na­tor of com­mu­nity sup­port for the Cape Bre­ton Re­gional Li­brary.

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.

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