A couple of days ago, I received an email from Scholarships Canada, a listserv service I signed up for six or seven years ago when I was first preparing to go to university, with the subject line “My Library Matters to me Contest.”
The email read:
Our public libraries are in danger of being closed or privatized by Toronto City Council’s cost cutting. This could mean the loss of a powerful educational and cultural force through branch closures, service reductions and program cutbacks.
In response, OurPublicLibrary.to and some of the biggest Canadian authors are hosting a contest. You are invited to submit a written or video essay on “Why My Library Matters to Me” by September 9th, 2011.
Children 12 and under can submit a short essay or a drawing!
Thanks for your support,
The ScholarshipsCanada Team
P.S. Keep our libraries open. Sign this petition.
The email was surprising to me since ScholarshipsCanada is a website tool for students looking for scholarship money, not a political organisation. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s attacks on libraries in Toronto are so unpopular, that this website service felt the need to implore its subscribers to do something to defend this powerful educational and cultural force.
Despite claims from Ford, his brother Councillor Doug Ford, and their ilk, the Toronto Public Library system is growing:
The marvel is that in the wireless era, bricks-and-mortar libraries have become not less relevant, but more so. The [Toronto Public Library] recorded 18 million visits to its 98 branches in 2010, a 4-per-cent increase over 2009. The number of cardholders rose 4 per cent too, reaching 1.25 million. Library users borrowed 32 million items, making the TPL the busiest big-city library system (based on items borrowed per capita) in the world. No wonder that in a recent public consultation, residents rated libraries a high priority, placing them eighth on a list of 35 city services, ahead of police, parks and recreation centres.
People will notice changes to library services, they will miss branches if they close, and library cuts will impact communities.
Libraries are where we hold community meetings, where workshops happen, where young people hang out, where people take English classes, where after school programs happen, where people find their political voices. My childhood libraries, some of the branches Doug Ford has claimed no one will miss, are where I did my homework, where I read Judy Bloom books as a pre-teen, where I discovered politics, where I learned about independence and autonomy, but also about community and diversity. The library was where I saw who my community was: mostly racialised people, immigrants from all around the world, young people and old people.
They are also sites of struggle. In 2005, librarians in Connecticut challenged the USA PATRIOT Act, refusing to give over patron records. The American Library Association plainly asserts that it ” opposes any use of governmental power to suppress the free and open exchange of knowledge and information or to intimidate individuals exercising free inquiry…ALA considers that sections of the USA PATRIOT ACT are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users.”
People all over the UK protested library closures this past February, with Save Our Libraries Day. One library even emptied its shelves by having all of it’s patrons take out the 15 books they’re entitled to.
For people who believe in the need for radical social change, the fight to defend libraries is an extremely important one. Libraries are the most hopeful institutions our communities still have, and not only can they be used as a hub for community organising, but they are a familiar example of what a more just society could look like.
Libraries espouse the principle of the commons. Our communities own library holdings collectively, and libraries are one of the last indoor public spaces. In an increasingly alienated society, libraries continue to be a place where communities convene.
Libraries are radical. And people love them.