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Why do we need a Library, anyway?

There has been a debate — well, perhaps “debate” suggests a more calm and orderly conversation — regarding the proposal by the City to relocate the existing Churchill Branch of the Public Library from its existing quarters in

There has been a debate — well, perhaps “debate” suggests a more calm and orderly conversation — regarding the proposal by the City to relocate the existing Churchill Branch of the Public Library from its existing quarters in the Churchill Plaza to the Rhodes Centre.

This would have necessitated the eviction of “Chilly Willy’s” a licensed restaurant currently occupying the space on the second level, where the library was to be located.

Dozens of people spoke strongly against this plan, especially the removal of the restaurant from the Rhodes Centre.

I understand their concerns. While I do not frequent the Rhodes Centre, I am sure that having a full service, licensed restaurant within a twin pad arena is very much welcomed by parents and fans.

I also understand people’s concerns about the possibility of job losses, were the restaurant be removed from the site.

Personally, I have never seen the placement of a licensed restaurant within a community centre as a good fit, right back to when the facility first opened. 

But, that’s my opinion.

I do think that — taking the restaurant completely out of the equation — having a library within a Community Centre is a great idea. There are a number of other communities, many of similar size as the Sault, that have incorporated all their recreation and culture facilities under one roof.

City Council has been relieved of the responsibility of making the final decision in this matter, as the Library Board has chose to drop the relocation plan, in light of the negative emotions this proposal had garnered.

This is not to say the plan didn’t have its supporters, nor that the opposition to the move was significant, but the Library Board wanted any move to be viewed in a positive light. 

While I still believe the move would have proven, over time, to be beneficial to the community, I applaud the Library Board on its decision. 

What concerned me most, during the course of the debate in this issue, was comments made by Chilly Willy’s supporters and other regarding the value of a library in the community.

“Who uses the library anyway?”
“Isn’t one library enough?”
"Close the Churchill Library Branch, Why continue to waste money?”
“I find it wasteful to have more than one library in this day and age.”
"One library is all we need....plain and simple. The main library is perfect and the money can be invested there. The vast majority of people have access to internet and thus have access to books, information, literature, culture. The world is literally, at their fingertips.”

These are all valid arguments, up to a point. I would suggest that these are people who do not find value in a library. 

However, there are very many people who do appreciate what the library has to offer.

The internet, and especially Google, is a great resource. yes, the world is literally at our fingertips. or at least, much of the world.

Anyone who thinks that libraries are solemn, dusty repositories for books no one wants to read hasn’t been in a library in the past couple of decades.

Libraries are keeping up with the times. There are people on CAP (Community Access Program) Site computers; people who do not have a computer of their own, or cannot afford internet service.

There are workshops and training courses offered for those wishing to learn how to use computers, tablets, and other emerging technology.

Libraries are places of learning, and places where people can meet.

Below are the Library Values, as identified in the Library Board’s “Strategic Plan 2010-2013”...

• Excellent customer service 

• Open and free access for all 

• Intellectual freedom and personal privacy 

• Collaboration with local agencies, organizations and elected officials 

• Acting with initiative, creativity and flexibility 

• Effective and efficient stewardship of library resources 

• Effective communication 

• Continual improvement and planning for the future 

In conjunction with the Library’s values, are the CAP Site objectives:

  • Delivering Internet training sessions 
  • Researching and developing Web sites
  • Drafting publicity materials
  • Organizing information fairs and special events
  • Providing technical support to the CAP site.

In addition there are programs for children and youth, fun activities that incorporate learning and sharing, both in-person and online. Check out the link...

The Library’s website incorporates a “Teen Zone” with links to a variety of resources and activities…

The website offers a listing of all upcoming events, for adults, teens and kids…

I frequent all three branches. I most often attend the Centennial Branch, but I do go to the Churchill and Korah Branches, too.

As times, I long for the “good old days” when libraries were solemn and quiet, and a librarian would shush! anyone who spoke too loudly. But, that is not the case any longer.

A library is a meeting place. 

I see teens meeting with tutors after school. There are groups of friends who gather here to read newspapers — local and from out-of-town — or discuss books. There are seniors coming here to learn how to use their computer, or tablet, or a new software program.

Currently, as I sit in the Work Room and write this column, there are four other people: some reading, some on their computers.

To say that the library has outlived its usefulness, that it is not needed in today’s online-computer age, is short-sighted.

Scottish-born industrialist Andrew Carnegie amassed a tremendous fortune in the American steel industry in the 19th century. He was also one of the world’s greatest philanthropist, giving away 90% of his fortune to various charities and foundations.

One of his most lasting legacies was establishing libraries across the United States, Canada, Great Britain and other english-speaking countries.

Many cities around the world still boast a “Carnegie Library.” We had one, once.

Despite the fact that the City Council of the day initially rejected accepting funding from Carnegie, after some debate the project went ahead, and in 1903 a Carnegie Library opened on Queen Street, near where the now-abandoned PUC building sits. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed by fire — due to faulty wiring — in 1907.

A replacement was constructed, again with funds from Carnegie, in 1909.

The first Branch library — Steelton — was constructed in 1919, and the building still stands, today.

The present “main branch” was a Centennial project, conceived in 1964 and opened in 1966, and dedicated in 1967, as part of Canada’s Centennial celebrations.

When proposed, the Library Board set out criteria for the new building…

“it should be modern, centrally located and easily accessible. Further, it should have adequate parking and it should be large enough to accommodate all patrons with room for expansion. In short, Council and the Library Board wanted a facility that would be readily recognizable as a "social intelligence centre" with the capacity to meet the demand for ever-increasing community services.”

Libraries have been important to communities since they were established. That we have such ready access to the world-wide-web (the internet) and more data than anyone can conceive of is not a reason to turn away from libraries, or to consider them obsolete.

That there are people who find no reason to go to the library is, to me, unfortunate. I believe they would find that the library is not what they think it is, and were they to visit one, they might find themselves coming back on a more regular basis.

Some people have commented that eBooks have made libraries unnecessary. That is simply not the case.

I have both an e-Reader and a Tablet. I bought my niece an e-Reader for her birthday. They are wonderful devices. However… eBooks cost money.

I have purchased eBook for as little as 99¢, but they can cost as much as a bound hardcover book. (That is the topic for a future column!)

But… you can borrow an eBook from the library. For free.

As well, you can borrow paperbacks and hardcover books. For free.

Online information is not always free. Many newspapers allow people to read some content online,at no charge. But if you want to read the full edition, you have to subscribe.

While you may have to wait for another patron to finish with it, you can read the paper at the library. For free. And as I mentioned, not just the local paper, but papers from across Canada.

The quality of information you can find on the internet varies. Again, while Google is a tremendous service, search results are not always reliable.

Some search results appear at the top of the list because the providers paid for their position. 

Even results that rank high due to popularity are not always the best sources of information.

The books, magazine, articles, and other items obtained by the library are curated — someone has determined that these items are of significant value.

And there are people here to help you. Very knowledgeable staff can help you find what you are looking for from the hundreds of thousands of items in the collection.

They can also help with online searches and other services.

Libraries also help preserve the digital information, and digitize important books and documents to carry that information forward.

I mentioned relier that some patrons use the computers at a CAP site. 

We have to be concerned about what is known as “the Digital Divide.” 

Yes, many people can afford a computer, tablets, and other devices and the internet service that enables them to connect with the “digital world.”

There are those who cannot, and as we watch the erosion of the middle class, we must recognize that this will widen the Digital Divide — it will put more people into the “have not” category, with regard to access to information and services.

There are some services, today, that can only be accessed online, such as applications for government services, or for jobs.

With no access to computers and the internet, how do the “have nots” access these services.

Libraries are many things to many people.

If you don’t find you have need of the library, well… that’s your choice. 

But, I believe that people would be surprised how much value there is in having a library in the community — and how having just one may not be enough.

I am very happy that we have the three Branches here, and hope that they will continue to serve the community well into the future.

Wy not drop in to one of the three Branches and see for yourself all the Library has to offer? I think you'd be surprised.


But… that’s just my opinion.