October marks Canadian Library Month. If recent news stories are any indication, an event to highlight the importance of, and to celebrate libraries, is needed more than ever. In Newfoundland, public libraries are facing drastic cuts and closures. Here at home, the territorial law library is converted to a less than sufficient “resource center” while school districts cut the hours of school library staff and reduce budgets.
All of these cases, I believe, stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of libraries. They are based on an assumption that libraries are no longer relevant in the internet age. Self-fulfilling prophecies from a lack of investment have sabotaged library effectiveness.
But the people who use libraries regularly know differently. Our understanding about literacies has changed and the range of resources has grown in response. Libraries still proudly house books, of course. We see them as vital to improving community. But libraries today are about so much more.
They provide much needed internet access to many people. Qualified and knowledgeable staff help patrons navigate the vast amount of information to find timely and quality resources. Librarians encourage and teach critical thinking. Libraries host programs that unite and inform the public, and much, much more.
This holds true for academic, public, law, or other specialized libraries. Whenever cuts and closures such as the above examples are announced, regular users speak out. Sometimes their voices have an impact, as in Newfoundland, where local and national outrage resulted in a suspension of library closures pending a more thorough review.
Those actions and voices came after the fact. This Canadian Library Month, I invite anyone who works in a library to commit to talking up what we do because most of us do great things. Of course, this does not mean we cannot do more, but we also need support.
If you are a library user, speak up now! Whether you are on social media or just chatting among your friends, talk about that last great library find or that exceptional service.
And if you are not a frequent library user, visit one during Canadian Library Month. You may be pleasantly surprised at how they have evolved. If not, share your ideas about how we can improve. We are here for you—as we have always been. With your help, libraries will continue to be an important community resource into the future.
– John Mutford, President of the Northwest Territories Library Association