January 28, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

He’s here. Every time I’m here, I see him. He’s young – maybe 25 years old; he looks older. He doesn’t so much sit in the chair as melt into it. He’s watching something on his phone. The last time I saw him in here, he was sleeping; no shoes. I don’t know his name. There are more just like him in here, always- young, restless, disheveled, bored, nameless. I’ve heard people refer to them as ‘shelties’. Inside this space, they’re called patrons. And at this moment, this space, the Orangeville Public Library, is as much his, theirs, as it is mine. 

Contact; it changes you. This is what public spaces can do: it allows people from a community to come into contact with one another. Well-designed public spaces help bring people together. Public spaces foster a sense of the civic optimism that is so critical for a vibrant community, culture and democracy. 

She shuffles through the stacks – up, down, left, right. I see her for a second; the next she’s gone. When I see her again, she’s flipping through the pages of a book; then another; then another. At first I think she is mouthing the words of the story; after a few minutes, its clear that she’s talking to herself. 

I’ve always loved books and places that house them. The first thing I do when I walk into a person’s house is look for a bookshelf. If you can judge a person based on the books they’re reading you can also judge a person based on the books they’re not reading. When I was younger I dreamt of owning a house filled with books (I’ve settled for a basement filled with books). Needless to say, I love libraries.

Good afternoon. Hey. How are you? Good. Sun still shining? I don’t know- I couldn’t see it. That’s funny! Can you do me a favor? Sure. Can you let me know when its 3:30? His phone rings: Bohemian Rhapsody. Hello. Everything okay? Oh! How did she cut herself? 

The past decade hasn’t been an easy one for libraries around the world. According to the American Library Association’s 2011 State of America’s Libraries Report, 21 states in the U.S reported cuts in state funding for public libraries. Over the past few years, many Canadian provinces have also cut library funding, laid off workers and closed branches. The stories coming out of the U.K are particularly devastating. Playwright Alan Bennett compared the loss of libraries in England to ‘child abuse’. 

Daddy? Yes, honey? Can we please, please go upstairs to the kids’ area now? 

I think the people that are responsible for making the decisions to cut library funding are people that probably haven’t visited a library in a long time. If they had, they’d see that gone are the days of the library of my youth- a place filled with, well, books, microfiche, silence, a card catalogue, a librarian in a cardigan. The 21st century library is more like a community centre where everyone has access to resources, programs and services that helps them navigate their way through the complex world of new technologies, literacies and economies. Libraries help fuel and foster the idea of lifelong learning – a necessity in the age of precarious employment and increasing globalization.

No, I don’t have data on my phone. Data is for rich people, yo! 

Today, money is not the only true measure of wealth; in the 21st century, information is the new currency. Those who can access it, manipulate it and share it are the true powerbrokers in the digital economy. Most people have a cellphone; most people have access to a computer. However, not everybody can afford a computer or a phone; and, even if they have one, it doesn’t mean that they can afford to pay for access to the internet. Public libraries serve as a lifeline for those who need access to technologies like computers and wireless spaces. Public libraries help to level the playing field. 

In areas outside Toronto, areas with fewer social services and growing populations, libraries take on a much more complex role in the communities they serve. Many branches partner with social-service groups to help vulnerable people. Library staff are trained in mental-health first aid and can assist people with computer access, filling out government forms, as well as directing patrons to local food banks and shelters. 

Last year, Mayor Sandy Brown campaigned on the promise to do a line-by-line audit of the town’s finances. He repeatedly brought up the fact that Orangeville cannot afford two branches of the library. He listed the names of communities with larger populations than ours, with only one branch. Does he know if these libraries are adequately serving the 21st century demands of their respective communities? I wonder. 

Sean, you’re being disruptive. Sean, I said you’re being disruptive. I’m leaving; I can go now. I’ve been in here long enough. I feel rejuvenated. See you tomorrow. See you tomorrow, Sean.

Whatever decision Council makes, I hope they do what’s in the best interest, not for the bottom line, but for the young men, women, shelties, fathers, poor, mothers, refugees, young, old, students, unemployed, underemployed, physically challenged and Seans who depend on the space and services that our two library branches provide. I think Mr. Brown, and our community, would be better served if, instead, he took in these lines from Ali Smith’s book, ‘public library and other stories’: This book wishes you well. It wishes you the world. It wishes you somewhere warm, safe, well-lit, thoughtful, free, wide open to everybody, where you’ll be surrounded by books and all the different possible ways of reading them. It wishes you fierceness and determination if anyone or anything threatens to take away your open access to places, space, time, thought, knowledge. 


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