Friday, August 26, 2011

My Library Matters to Me

I submitted the following to an essay competition sponsored by the Toronto Public Library system.  I'm not eligible, as I'm not a Toronto resident, but it was fun to write.

My Library Matters to Me

Literacy is evolving.  I have the means to access almost any work of literature with the click of a mouse, a credit card number and an e-reader.  But now, more than ever, my library matters to me.

I became a parent in my late thirties.  I have two young sons who I feel often ill-equipped to raise at the best of times.  I confess I need help; at least some of Hillary Clinton's village.  Whether its excellent teachers, volunteer coaches and chipper camp counsellors, parenthood is not something to be undertaken alone, even in a stable couple.

Here is where my public library matters, in this case the Dundas Branch of the Hamilton Public Library system.  Often, it is the end destination of 2km walk, mostly downhill, into downtown Dundas.  Sometimes, that end destination is a bicycle-themed coffee shop on a side street.  But everyone knows that caffeine isn't good for kids.

The ghastly pharmaceutically-infused 1970s architecture of the Dundas branch makes me grateful that libraries are more about bricks and mortar.  Its what goes on the branch itself that matters to me and to my children.  Sure, there are books and occasionally I sign them out.  What isn't there can be easily ordered on-line and delivered to my local branch.

There is rarely a day that goes by that there isn't some form of children's programming at the library.  Be it the summer reading club, movie afternoons or a visit by the local greyhound rescue group, dogs and all, there is something to capture the imagination and passion of children.  There are even toys to play with for the younger ones.

Certainly, all of this available elsewhere that isn't supported by the public nickel.  The same Thomas the Train table is available at the local Chapter's store up on the mountain in the giant boxscape that has become Ancaster.  There's even books there, too.  However, the presence of Thomas and other nods to the cause of literacy and enlightenment are more linked to the greater goal of Heather Reisman's bottom line.  At the library, though they may be too young to resist the temptation of the toys in favour of a literary discovery, children begin to associate the fun of the library with the cause of ideas and literacy for their own sake.  It isn't a cheap marketing ploy.

Even those who advocate for the "streamlining" of our library systems would agree that literacy for its own sake is good.  History matters as much as do its opposites: fiction and imagination.  There are multiple ways of accessing it, but the library experience cannot be replaced, particularly not for children.  Do we abandon public playgrounds because of cheap Chinese plastic playground equipment in our own backyards?  Do we stop visiting and going out with friends because of social networking?  As much as any other public good, my library matters and I glad to part with my hard-earned property tax dollars in support of it.

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