A long time ago, a library was little more than a repository of books and a reading room. We could sit and read anything from a newly released novel to an old but unforgotten classic. We could read out of town newspapers and thumb through current issues of popular magazines. Or, we could borrow a book and bring it home to read.
A library became known as the university of the working class. As Daniel Quinn wrote in his novel Ishmail, “there is no secret knowledge; no one knows anything that can’t be found on a shelf in the public library.”
Now they have evolved. Libraries slowly began to fill an unmet need for community centres. They stepped up and compensated for a political reluctance to spend money on people. The library, in short, became a hybrid of the old reading room and the new meeting room. Downtown Guelph needs both.
Our public library is allowing city council to abrogate its responsibility to provide new community centres, particularly one for our downtown. And how do some city councillors thank the library? By punishing it. By making it wait. By making it beg.
Some library supporters can, and have, made a compelling business case for library redevelopment. They’ve been doing so in Guelph for more than a quarter of a century.
They talk about how the downtown library brings people in and how those people spend money shopping in downtown businesses. They talk about how the library will revitalize the downtown and attract new business ventures. They talk about the added tax revenue the city will get as a result.
This is all true and important. But, in my mind, it isn’t the most important. In our social system, businesses will always be looked after. If they provide a product or a service that the public needs and wants, they will prosper. If they don’t, no amount of life support will keep them alive.
While city council has a role to play in supporting local businesses, it has a larger role to play in supporting local people. Left to its own devices, our social and economic regime will not, and does not, do it
Downtown Guelph needs a new and larger library. Even our lacklustre mayor says the one we have is inadequate. The downtown also needs a new community centre. The number of people who wait in line for an Internet computer terminal in the library tells us this. So do the scattered services provided by both government and non-government agencies. The development plan for the downtown library fills both needs at the same time.
Our city councillors have an important job to do for the people they represent. They must stop procrastinating and get it done. There is no more time to waste.