Yesterday the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced the closure of 54 libraries, more than half of the libraries in this province. I work, on-call, in the library system so I admit I have a horse in this race but it is because I have worked there that I feel so angry and sad about this decision. Because while others may have heard the announcements and thought of the big picture–the thousands of users who won’t get to go to the library or the 64 people who lost their jobs or the idea that maybe no one uses libraries any more–I saw the little picture, the individuals who use the library and the ones that work in them.
I pictured the small child who walks into the library, full of excitement at all these possibilities in all these books. Most libraries loan out DVDs now but I haven’t seen a lot of children borrow them. The children are all about the books. I picture little arms, barely able to hold onto the pile they bring
to the checkout desk but they want to bring them, not Mom or Dad. These are their books to read, their decision and they are going to hold onto them. I imagine the little hands, unable to resist keeping a couple of fingers on the books as the librarian checks out each one, as if touching the magic inside. This same child might attend the readings for children each week at the library, or take part in an origami class, or coding for kids class, or any of the programs, too numerous to mention, the libraries provide for children.
I thought of the people who walk to the library every day, no matter what the weather, to sit down for a time at a computer and surf the Internet, like I can do so easily in my home. Or the person who has no other way to do the many things people now have to do online, from register for a program or class to renew registration for a car to search for jobs. I pictured the woman who just printed up her resumes and left the library, full of hope for the possibilities of a new job and a new life.
There’s the woman who borrows DVDs to watch with her dying husband and the man who leaves with a stack of books he will have finished before the due date to return them in three weeks time. There are more people than you can imagine reading such high numbers of books.
I thought of the man who lost his wife and now spends time at the library learning how to use a computer and do some work for his church, the man who has taken on a new volunteer job and comes looking for information and books about how to take digital photographs. I felt sad for the lonely people who use the library, not just as a place to get books or use the computer but to make a human connection, to talk to someone about the crappy weather or latest news of the day. Sometimes it seems the local library is the only place they connect with another person.
Because of where I’ve worked, all these people in my mind are in more urban areas where book stores and other libraries are available fairly close by. But I also thought about the little girl in a small community, a voracious reader who ran out of books in her two-room elementary school pretty quickly and was so excited to get the books from the library a two communities away. She inhaled those books, the treasure trove of worlds that would come in a box to her school. The same girl who would grow up to write novels, work part-time in a library, and write this piece you are reading.
I fear that very library will close now. I fear little fingers with no books to touch just to imagine the magic inside. I fear people who are encouraged to use ebooks but who have no idea how to access them. They could go to the library, to the drop-in sessions there that teach about e-readers, or email or Microsoft Word or digital photography. Or they could ask the librarian how to access the ebooks. The librarian who just spent ten minutes helping a child find books about Beaumont Hamel for his school project or patiently helped another patron who asked for “that new book, you know, it has a red cover and it’s written by that mystery writer.” But, of course, that library is closed and that librarian is out of work so where do these people turn to now?
It is my understanding that our libraries are part of the Department of Education. I think that hurts them because, if faced with other choices, like cutting even more teaching positions or closing schools, the libraries become an easy target. I wish they could be placed in another department. Maybe tourism and culture. I don’t know and I don’t know what else should be cut instead of the libraries. I just know how important the libraries are to our place and our people.
Eleanor Crumblehulme said “Cutting libraries during a recession is like cutting hospitals during a plague.” I agree. In a time when books are being taxed, we need a place to access books for free. In a time when jobs are being cut, we need places that provide computer access, Internet, and printers so people can look for, and apply to, new jobs. But, most of all, in a time of austerity we need the uplifting, awe-inspiring, mind-expanding power of books.
If you also think our libraries should not be closed, the Newfoundland and Labrador Library Association has information about how you can help.