Thursday, December 18, 2014

More than just books: Why libraries matter in Canada

by: Mike Donachie

Take a look at our libraries, and you can read us like a book. Mention public services, and the mind leaps to healthcare or police, or maybe garbage collection, transit or road repairs. Mention a library, and many people will think of a dusty building filled with endless shelves of battered tomes. They’d be wrong, at least nowadays.

But library services need to be at the forefront of modern public services, sweeping away that dusty old image, and here’s why. Libraries are far more important than many people think. They unlock our potential to learn, and modern times have seen them branch out to far more than just books.

In Toronto, for example, public library staff report that 72 per cent of citizens visited a library within the past year, with individual “uses” — and that’s in every imaginable way — hitting almost 97 million in 2013. Interestingly, the city’s engagement with paper books has been dropping steadily. In the decade to 2013, use of collections in-person at libraries dropped by 27.3 per cent. But the use of electronic collections, including e-books, doubled in 2011, then 2012 and again in 2013. They now represent 10 per cent of the circulation of books in Toronto’s libraries.

The trend is not limited to big cities. In neighbourhoods across Canada, libraries are feeding the appetite for information in the information age.

A library is still a way to find information, but you can also make connections, attend events, hear music, access the Internet and more. There are educational programs, art exhibits, reading clubs, talks and social gatherings. You can find 3-D printers, toys and havens for newcomers, new mothers and the elderly. Canada spends more than $1 billion a year on libraries from public funds, at different levels of government, and has done so every year since 2008-09, according to Statistics Canada, and that shows the degree to which we value these institutions.

Calgary’s building a beautiful new central library, at a cost of $245 million, with a four-storey central atrium and a huge skylight to shed light on the more than half a million books the place will hold when it’s completed in 2018.

Halifax’s new central library, costing more than $50 million, opens next week, and the excitement level is high.

Investment in library services is a measure of a society, and Canada’s investment is in the future. With newcomers pouring in every year — in 2013, this country welcomed more than 270,000 new permanent residents alone — the need to learn is greater than ever before.

When the people of Canada improve themselves, Canada improves. So, as municipalities get ready to set their budgets for the coming year, they need to be kind to their libraries.
It’s an investment in us all.

from: Metro News

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