|Six-year-old Janaya hangs out with me and Youth Services Librarian, Jenn Atkinson. I'm holding a not-to-scale replica of one of the bookplates I purchased as part of Cumberland Public Libraries' 50th birthday fundraiser.|
There is a photograph making the rounds on the internet entitled “Impact of a Book”. The photo shows a massive brick wall with bit of a hitch in the middle of it, directly above where a book lies on the ground, interrupting the flow of bricks.
It’s actually an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake called “Il Castillo/The Castle”, named for the Franz Kafka book at the bottom of the wall of bricks but you can see why writers and librarians love it for illustrating the impact of a single book.
A single book can disrupt the flow. It can alter linear thinking. It can break down barriers.
A single book can open the mind and stimulate the heart.
A single book can launch a career.
When I was a kid in Ontario in the mid-seventies, the town library was less than a block from my home. The children’s library was completely separate from the adult library, and I spent hours there, wandering between tall book shelves, reading titles, and exploring stories.
One afternoon, after stocking up on books to take to the cottage, I hopped into the front seat of our car, and my mother glanced down at the pile of books on my lap.
On top was a non-fiction book titled, How To Cope With An Alcoholic Parent.
“What? Why do you have that book?” my mother squawked. “I’ll never be able to show my face in the children’s library again.”
I didn’t choose that book because I had concerns about my parents but because I was captivated by the personal stories that were inside the book. With no interest in the self-help narrative, I read the first-person accounts of people who were living with an alcoholic parent.
I believe that book, and that well-stocked children’s library, started me, at the age of nine, on my path as a writer who tells personal stories, whether my own or others’.
If one book can have that kind of impact, what would be the impact of losing all books?
Last month, Cumberland Public Libraries (CPL) announced it has reached the point of desperation; costs keep rising but funds from the government have remained the same for almost a decade. The CPL is making deep cuts to services, and could close one of its seven branches. Already, a full-time staff position is being eliminated.
What is a library without services? And what is a community without a library?
The first library existed in 300 BC, and the oldest, still-running library (the National Library of France) is almost 650 years old. Libraries have endured for thousands of years for one reason: they play an essential role in human development by providing knowledge, social interaction, and inspiration.
The solution is not to start charging for services – libraries must remain free – but for our provincial government to adequately fund a system that has existed since humans first put chisel to tablet.
A quarter of Cumberland County residents have a library card. In honour of CPL’s 50th birthday in 2017, let’s raise that to 50 per cent. By signing up for a free library card, you will show the government that Cumberland County residents appreciate the impact of a book.
Correction: A quarter (24%) of those with a library card represents those who have used it in the last three years. I have a card but I haven't used it in ten years. So if you have one but don't use it, USE IT! Let's get the active card number up to 50%. If you don't have a card, get one -- and USE IT, even if it's just once a year. A rise in numbers will show the government that we want to have a library in our communities.
(If you still like to rent DVDs to watch movies, the library may be one of the few places left that carry current movies -- and you can "rent" them for free.)
When we were at the library getting a photo for this column, I met six-year-old Janaya, picture above, who was choosing books to take home and have her mother read to her.
Her mother, Jacki, explained that Janaya, now in Grade One, is catching up on her reading levels this year after a difficult start in school last year. And there is Janaya, gregarious and imaginative, already telling stories, already loving reading despite the obstacles.
"We live at the library," Jacki told me.
If you want a face to attach to the reasons why we need libraries, here is Janaya. She's already an oral storyteller; she could be a future writer. Without the library, her talents may never fully develop. Support the library, and support young readers like Janaya.
Here are (just) five reasons why we needs libraries:
1) Reading books improve your life chances not just through the material but through the social experience of a library. “Story Time” wouldn’t be the same online!
2) Librarians have long been defenders of intellectual freedoms like free speech, copyright, and privacy. They fight for our right to read (and write) whatever we want.
For those who insist digital is the way to go: 3) The printed word seems to imprint knowledge better than using a computer screen.
4) Libraries are economically efficient. Their model of sharing allows them to serve many people with few resources.
And finally, 5) What a shame to lose the experience, and the catchphrase, of students throughout the world, for thousands of years: “I’m studying at the library.”
Remember: Just as “WebMD” doesn’t replace your doctor, “Google” doesn’t replace your librarian.