In his letter to the editor regarding tax increases, Mr Steve Staples asked the question: “in these days of internet why do libraries even exist?”
We exist because every Canadian has the right to access any materials and information that they wish. This right is the foundation of modern democracy, which runs on the simple principle that we are all equal. For us to be equal, we all require equal access to information – after all, information is power. Sometimes this information is accessed in non-fiction form, sometimes it is presented as stories and literature, or music, or movies.
Many people believe that the Internet provides this service, yet access to the web is far from universal and certainly not consistent. The internet is not run by a magnanimous entity that ensures we all have free access to anything that we want. It is run by businesses and corporations with agendas of their own. Your location, your socio-economic status, your first language, your familiarity with e-devices and your level of education can all impede your ability to access information on the Internet, meaning the playing field is not level.
This is where libraries help. We are here to provide free, unrestricted access to information – and we will help you over any obstacles that may stand in your way. My staff are trained to help you find what you are looking for – or at the very least point you in the right direction if you require skills above those we hold.
Libraries are more relevant today than ever before, and this is partly because of the internet and the information deluge it has facilitated. Anyone, anywhere can post anything they like on the internet and present it as fact. The spread of misinformation – deliberate or otherwise – is rife. Once again it is the job of library staff to step in and help you figure out the facts from the fiction. No other profession is trained to do this.
Libraries are also here to help people find information when they may be unable to do it for themselves. According to the Canadian Government, a literacy level of 3 or higher is required in order to function well in Canada. As of 2003, 48% of Canadians had a literacy level of lower than that (HRSDC). If almost half the nation struggles to read at the basic level, how can you expect them to be able to navigate the vast information slush pile of the internet? This is where libraries step in once again, not just to find the information required, but to encourage and support these people as they improve their literacy.
Unlike the internet, the library is also a physical place. We are somewhere that encourages all members of the community, regardless of background, to come together and connect. We provide the vital social interaction that the most vulnerable members of our community need. We enable vibrant and talented individuals to seek out and find their tribe. We are at the very heart of the community and proud of the 100,000 visits we see each year.
How much does this cost the taxpayers of Chestermere? $15.89 per capita. This small chunk of your taxes goes a long way towards funding a team of 11 enthusiastic library staff who are here to help you. You get a 5,000 square foot facility that is open for 51 hours per week and welcomes anyone from the community to use our space.
You get free internet and wifi that is fast and reliable. You can browse through the 40,000 items we have in our local facility. You can attend any of the seminars, programs or classes that we host. If you wish to join our library like the 7,500 existing card holders, then $25 will buy every member of your household a library card that enables you to borrow over 3 million items from across the province to take home for your enjoyment and / or education.
The public library represents the very best of civilization – a civilization that believes everyone, regardless of their background, has a right to access information, education, recreation and ideas. We believe in sharing, in inclusiveness, in not leaving anyone behind. We are here to help anyone who wants to explore ideas and worlds that would not otherwise be accessible to them. We represent democratic ideals and love for the arts, for science and for education.
Libraries are worth so much more than you realise, and it pains me to see otherwise educated and articulate people dismiss this wondrous institution because of the false belief that the Internet has solved the world’s problems and made us all equal. It has not. If we want to see an enlightened and politically aware community, then all of us need to work together to celebrate the fact that such a fabulous institution as a public library exists in Chestermere, funded by the people of Chestermere, for the good of the people of Chestermere.