October 31, 2011
Check the UPDATE at the end of the article.
Every politician has known it for years: you don’t say anything against the local library if you want to get elected again. That’s why it became a national story when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug violated this taboo and earned a trimming from the sharp pen of Margaret Atwood.
My one time as a television advocate occurred some years ago while a member of the Smiths Falls Public Library Board. Head Librarian Karen Schecter had devised an innovative response to a budget cut: she closed the library for one day a week to compensate for the reduced funding. A photo of Karen and the closed sign on the door made the front page of the Ottawa Citizen just before a municipal election.
So I duly stepped up to a microphone at the all-candidates meeting at the 560 Legion Hall. Local cable TV cameras recorded events like this in Smiths Falls and rebroadcast them on their own channel. My question went to each of the ten candidates arrayed in a row across the front of the room: “How about the Library? Do you support cuts to its budget?”
Councilor Bill Widenmaier caught on immediately and heaped praise upon the Smiths Falls Public Library, built in 1904 with a gift from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. He explained that Carnegie used his fortune to build libraries to promote literacy and provide an example of fine architecture in towns and cities all across North America, and the Smiths Falls site was the last Carnegie Library still in use. Bill stated that, if re-elected, he would vote against any cutbacks to this vital institution. Period.
Not every candidate fell into line at this time, though most realized the political advantage and took it. I remember two hard-liners who questioned the value of the library. Voters dumped them. Widenmaier topped the polls. The new council restored Karen’s budget and services returned to normal.
They are big readers in Smiths Falls. A town of 10,000 at that time, our library boasted just over 6,000 registered members and a circulation which was the envy of all of the local communities.
My wife Bet is a voracious reader. One of her apprehensions about moving back to the country involved separation from the contents of the beloved yellow building just two blocks from our house. But then we discovered the Portland Public Library. And the one in Newboro. And the main branch in Elgin, and the one in Delta. Bet even visits the South Elmsley Branch near Lombardy.
She’s delighted with the local offerings. The scattered branches have taken advantage of technology with an online catalogue, an efficient courier and Internet services I could only dream about as a board member in the late ‘90s. Bet’s tracked down titles from all over Ontario through Inter-library loan.
On a given day in summer you’ll see the library parking lots dotted with out-of-province license plates. Visitors with laptops stop and park to access wireless Internet at all hours of day and night. Others venture inside to use the computers. The library is a comfortable place to read magazines and newspapers. I suppose quite a few visitors even take out books, as well.
When asked to make a lunchtime speech recently I decided I would need a slide show if I were to have any hope of holding an audience for the appointed time. It’s been a while since I have taught a class, so I didn’t know where to look for audio-visual materials.
Then I found Sue Warren’s name on the Rideau Lakes Public Library website, so I dropped her an email to ask if they had any sort of projector I could link to my trusty laptop. Sue assured me that they do have such a device.
It took some doing to get the Windows-oriented projector to work with my MacBook, but eventually I found the correct cable, and away it went.
As the days grow cold and November gray encroaches on our psyche, at least we have the Library as a destination, a source of variety and light. Its stacks are a rich vein of information, and there’s also fiction to allow us escape to another, sunnier world for a few hours at a time.
Check out the Rideau Lakes Public Library website to see the range of information services they provide, free of charge, to the community.
As Sand Lake resident Paola Durando commented on my blog: “Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries!”
Roz sent along the following link to a highly unusual library mystery: