"Libraries are an Essential Service"
www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-paying-more-attention-to-the-health-and-social-benefits-of-libraries/#commentsAndre Picard, Globe and Mail Health Columnist
Published October 31, 2023
“The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein spoke these words almost a century ago, but they are as true as ever.
While Einstein was primarily concerned with access to knowledge, libraries today have become much more than mere repositories for books.
There were dire predictions that bricks-and-mortar libraries would become obsolete in the digital age. Yet, they have become even more important in recent years, as essential community hubs that offer not only cultural events but also health and social services.
Where else can you find a public bathroom in the downtown core of cities? As climate chaos grows, libraries serve as warming and cooling centres. They offer free WiFi for those who can’t afford it, a bit of story-time respite for overwhelmed parents and caregivers, language courses for new Canadians, free technology training courses, job training for hundreds of thousands, cooking classes, and a place for students to study, and gig workers to work, as well as social interaction for the growing legions of the lonely.
While COVID-19 exposed many of the holes in our health and social safety net, it also shone a light on how invaluable libraries have become. During the pandemic, libraries were responsive to community needs in a manner few other institutions were.
They distributed rapid tests. They used their 3-D printers to produce personal protective equipment for health workers. They provided laptop loans to students forced to learn remotely. Portable toilets were installed outside, and snacks and menstrual products were distributed to the unhoused. Some opened temporary food banks.
They “leaned in,” to use popular business jargon.
Yet, as libraries do more and more, they are struggling to meet all these new demands because of stagnant or shrinking funding.
A new report from the Canadian Urban Institute and the Canadian Urban Libraries Council makes the point that libraries are as essential a service as other municipal services such as transportation, sanitation and policing, but are not getting their due.
”Overdue: The Case for Canada’s Public Libraries” makes for fascinating reading, beginning with how libraries are taken for granted.