By Anne DeGrace
The letter reads: My adult son has autism and Down syndrome. One of his interests is in going to the library each and every day. He knows he belongs when he is at the library. It is a place that is familiar, with familiar community faces that he connects with every day. It is HIS meeting place, his chance to belong, his right to borrow materials of his choice and discover new things. For a person with autism this stability and regularity means greater comfort and enjoyment.
It’s an excerpt from a longer letter that library user Susan Thiele submitted to the B.C. government’s select standing committee on finance and government services consultation for Budget 2020 to support a two per cent increase in funding for library services — the first increase in a decade.
It was one of several letters sent as part of this province-wide campaign and copied to us, each one as heartfelt as this. That response was important to us — it means we’re doing our job — but more important, letters such as this one could make the difference.
The next stage of the campaign is to gather information from B.C. public libraries about how libraries support the four guiding principles of the B.C. government’s poverty reduction strategy. Here’s how the Nelson Public Library measures up.
• Barrier-free access to computers to retrieve forms (government, medical, etc.) and create documents (resumes, letters), with free scanning and low-cost printing.
• In 2019 we hosted the community services navigator (a project of Nelson at its Best), assisting individuals to find the help they need.
• Programs such as retirement planning, health system navigation, smoking cessation and more offer strategies for a healthy future.
• Free internet helps people in job, housing, and services searches, resume writing, and more.
• Teen Tech Workshops help teens develop real-life skills and build confidence and community.
• Digital literacy training through one-on-one tech help helps folks become more tech-savvy.
• Reading Buddies helps young readers while teen mentors gain leadership skills.
• The opportunity to borrow library materials — from books to nature backpacks for kids to ukuleles and more — opens up a world of learning, as do online offerings such as Gale Courses.
• This year we hosted two Blanket Exercises, helping people understand the effects of colonization on Indigenous peoples towards the goal of truth and reconciliation.
• Last year’s New to Nelson potluck connected newcomers to resources and each other.
• Granny Goose at Lakeview Village offers a sense of belonging for babies, parents, and elders. All our early literacy programs connect families and encourage love of reading.
• Summer Reading Club engages school-aged children with fun activities and social connections.
• Parenting workshops create stronger families and connect parents with one another.
• Book clubs for all ages bring people together, encourage literacy, and strengthen family bonds.
• The Human Library helped foster understanding and compassion for marginalized people.
• We ensure that all people are made to feel welcome and respected in the library.
This is just a sampling of how your library responded to the campaign’s request. If all of the public libraries in British Columbia sent in their own exhaustive lists, you can imagine the strength of the document that the province’s budget standing committee will receive prior to making their decision.
Susan’s letter sums up what we strive to be. She wrote: The truth is that everything I have mentioned above is the same for each and every community member: a meeting place, belonging, ability to borrow materials, and greater comfort and enjoyment … that truly belongs to all of us.
And now we wait, watch, and hope for stronger libraries — and a healthier, better connected, and more resilient community.
Anne DeGrace is the adult services co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.