Last week a poster appeared on one of our library walls. I suspect a librarian; we’re a subversive bunch (just ask Michael Moore), and I wouldn’t put it past any of us. The poster sports a quote by UBC librarian Eleanor Crumblehulme, based on a tweet she sent last year to author Neil Gaiman.
“Cutting libraries in a recession is like cutting hospitals in a plague.”
A look online shows the sentiment is widely shared; it turns up on blogs and websites and been tweeted across the continent. The posts, comments, and essays it has sparked are enlightening. Look it up for yourself on your library’s public access computer. That is, unless it’s been cut.
The Internet has opened up the world. And no, it’s not a threat to libraries; the web enhances what we do; it enables, it informs, and yes, it entertains. Libraries have embraced the World Wide Web for what it can offer library users, and librarians make great guides.
When you want to find a job, learn about a medical condition, get homework help, find the right government program or find out how to navigate the legal system, your library is your one-stop-shop. Yes, of course we have books. We also have the whole world at your fingertips.
Or at least, we should. British Columbia is being hit with a $515,000 cut in funding to 135 Community Access Program (CAP) sites in libraries across the province.
CAP sites offer free Internet access to anyone who needs it, especially those who don’t have home access to a computer or to the Internet. Seniors, rural residents without high speed Internet, low income families, tourists, seasonal workers, and youth are particularly affected by CAP funding cuts.
The library has one CAP computer — always there, always free — in addition to eight other stations which are free for cardholders and available for a nominal fee to non-cardholders, fees that help us pay for maintenance. Running a bank of public computers comes with a hefty price tag.
Losing CAP computers will force libraries to re-allocate funds to keep the service so many rely upon. Some libraries will pull from book budgets, maintenance budgets, or even staff budgets in order to offer an essential service to those who need it most.
We are in tough times, and as jobs become harder to find, as food and shelter costs rise, people more than ever need access to job banks, health information and housing opportunities. As legal, social, and employment assistance programs lose their frontline workers in favour of online services, what happens when you cut that access, too?
And if the plague comes? Better have access to those online prevention tips.
To keep the CAP program going across Canada — helping people to help themselves — will cost every Canadian just 42 cents a year. The BC Library Association is urging the federal government to re-examine its decision. You can find out more at savecap.ca.
To do that, of course, means accessing a computer. The Nelson Library’s CAP computer is still available, with helpful — and possibly subversive — librarians ever at the ready.
So what did controversial filmmaker Michael Moore say?
“I really didn’t realize the librarians were, you know, such a dangerous group. They are subversive. You think they’re just sitting there at the desk, all quiet and everything. They’re like plotting the revolution, man. I wouldn’t mess with them. You know, they’ve had their budgets cut.”
Anne DeGrace’s library column is featured every second Friday in the Star.