COLUMN: Libraries obsolete? Not a chance

COLUMN: Libraries obsolete? Not a chance

Columnist Donna Macdonald says there is more than meets the eye in the library

By Donna Macdonald

I was recently chatting with an acquaintance and he asked me what I was up to these days. I told him I’ve been very involved with public libraries at the provincial level.

“Libraries,” he snorted. “Why do we need them? I have one in my pocket.”

I assume he was referring to his smartphone. I didn’t get the chance to tell him how different a 21st century library is from a smartphone, or even from a 20th century library. I’m sure he’s not alone in his thinking. Allow me to try to persuade him, and other doubters, that we do need libraries. Very much.

For the past five years, I’ve been a director and then president of the BC Library Trustees Association which represents and supports 71 library boards around BC. I’ve had the chance to hear library stories from Tumbler Ridge to Victoria to Fernie, and everywhere in between. Stories of parents learning about the stars alongside their children. Of meals being provided for kids during hard economic times. Of grandparents learning to use Skype to share in their grandkids’ lives.

It makes my heart sing to see what libraries are creating with and for their communities. Very little sshh’ing goes on these days. Libraries are lively and busy places. Obsolescence is not in sight! Nor is it an option.

Libraries are deeply democratic institutions – one of the first. Hundreds of years ago, they were created to make knowledge available to everyone, not just the wealthy. In the early days, they housed scrolls.

More recently, they’ve offered books and magazines, movies and music, computers and eBooks. Some even offer garden tools or musical instruments as part of their collections.

David Lankes is a leading thinker on libraries and their future. One of his well-known aphorisms is this: bad libraries build collections, good libraries build services, great libraries build communities.

Increasingly, libraries are becoming great. Yes, they still convene collections and invite people in to use them, or to access material and quality information on-line. Yes, they still offer services like storytimes and author readings, computer literacy and newcomer programs, outreach to seniors and to rural areas, makerspaces and digital media labs.

And now, as they pursue greatness, libraries have increasingly become important (one might say essential) community hubs. They’re often the last free indoor public space. They’re trusted places where everyone – whether an isolated senior, a street person or a lonely teen – can feel welcome and connected to community.

As well, libraries work with local and provincial governments to help them meet their goals, whether support for the new education curriculum or for people researching work and business opportunities. Libraries partner with community organizations to mutually maximize their shared goals.

Last fall, the BC Libraries Branch (part of the Ministry of Education) released a vision for public libraries. In their words: “This plan supports government’s vision that our public libraries provide British Columbians with access to the information and tools they need to learn, work, create and thrive in today’s changing world.”

And that’s what libraries do, with funding mainly from local governments, but also from the province, community donors and fundraising (of course!).

Sadly, we see terrible damage to libraries in Saskatchewan as a result of deep funding cuts by the provincial government. Newfoundland and Labrador are awaiting a review of their libraries, in the wake of threatened closures of more than half of them last year.

Yet, in places like Australia, we see cities investing in magnificent new 21st century libraries. They get it! They see the reality and potential of libraries.

Which leads me to think about next month’s BC election. I encourage you to let all the candidates know how important libraries are, whether for yourself or your child or your community. Tell them that these community spaces are thriving and meeting many needs, and the government must continue to support and invest in them. For the good of all.

I’m also thinking about the challenges that we’re facing globally, from climate change to polarization and violence. Libraries stand ready to help us be strong and resilient communities, accepting and welcoming. They’ve never been more important.

And if you aren’t convinced by my words, I invite you to visit your local library. You’ll be amazed at what’s going on. You might even be compelled to give them a donation, or at least a big smiling “thank you.”

I hope my acquaintance reads the newspaper on his so-called ‘pocket library’ and will try the real thing someday soon.

Donna Macdonald served 19 years on Nelson City Council until 2014. She is the author of Surviving City Hall, published in 2016.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Glacier Gymnastics head coach Sandra Long says she doesn’t understand why her sport is currently shut down while others are allowed to operate. Photo: Tyler Harper
‘It is bewildering’: Nelson sports leaders call out provincial shut down

Indoor group classes for activities such as gymnastics and dance are on hold

A man wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Vancouver on Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
212 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

A total of 490 cases remain active; 15 in hospital

Jessica Ogden, who calls herself a water protector, not a protester, has lost an internal police complaint following several interactions with the RCMP and the legal system in 2019. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Kootenay logging blockader loses police complaint, files counterclaim against company

Court actions and police complaints stem from blockades in the Balfour and Argenta areas in 2019

Nelson Amnesty is holding its annual Write for Rights campaign Dec. 12 at the Nelson Public Library. Photo: Submitted
Amnesty International Write for Rights relevant during the pandemic

Nelson Amnesty will host the annual event Dec. 12 at the Nelson Public Library

RNG plant
Construction on ground-breaking RNG plant in Fruitvale set to go in spring 2021

REN Energy partners with Calgary engineering firm for innovative West Kootenay gas plant

Seven Deers carved Shinning Raven Woman out of Labradorite harvested from the Canadian Shield. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Sculpture by Indigenous artist to be erected in Grand Forks

Civic leaders have rallied behind the project by Grand Forks’ David Seven Deers

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Kettle bells sit aligned in an indoor fitness studio. (
1 COVID-19 case at a B.C. fitness studio leads to 104 more infections, 6 school exposures

According to case data released by Fraser Health, one case of the novel coronavirus carries a big impact

Vehicles drive past a display thanking essential workers in Burnaby, B.C. on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
B.C. changing COVID-19 case reporting as virus spread continues

Manual counting takes more time, leads to errors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Christy Jordan-Fenton is the co-author of the book Fatty Legs, which has been mentioned amid the controversy of an Abbotsford school assignment on residential schools.
Co-author of residential schools book condemns controversial Abbotsford class assignment

Children’s book mentioned amid controversy at W. A. Fraser Middle School

Kootenay East MLA Tom Shypitka takes over as energy and mines critic for the B.C. Liberal opposition. Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick (right) moves from health critic to assistant deputy speaker. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals pick critics to take on Horgan’s NDP majority

Interim leader Shirley Bond takes seniors, long-term care

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Most Read