Last week the city of Winnipeg announced 8 libraries will finally get new buildings. It’s not about closing libraries, it’s about closing older buildings, some lacking access for the physically challenged, and reopening them in 14,00 square foot facilities. For once talk of rebuilding libraries instead of reducing them. The Winnipeg Free Press reported the news and I made the mistake of reading the comments.
Why do I do that?
While people defended the libraries, and books, some message-board pundits felt libraries are ‘irrelevant’. Some felt we needed better roads, I agree with that one too, others felt people have electronics now who needs to go to the library. Once I heard the argument about who needs the tax money more, it just made my heart sink. Nowadays the approach to any issues involves divide-and-argue rather than reaching any consensus. Yes, we need better roads as my last bus ride certainly reminded me of this point. My bus hit a deep pot hole sending me out of my seat. An organized government would find a way to fix potholes and keep libraries open.
However this is Winnipeg and sometimes if we can find something to complain about, we will go after it with a passion. I count myself in as I wish for a better transit system and a library open on weekends during the summer. Redeveloping libraries serves as a start. The comments from the Free Press site made libraries sound like money hogs.
If people had a look at library budgets, they would feel amazed things get run at all. Public libraries are the zen masters of doing more with less. When the mandate involves access for all, library staff will fight tooth and nail to maintain it. Troy Michigan’s library simply wanted a 0.7% in finding. Pretty small. For The Tea Party one tax is already too much and launched a campaign for a no vote on the proposition. How does one fight against an organization with pockets deep enough to control the discourse on a given issue?
Answer: Take the discourse and turn it against the opponent.
When I head about this story, my mind made a very weird association. I read an essay by Jonathan Swift (yes, of Gulliver’s Travels) called ‘A Modest Proposal. Swift’s essay proposing poor Irish families sell their children to the rich as food, shocked the audience. When the shock settled it also made them think about the issue at than. (The poor treatment of Ireland by England.) People talk about the Troy Library campaign as reverse psychology, but viewing it again I can say it’s also satire. People reacted with shock at the news of a book burning soon after the library vote, but made people think about the purpose of a library for a community. It’s ironic the very place people flock to during this recession for books on job searching, resumes, plus the computers to access internet searches for work also find itself vulnerable to austerity measures.
While I gladly greeted the news about the library redevelopment, even the library close to where I live needs s new building, it will take a few more steps to make it a reality. The city made its intention known and the public will be watching. If the will appears to make it happen, perhaps the next step will come in asking for better hours over the summer. People scoff at book learning, but remember Swift modelled his essay on a Roman technique and made it new. Austerity may do well as a short-term solution, but to truly sustain something like a library requires patience, ingenuity, and a quiet grit.
- Walmart closes, Community builds a giant library (boingboing.net)
- Really, A Book Burning Party? (wired.com)
- Award-winning book-burning hoax saves Troy, MI libraries (boingboing.net)
- Winnipeg library plan proposes 7 new branch buildings (cbc.ca)