There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s intention to make drastic cuts at city hall, including cuts to Toronto Public Library, but perhaps even more attention has been given to his brother Doug Ford’s erroneous statement that Etobicoke has more libraries than Tim Hortons. Even if this were true, would that be a bad thing? Isn’t a little education, entertainment, and all-around free access to information worth a little more than a double-double or an apple fritter? Perhaps if the brothers Ford consumed less Timmies and more knowledge, they wouldn’t have such a negative and misguided view of libraries.
Does Toronto need all of its 99 branches? Truth be told, I don’t know whether all of TPL’s branches are used enough to make them worthwhile, but I don’t think closing any branch is a decision that should be made lightly. Libraries are one of the last public spaces where people of all types can gather, not simply to read books or find information, but just to be around other people. For many, the public library provides essential services such as help finding a job, settlement assistance for new Canadians, a place to learn English, or to learn to read. The library’s programs bring community members together and allow people to connect with others they may never have met otherwise, whether it be at a children’s story time, a teen movie night, or an adult book club. Many of the library’s free programs enable community members to learn new skills, such as a senior citizen learning to use e-mail to connect with family members or a teenager learning leadership skills by being involved in a teen advisory group. Not to mention the thousands upon thousand of print book, e-books, electronic journals, magazines, CDs, DVDs and more that are available absolutely free.
Personally, I can’t afford to run down to Indigo and buy every single book I want to read, nor do I have enough space in my apartment to keep them. Many people who question the importance of the library seem to have the attitude that no one needs libraries because we have bookstores. This view is incredibly ignorant. People who cannot afford to buys books or rent movies or who don’t have access to the Internet at home would argue the library is essential to their day-to-day lives. As for those who believe everything is available on the Internet, they clearly do not realize that what is available for free often doesn’t compare to what the library makes available for free by subscribing to expensive databases so that people can access accurate information. True, you can find a lot of good information for free on the Internet, but not everything, and many people need help differentiating the good from the bad. Librarians can and do help people become better adept at using the Internet to meet their information needs.
Of course, if the Fords have their way, the library as we know and love it may cease to exist. In addition to branch closures, the threat of privatization looms large. I can’t say for certain how this would affect library services, but I do feel uncomfortable with outsiders determining what is best for a community they know nothing about. Even more frightening is the prospect of fee-based services. Many people take the attitude that those who want to use the library should pay for it. I guess that means those of use without school-aged children shouldn’t pay for education through our taxes, huh? The fact is, the people who need the library the most are the ones who can’t pay.
Don’t let the Ford brothers and their ilk ruin Toronto’s vibrant library system. Take a minute to sign the petition, and if you live in Toronto, send a message to your councilor and tell him or her you oppose cuts to the Toronto Public Library.