Why Public Libraries Matter

A voracious reader since early childhood, and later an English language teacher for new immigrants, I am a huge proponent of the public library and public education systems.  I believe that they are among the few public, community spaces we have left where people can gather, do research, sit and read amid others in a large communal 'living room'.  

For those on a limited income, and people with young children, immigrants with limited access to English-language books at home, public libraries are like the life blood of our society.  Without access to books, we limit access to our national and community history, we limit our access to creative and research books no longer in print, we limit access to tactile books that give us a sense of connection to other readers.  Libraries also fill the function of positioning books and reading, of literacy,  as a valued skill and form of entertainment in our society.  

Above and beyond a community space and resource for books and encyclopaedias, libraries play host to children's programming and an open space for children, parents and caregivers especially necessary in a climate with so many days when children cannot spend much time outside.  Without this type of community space and programming, the elderly and young children would be literally house-bound and not have many free venues to participate in the wider community. 

As an English language teacher I found many of the colleges, schools and institutes I worked for had limited resources for teaching.  I regularly found inspiration and resources from different publishing times at the public library.  I also was able to compile lists of reading materials that were appropriate to the age and reading level of my students, confident that they would be able to get free access to these reading materials locally.  I am sure many teachers find general public libraries an invaluable resources for both their teaching and for their students.

Libraries also provide a quite space for high school students to gather and do homework, or read.  When many parents are at work until dinnertime, a library provides a community space where teens can safely work or read books more organically, in print, as opposed to incurring more screen time. 

This type of resource speaks to our level of democracy and our belief in access to community resources and spaces.  I live part of the year in India, and one of the most marked differences I find is the total lack of public spaces. There are not only no libraries in most small cities and towns, there are no park or community recreation centres.  Research is therefore pretty much solely done through the Internet, in universities or sites of private collections.  

Having such a wealth of resources in towns and cities across our country, why would we want to squander our public infrastructure now.  Our community resources are admired by many and are a testament to our belief in community access to knowledge, information, community spaces, and literary entertainment.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. yogatravels1
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 18:03:01

    I too am a huge proponent and user of the Public Library system not only here in Ottawa, but abroad. In Scandinavia I used the library for internet services, and other countries using access to travel books to plan different stages of a trip without having to carry those huge travel books in the backpack. Closer to home, when my daughter was young, she went to school 6 blocks from the library and someone would walk with her to the library into the childrens’s section where she would do her homework until we arrived. Accessing books from the library is a wonderful way to support the library and ensure that the usage remains high to keep every library we can open. We use our small local library regularily and receive all of our books there. Libraries are yours to use and enjoy – it is our tax dollars working to educate and expand the minds of all people within our community, how lucky we are.


  2. akhandayoga
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 19:10:38

    Thanks for your input Janice (Varuna). I sent this essay in to a contest that is happening now in support of the Toronto Public Library. Our new mayor, Ford, had threatened to privatize the library system and make closures. You can check out and join the petition at ourpubliclibrary.to


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