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Uncommon Sense: Libraries provide equal access to education
Delta's resident farmer on council, Ian Paton, turned heads at Monday night's council meeting when he suggested libraries are "going the way of the dinosaur" and wondered aloud whether we need to spend $3 million each year on them.
Now, it would only be fair to fully disclose that my mother was a librarian in the City of Toronto for 15 years, even though I don't think this biases me in any way.
And while I do not share the same passion for libraries as my mother—indeed I can see more where Paton is coming from—I have always admired her views.
The basic and fundamental principle of a free society is that the foundation to knowledge should be free. That is, access to the wealth of information that might ordinarily be affordable only to the socioeconomically privileged be available to all.
It's a nice principle and one I wholeheartedly agree with, which is why I believe universal public education is also a good idea.
Having said that, I can't help but think of a joke I heard recently.
"I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers."
It's funny because it's true. Whereas libraries levelled out of the playing field prior to the invention of the iPhone, it's a fact that practically anyone who has a smartphone can now access any information they want instantaneously. Whether they use it for practical purposes is another matter entirely.
So, have libraries become outmoded by technology? That's certainly up for debate.
I would argue that although the tangible benefits to libraries may seem diminishing, there is still a place in our society for their upkeep.
They provide a quiet place to visit and study for students. They allow for mothers or caregivers to get away from the house and spend time with their children in a cost effective way. And they do provide access for lower income residents and new Canadians to information otherwise not available.
But I don't think Paton was out of line to ask whether libraries are still relevant. Like the song goes, sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone.