The Saskatchewan government, in its 2017/18 budget, has slashed library budgets around the province. It’s done all kinds of other things too like force civil servants to take a 3.5% cut in pay, shut down the only highway bus transportation service in the province, increase the provincial sales tax, and basically pissed off pretty much everyone except major party donors. (In the words of the MLA for Athabasca, I may have made that last part up. As an aside, Mr. Belanger’s words are probably the truest words that have been spoken in the Legislature. At least when the official opposition makes stuff up, they admit it as soon as they say it; when the government makes stuff up, they pretend an auditor said it was perfectly legit. Yes, that was a reference to the GTH scandal.) I have all KINDS of things to say about the budget, and about prior years’ budgets where the government insisted that presenting a “balanced budget” (rather than balanced books) was some kind of miracle – it’s EASY to balance a budget. Especially when you continually raid the savings account to make up for the rampant and out of control spending and mismanagement that have brought you to a point where you’ve not only fucked up a surplus, you’ve fucked up a surplus DURING AN ECONOMIC BOOM.
Being positive, that’s EXCELLENT spending! Good job!
So what’s happening now is that everyone and their dog is running polls about whether or not you actually use the library. This is ludicrous. It’s the wrong question. Why is it the wrong question?
I don’t use prisons. In fact, I’ve NEVER used a prison. Does that mean we should cut provincial funding to prisons? More people use libraries than use prisons. I may have made that up, but someone who has the POWER OF STATISTICS can probably prove me right.
The last time I used a hospital was well over a year ago. And before that was probably ten years ago. Does that mean we should cut provincial funding to hospitals?
I haven’t used a school in more years that I’m going to even name, and yes, the government has reduced funding to schools (and the Minister of Education has come up with the BRILLIANT suggestion that school libraries and public libraries should just roll up their services into a single-service library that everyone can access. Because I’m sure all those soccer moms with perfect nails and surprised eyebrows drawn on their faces are going to be REALLY HAPPY when Frank the Hobo goes to the kids’ elementary school to use the Internet to find a job. But whatever. I’m getting sidetracked). Probably because I personally do not use schools. Oh, well, yes, my KIDS use schools, but they don’t pay taxes, so fuck them, right?
I don’t use the majority of roads in Saskatchewan, so why not just get rid of them?
I don’t use the Legislative building either, for that matter. We paid a LOT of money recycling pennies to put that new copper dome on there. And I don’t even USE the damned thing. I may have made up the bit about the pennies. So why should we be allocating funding to the Legislative building?
If you are legitimately a libertarian who’s in favour of dismantling government entirely, you can quit reading right now because the rest of this won’t apply to you. I suspect the majority of people who THINK they’re libertarians really like flush terlets and showers and rubbish removal, though, so if all you do is talk a mean libertarian game but you don’t shit in buckets and wash your nethers with melted snow in your bunker, KEEP READING.
The question isn’t whether you’ve used a library recently. The question is whether you understand what libraries do. Libraries are more than just a building full of bookshelves – but let’s talk about that for a moment. That building full of bookshelves is an integral part of small and independent business in Canada. Libraries are some of the largest institutional purchasers of materials (not just books – also music, also art, also games, also comics, magazines, newspapers, archival materials, other materials). Get rid of libraries, and you get rid of a bunch of independent businesses. But you don’t use independent businesses, right? You don’t care about revenue generation and jobs. Okay, on to the next thing.
Let’s say you’re the sort of person who, unlike me, hale as a horse and twice as bucky, DOES use hospitals and doctors. Or let’s say you’re one of those hand-wavey nutters who thinks tinctures of cat tears will cure your bunions. Where do you think the people who treat your ailments get their study materials? Sure, there are a lot of books to buy, but doctors, nurses, radiologists, physiotherapists, chiropractors, dentists, massage therapists, administrators…the list literally goes on and on…they depend on things like books and magazines and articles to keep current. They probably spent more time in libraries during their studies than you’ve ever spent in a clinic. (Don’t panic. We’re going to get to the “everything is going digital” in a moment. Keep your unders on.)
Lawyers have EXTENSIVE libraries and make use of public libraries all the time. Journalists (yes, even the ones who know how to use the Googles) use libraries and archives. Film producers use archival material from libraries. You like all those Marvel movies? Bit bitchy that they got Black Widow wrong? Man. If only there were some place the producers and writers could go to sift through decades of comics. Oh wait. THERE IS. The CEO who owns the business you work for? Probably has a business degree. Probably knows how to do research. Probably used a library for that.
Maybe you don’t live in the city. Maybe you live in a small town and you’ve never taken advantage of the classes and meeting space your local library provides. That’s fine. I understand you’re busy and aren’t much of a reader anyway. Take away that library. Is it going to be your living room the seniors hang out in? The knitting class for the grade sixes? The town council meeting? Sure, there are other places they could meet. Like the Esso. Or maybe at the school, where we’ve reduced the budget and fired the cleaning staff so there’s actually nobody there to let you in, and the school administration isn’t allowed to let any non-school-group in there anyway so maybe try the Esso?
Or you do live in the city. You get to go to the pub whenever you want (but you never drive home after because you’re a Good Person. I know. I know you’re a Good Person.) and you have a selection of grocery shops and there are three schools within walking distance and there are meeting rooms coming out of your ears but still, you never ever go to the library and neither did your kids or your parents or any of your neighbours because I dunno libraries are dens of evil where zombies hide in the returns pile and one time you thought about going to the library but then realised you can just order everything you ever thought of asking about on Amazon only the list isn’t real long because the only thing you ever really thought of asking about is easily answered by just doing a Google search for “how to eliminate the chafing from ball gags”. But let’s just say you lose your job. Let’s just say you have no income and you have to sell a bunch of your stuff in order to put food on the table for your kids. Or your cat. Or just you.
You have to sell your computer, and while you have a smartphone, data is super expensive. The library has computers for public use. They have wifi for public use. They have local newspapers. Dailies. Where you can find job listings. Sure, you can hang out at Services Canada all day instead. Fill your boots. But that’ll never happen to you, right? Because you were clever and you don’t work in the public sector so you’re never going to lose your job.
So, okay, you haven’t lost your job. You’re good. Deep breath. You have kids, though, and you’re sick and tired of them being locked on their screens all day. If only there were something kids could do after school and before you got home from work where they could be safe. Where there’d be something for them to do other than just sit and watch YouTube. Like if only there were some kind of youth group or activity held at some kind of civic centre. They’re too old for daycare but too young to just roam on their own because they’ll probably kill each other. Siblings, hey? Yeah. I hear you. Libraries are community centres. They focus on youth. They provide programming for kids. Many cities use their libraries as cornerstones of the community.
Libraries partner with local businesses to deliver services. Libraries often have lending programs other than just books and movies and games (yes, you can borrow games from libraries) and music and magazines and newspapers and archives. Some libraries lend tools. And programs to teach people how to do home repairs.
And hey, I know you’re not a big advocate for the poor and underprivileged. Hell, the reason you don’t go to the library is because you don’t HAVE to. You want a book, you buy a book. Just order it online or hit the local big-box bookstore. Or buy a digital copy (we’re getting there now. You may remove your unders if you’d like) and read it on your computer or your phone or your ereader. You don’t use the library and while you might now recognise that it’s not always all about you, the truth is that libraries are an essential service for people who don’t have everything and need nothing. Kids, elders, low income people, immigrants, researchers…they all use the library daily.
Now let’s get to your ludicrous “everything is going to be digital someday” argument. First, who the hell do you think archives material for digital use? LIBRARIANS. Archivists. Library technicians. Who the hell do you think Google hires? What about the material that CAN’T be digitised? What do we do with that? Just put it in the nuisance ground? Sure, books are digital now. And market studies have shown over the past five years that ebook sales have stagnated and begun to drop off as the “newness” wears off of the fun ereaders. There are genres of books where digital sales are through the roof – romance, primarily. Also science fiction, fantasy. Genre books. Do you know who the biggest purchasers of ebooks are? Libraries.
So if you get rid of the libraries, you get rid of those book sales. Digital and print book sales. Get rid of magazine sales. Newspaper sales. Game sales. Music sales. That means the books, magazines, newspapers, movies, music, and games you buy are going to cost more. It means the indie comics you love won’t have as big a market. It’s great that you love your digital books. We all love our digital books (well, okay, I don’t).
Libraries are champions of democracy. They provide essential business resources for small and independent local businesses. They are community hubs for diverse groups of people. They have books in other languages – books which you don’t read, but which your neighbour might. Or her mother. Libraries provide shelter, safety, and information for LGBTIQ people. They are champions of accessibility – libraries have many resources for patrons with disabilities. Libraries encourage content creation. They are centres of education. They are meeting places. Libraries are champions of free speech, freedom of information, access to information, and many other tenets of democracy and freedom. Libraries are the first to step up and fight for your right to say who you hate and why, EVEN WHEN THEY DON’T AGREE WITH YOU.
It’s not about you. It’s really, really not about you. It’s not about the last time you visited a library or whether you use any of the services of your public library. If you’re not, you’re missing out. Libraries encourage and foster ideas and thought and knowledge and discourse. They have movie theatres. Art galleries. Books. Games. Comics. Every newspaper archive in the province’s history. Current news. Magazines. People. Libraries have people in them. Maybe not you, and that’s actually really sad. Maybe you should go to your library and see what they have to offer. Cooking classes, dance classes, language lessons, or maybe just a quiet place to read your ebooks in a comfortable chair, surrounded by other people who don’t need to know your business. People who don’t care why you’re there. People.
Libraries are an essential service. Just because you don’t use them (and we’ve established you really should, even in the digital age) doesn’t mean they’re not essential.
Also published on Medium.