Monday, July 19, 2004

Access for all?
I have recently returned from a brief holiday.  As is my custom when I'm travelling, I try to visit a few libraries along the way.  I attempted to visit about a half dozen libraries, but managed to get into only 2 of them.  Why is this?  Mainly because they have crappy hours.  One example:  I went to visit a library in a fairly large rural community (8,000+ population).  Walked up to the door.  Closed.  Was I there at an unusual hour?  Well, it was around lunchtime on a Friday afternoon, so, no, I don't think so.  All the other businesses in town were open for business.  Why is it that the local library was not? 
In the province where I reside, equitable library access for all is a stated goal of the provincial ministry and many of the agencies associated with public libraries.  Consequently, many hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on electronic access - automating every library and making their catalogue available on the web; purchasing up-to-the-minute computers for public internet access.  But, the primary means of access - walking in the door - is greatly lacking, primarily because the local library boards lack sufficient funding to keep the doors open.  The great irony in this is that the provincial and federal governments have invested lots of money in making libraries public internet access points.  But, the public cannot access the internet in the library if the library is not open.
I live in a small town, but visit the city several times a year.  In the city, it is not unusual for even the smallest library branches to be open most weekday evenings and all day Saturday.  Several larger branches are also open on Sunday.  However, in many smaller centres, residents are lucky if their library is open one evening a week OR Saturday for a few hours.  Now, I know that large centres have a larger tax base to draw their funds from.  I understand that there are varying factors at work here.  But, if we really want truly equitable access for all, perhaps we should be looking more closely at those factors that hinder it.

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