To the people of Prince Rupert: thank you. On behalf of the library’s thousands of patrons, library trustees and staff, I want to thank everyone who supported the Prince Rupert Public Library recently.
Thank you for the notes of concern, the money, the flowers, signs of support, communication to city council and your willingness to declare the importance of the library.
Libraries are as old as the written word, but like many good things in the world for most of our history, they were experienced only by the rich.
Public libraries are a democratic invention and a necessary one for the development of civilization. They exist to ensure that everyone has the chance to improve their own lives, which also improves the community as a whole. This helps businesses as well, as Andrew Carnegie wrote: “I chose free libraries as the best agencies for improving the masses of the people because they only help those who help themselves.”
While some independent, progressive rich individuals did build a few free and open libraries in Europe prior to the 18th century, they were too small and too few to make much of a difference.
The late 19th century, in both the US and Canada saw the rise of public libraries which helped improve the world for millions of people. The first, free public library supported by taxation was in Peterborough, New Hampshire, US in 1833.
In Canada, the Public Library in Saint John, New Brunswick was the first, built in 1883. The Library Act of 1891 was the first piece of provincial legislation in B.C. that recognized the importance of libraries and enabled their creation. Prince Rupert had a Reading Room built in 1913 and it was this institution that became the Prince Rupert Public Library when Bylaw 389 was adopted by city council on March 27, 1922.
But some people say, the world is different now. You can Google anything you need; hasn’t the Internet made libraries obsolete? No, is the short answer.
The beginning of the long answer is that the technological and economic realities of the 21st century have made libraries even more important to a fair and just society.
The Internet has changed the world. It has allowed new avenues of wealth production and increased the disparity between the rich and the poor, it has become the primary channel for communication for almost everything, which makes it difficult for those who do not have computers.
The Internet provides a platform for the distribution of many subscription-based databases that very few people would/could purchase, but these databases (from All-Data, an automotive repair database; to consumer Health Complete) are freely available to all people because the library pays for these subscriptions.
The library also has trained staff to assist patrons in navigating Internet resources as well as finding the appropriate book or article.
While the world changes all the time, the readers change at their own rates and recent studies have shown that readers (young and old) in Canada and the US still prefer a physical book for leisure reading.
In this library you can research our past, dream your future, see your child cry as you drag her out of the library; be tutored by a volunteer or just Facebook with friends far away.
The library is your public living room. Come to it and enjoy alone or with others.
Find out what’s happening in your community and make your world a little better than it is. It’s your library.
Chief Librarian, Prince Rupert Public Library