NELSON: Libraries are centres of learning in the community

FACE TO FACE: Was $15 million for Coquitlam’s new library money well spent?

Fifteen million dollars seems a lot to spend on Coquitlam’s new Town Centre library branch. Was it worth it? Do we still need libraries?

My younger, more digitally inclined colleague says bricks-and-mortar repositories of books and other physical information, if not obsolete now, will soon be edifices of an analogue age.

He correctly points out that we are careening into a virtual world.

It seems just months ago that Blockbusters started closing their doors. Now, I can download anything directly to my TV, making DVDs and my almost brand new Blu-ray player pointless.

So I don’t need to collect books or movies on a shelf, or even on a hard drive anymore; they are virtually at my fingertips.

Books are antique, despite boomer nostalgia for the sacred “physical experience” of reading.

So why would we need libraries, the Googled definition of which is: “a place set apart to contain books, periodicals, and other materials for reading, study, or reference...”

We need libraries because they offer us social services beyond just storing and accessing information.

Libraries offer curated, organized and focussed information, both physical and virtual; and they offer information professionals to help people interpret and weed out subjective information.

Libraries offer people intellectual freedom and privacy, and solitude in a social setting. The library is a healthier environment than is parking alone in front of a bedroom laptop, reading between tweets, emails, virtual bullying and solicitous pop-ups.

Libraries provide a locus for learning and study, an escape from the hurly burly and speed of digital life; they’re as valuable as community centres or ice rinks, especially for young people, who need both safe activity and supervised solitude for their personal development.

A recent study showed that 44% of Americans under the poverty line use libraries for internet access and job seeking; libraries, thus, make access to information egalitarian.

Libraries also focus on regional and Canadian heritage and local community events, reinforcing a sense of community.

No matter how ubiquitous and virtual information becomes, we will still need libraries to provide a public, calm, pleasant sanctuary that focusses on lifelong learning.

Sure, $15 million is a bit steep but Coquitlam’s new library will be an invaluable and well-used community resource — with or without books.

Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.

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