October is National Library Month, and libraries are indeed worthy of celebration and appreciation.
Given the relatively small size of our municipality, those who live in Meaford are very fortunate to be served by not one, but three libraries.
All residents of Meaford can access the Meaford Public Library on Trowbridge Street, and Meaford residents through a reciprocal agreement can also access Thornbury's library. And for our residents in the former Sydenham, an annual contract with the Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library ensures that those residents who are closer in proximity to Owen Sound than to urban Meaford have equal access to the services provided by libraries.
While libraries in recent years have found themselves needing to work harder to justify their expense and relevance to increasingly cash-strapped municipalities, and with some even questioning the need for libraries at all given the current trend toward the ‘digitalization’ of just about everything in these modern times, libraries are in fact quite possibly more important than ever before.
Gone are the days when libraries were little more than a warehouse for storing books that could be borrowed by local readers. Certainly technology is changing, and the way we read today will likely be much different 30 years from now, but libraries have been, and will continue to evolve as an important, fully accessible meeting place, gathering centre and a facility that can be used for continued education of all types.
Our own little library in Meaford, while required for now to tolerate an aged, cramped building has a remarkable range of programs for all ages.
Meaford's library is used by those wanting to do some research, or to participate in programs where patrons can learn how to use the latest computer software or gadgets, or to learn the art of photography, or for local clubs which can gather in an affordable space for meetings and workshops.
In a world that some argue is becoming less personal due to technological advances, and where many would prefer to ‘tweet’ than meet, libraries are a public space where you can actually meet and talk to others face to face, where the human desire for connection with others can be fostered. Libraries are a safe, affordable place for young and old to spend a few hours feeding whatever interests they might have.
Meaford's library, as do most modern libraries, offers access to computers (not everyone has, or can afford a computer at home), internet connectivity, and membership at the library also includes access to a vast databank of books that have been converted to digital format which can be downloaded and read on your computer or other electronic devices.
The fact that libraries and most of their programs only require a library card, not cash, to be pulled from a user’s wallet makes them truly accessible and affordable to everyone. In an era of ‘me, me, me’ and ‘profit, profit, profit’ libraries are one of the few remaining institutions with no barriers for access, no criteria to be met other than residency.
Could improvements be made with regard to library services? Indeed.
The frustration on all sides during Meaford's last contract renewal with the library in Owen Sound, with some arguing that the cost to Meaford ratepayers is excessive, should be looked at as a symptom of a broken system in which accessibility to those institutions shouldn't be cost prohibitive.
While it is worth every penny of ratepayer funding to keep the doors open to our library, and to ensure that our more distant community members have full library access in Owen Sound, it is perhaps time to explore the notion of a county library system which would allow everyone in Grey County access to, and the ability to borrow from, all of the libraries in our region without having to pay non-resident fees.
Celebrate, and support your local library – not just in October, but throughout the year. Libraries deserve it.