Libraries should matter in this upcoming mayoral election

By in Opinions
The entrance of the Frances Morrison library in downtown Saskatoon, captured on October 31, 2020. THE SHEAF / Nicholas Saretzky

This upcoming civic election, the new library is in the hot seat. 

A number of the mayoral candidates have cited their opposition to the proposed $134-million new downtown library project, citing the cost as a concern. While we should ask ourselves if this is the best, most efficient and most accessible way to build a new library, it is incredibly disappointing how quickly the election rhetoric about the library has become all about money. 

It’s true, $134 million is a lot, especially in the backdrop of a pandemic that has brought about financial difficulties for so many. But we should keep in mind this is a development project for the city, not a building for one person. It’s also worth looking at the cost of similar projects, for example, Calgary’s Central Library completed in 2017 was a $245-million project — our city’s library cost falls much below that. 

Leaving the cost aside, I want to shine the spotlight on an equally important part of the discussion that has largely been overshadowed till this point — what the library means for the Saskatoon community. 

The library, for me and so many other Saskatoon residents, is the place where my love for literacy started. Without the free access to books that the library provides, I would not be able to afford the hundreds of books I’ve read in my twenty years of living, nor would I consider reading and writing my dearest hobbies. 

Many people, from children to adults, share similar sentiments towards the library. It is a safe space for learning, transporting ourselves to different worlds and accessing hundreds of books and CDs. 

Libraries are treasure chests of literacy. In a world where access to education and resources is often withheld from so many due to financial barriers, the library provides every single person in this city the opportunity to become readers. The only requirement is an interest, however big, in the world of books.

Libraries are more than storage centres for books — they are community centres. From hosting storytimes for children on weekends, to book clubs for teenagers during the week to holding writing camps to now providing online programming, libraries are busy places that hold events that touch us all. 

And not to be missed, the library is an essential space for so many who seek a safe space to study, relax or just be. Rain or snow or sleet or shine, the library is open to be a safe place for all of us. 

If we consider the new library development from a place of compassion and understand the role that libraries play in Saskatoon, we can all — politicians and citizens alike — have productive conversations on how to best build this new library as the best community centre in the city. 

While we can and should critique the development plans for the new library and seek ways to build it in more cost-efficient ways, let us ensure that we don’t undermine the worth of libraries to our communities in the process — because libraries are priceless. 

Vaidehee Lanke | Opinions Editor

Photo: Nicholas Saretzky