The single cluttered room of my childhood library was hardly anything special to the untrained eye, but the escape it provided was limitless. Otterville, Ontario is a small town in every sense of the term. It is encompassed by the farms of the Amish and the village itself is inhabited in large part by Mexican Mennonite families. Both of these cultures are fairly inclusive and although their families are close-knit and caring, the itch to see beyond the walls is inevitable. Even having the privilege of a family with cars and televisions didn’t stop me from feeling stuck in the loop and wanting to know more about the world outside. This is why the community library is such pillar in my hometown. It serves as a cultural vista, a portal to places otherwise inaccessible. It allows us to explore the world in ways that many of us wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise whether it be because of financial strain, cultural practise, or lack of transportation (You can only get so far on horse and buggy.) While I still had access to the world beyond via tv and internet, nothing quite scratched the itch like reading a good book. Over the years I’ve felt that while you’re reading, you’re living vicariously through the characters as you take on their perspective. You get to experience their world first hand in unparalleled depth. Connecting with the innermost thoughts of a character makes them so familiar that they almost merge with you in a way. Aside from physical travel, there couldn’t be a richer way to explore the world. This is the escape that many small town residents need to break the monotony of a rural lifestyle and this is why the Otterville public library is the heart of my community.
The Guelph Public Library isn’t exactly a sight to behold. Whether its shabby roof tiles stained from leaks, cracked walls exposing the building’s foundation like bared bones, or fire alarms that look like the doomsday device from an old spy movie (Think Sean Connery’s time as Mr.Bond), every contour of the building seems battered in some regard or another. What’s more is that its state is no result of poor maintenance, thousands of dollars have gone into repairs along with a dedicated staff doing their best to nurse the ailing library. The fact of the matter is that the building is a fossil. While its rustic character might be reminiscent of an old friend, there’s no denying that the Guelph Public Library is in need of an heir apparent.
Despite the blatancy of the need for a replacement, all campaigns in favour of a new library being built or converted from another building have been put off and swept under the carpet for nearly two decades. There’s a long list of reasons for these attempts falling through the cracks but the most apparent of which is surely the need for green. Gathering the funds for such a task is no easy feat and the library’s strategic plan is an indicator of this. While the ambition is there, the plan is more of a pitch to financial backers than a list of goals for the library to accomplish in the community. With the loss of Conestoga College and its pool of funds, this financial desperation comes as no surprise. So with such a cumbersome economic need in mind, how could the library hope to gain the support it would require to accomplish such a task?
The answer lies in the depths of the current library itself. A tour of the basement will reveal that its archives are vulnerable to flooding, an adversary the library has little defense against if the leak stains on the roofs are any indicator. In these times it seems to take a disaster to conjure up any interest from the public. If the Guelph Public Library archives, home to some of the most precious historical documents in the city, were to be struck by such a disaster, perhaps the community would be shocked into action. With such a rich part of their history gone, Guelph residents could very likely find the inspiration they need to invest their full effort into a new library. No more having one foot out the door. Now, before you go on a witch hunt for the delinquent student who could want to orchestrate such a crime, finish reading this post. The disaster suffered by the library does not actually need to happen in order to trigger the response it would need from the community. A mock disaster might just do the trick.
So if a fictitious news headline, tweet, or blog post about the flooding of the Library’s archives can spark the support needed to get the construction of a new library underway, is it worth it? Many would agree that it is. With an endless list of needs including more computers, more space, and a more structurally sound facility, the cost of band aid solutions will rival the cost of a new Public Library as it is. Even more importantly, libraries are such a staple in a community, providing a rich networking hub, offering a near limitless pool of information, and inspiring the imaginations of children and adults alike. It would be sad to see such an institution perish to old age or worse, an actual disaster. That is why it is critical that Guelph citizens get behind the building of a new library, and a mock flood just might turn out to be the motivation that they need.