Our library buildings are failing us. It’s hard to say out loud for many of us who grew up going to our neighbourhood branches. While our memories grow fonder over time, and the buildings we visited have a cherished place in our history, the reality is that we need library buildings that can bring us into the future, not trap us in the past. We need infrastructure that meets the reality of our city today and for tomorrow, not that of 50 years ago.
The library builds community through literacy and education. This will always remain our foundation but the ways people learn and live are entirely different today than when our buildings were built. In 1951, when the Waverley branch was built and the Brodie Library was already over forty years old, our community was a radically different place. The suburbs didn’t exist, most people lived in tight knit, dense neighbourhoods and the majority walked as only about 1 in 5 people owned a car. We were two distinct cities, centred on two downtowns that were dominated by young working families.
Since then our community has grown tremendously. We have united into one city and sprawled over a huge landbase. We’ve become car oriented and vehicle dependent and our downtowns face complex challenges involving addiction, mental illness and poverty. Our library buildings need to modernize to acknowledge the changes our community has gone through and reinvent ourselves to meet new community demands.
A new central library branch in Intercity will bring us into the 21st century. It will allow us to offer the children’s reading and programming spaces we just can’t fit into our old buildings. We are currently turning away children wanting to read due to a lack of program space. It will allow us to meet accessibility standards so that everyone can equally participate. Our main ramp at Waverley fails basic accessibility standards. It will allow us to offer better hours on evenings and weekends so working families can fully embrace all the library offers. It will double down on what we know works - mixed-use space that brings our diverse community together in the centre of our city.
Thunder Bay deserves better. We need a new central library with strong neighbourhood branches. Instead of crumbling buildings that cheat our children out of the space they need to learn, read and grow, we can invest in a new library system that gives us the opportunity to attract the next generation of library patrons. We honour our past by investing in the future and providing our children, youth and seniors with opportunities to create new memories in places they can be proud of.
Richard Togman is the CEO of the Thunder Bay Public Library