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Guest Editorial – Making Guelph a Better Place

Why do we still need a public library in the 21st century? After all, people are reading less and using e-books and tablets, not books. The Internet has made public libraries redundant because everything is now available online, with just the click of a mouse. Most Canadians have their own home computer, high-speed Internet and the skills to use them. Plus, most adults can afford to purchase all the books they will ever need.
So honestly, why do we still need public libraries?
The problem with this argument is it’s inaccurate and ignores the fundamental role public libraries play in the community and in the lives of the individuals who rely on their services. Public libraries are essential in the 21st century because we all need information and skills to read, learn and discover. Public libraries provide a diverse collection of resources that enrich, educate and entertain. They also serve the whole community from; the preschool learning to read to the senior geologist, from the young man applying for a job to the business person writing their first business plan.
The public library serves them all. Ironically, it has been the rise of information and communication technologies that have given public libraries a new “lease on life,” packed with online resources and the daunting task of helping citizens to access the information they need to make informed decisions.
True to their democratic roots, the 1,129 public libraries in Ontario connect communities and are among the few bridging organizations tackling the problems of poverty, social isolation, inequality and disadvantage by providing access to the information required to build a better life and a better community.
Public libraries support lifelong learning, breaking down the barriers of illiteracy and bridging the digital divide. They fill the gaps in formal education and support personal learning, research and access to Guelph’s culture and local history.
Public libraries are also economic generators, assisting job seekers and helping small businesses access information they need to make good business decisions. A recent University of Toronto study indicated that for every dollar invested in the Toronto Public Library, residents received $5.63 in value. The public library is a good investment.
In Guelph, the reasons for needing a new main library are as many as the 53,133 customers who use the library. The most frequent complaints about the old building are the lack of community space to meet and study plus not enough parking for vehicles, bicycles and strollers.
The Guelph Public Library is the most used recreational facility in the city. However, the current library makes access for seniors, preschoolers and the disabled very difficult. The building is simply worn out and no wonder – over 29 million people have used the main library in the last 49 years.
Over 2,000 customers per day will use the new main library, which will result in increased commercial activity in the cafes, retail shops and business at the north end of Wyndham Street. A new main library will be good for business in Guelph.
The rise of new information and communications technologies of the 21st century have given Canadian public libraries a new life, packed with new services,  online resources and community engagement. A new main library on Baker Street will support this transition, build on Guelph’s rich heritage, be the economic engine needed to revitalize the downtown core and open the door to Guelph’s future.
Kitty Pope is CEO of the Guelph Public Library

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