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Letter: Of libraries, open doors and open minds

“Four out of 10 Canadian adults have a literacy skills too low to be competent in most jobs in our modern economy. Newfoundland and Labrador ranks last among the provinces in this evaluation.” — Everett Hobbs (“Read — you’ll be richer for it”)

 

In his Oct. 23 letter to the editor, Everett Hobbs was quoting a Conference Board of Canada report — the latest in a list of reports and research papers reminding us where we, in Newfoundland and Labrador, stand with respect to literacy. Yet one of the first things this present government attacked while being penny wise and dollar foolish was our already miserly library system.

All is not lost, however and there could even be a little light at the end of the tunnel.

We are a province with fewer than 500,000 people. Can we really afford to have facilities and materials underutilized while the government is closing libraries for want of budget?

Memorial University’s administration is now asking faculty and students how it might change and, hopefully improve, its library system. I’m sure they were not envisioning anything like I’ll outline here, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

MUN, in my view, has the only research library in N.L. In addition to its QE II Library, the university has vast collections at its Marine Institute, Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook, and at its various colleges and schools. As well, there is the crown jewel to be found at the QE II’s Centre for Newfoundland Studies.

Here’s my idea: all of this should be made available to all of N.L., and not just to MUN faculty and students. While it is my understanding that anyone can get a user card at MUN’s main library, as a frequent user myself, it seems to me that these fabulous facilities are somewhat underutilized. I think MUN can do a lot more to promote its wonderful collections through advertising, and possibly tours. By doing this we just might be killing two or three birds with one stone.

One immediate effect would be MUN’s adding an immense number of books, both physical and digital, to the N.L. library system. It is also possible, with the increase in number and quality of materials available throughout the province, that the university might contribute even more than it does already to improving our literacy rating.

We are a province with fewer than 500,000 people. Can we really afford to have facilities and materials underutilized while the government is closing libraries for want of budget?

N.L. contributes generously to MUN’s operations, as it should. This might be one way for the university to do a little payback as well as increase exponentially the resources available to our schools and reading public in general.

When MUN acquired its Battery facility, part of the reasoning, if I recall, was to improve community image and outreach. By helping revamp a new and improved library network, MUN could be at the heart of a system that would truly make its name a household word in the province.

Here’s the nuts and bolts. MUN is already part of the interlibrary loan system in the province. With this scheme it would expand on that. With helpful sponsorship say, from our present libraries/towns, and Irving, Sobeys or some such cross-island company, it could set up various depots/exchange centres where books and other media could be picked up, dropped off and perhaps most importantly, added to.

The backbone of the system, of course, would be the internet and Canada Post, which would ensure the smooth and rapid flow of items adding to the keen enjoyment of many; the enlightenment of some; and perhaps a model that others across this country might emulate to improve the overall Canadian standing on the various literacy scales.

While I have no definitive idea how all this might work and no knowledge of library science, I am an avid user and totally addicted.

The thing is, I want my fix to be available always, and with the economic straits this province is in just now, I fear for even our few books.

Don’t scoff too much — first, see what you can add to the discussion.

 

Wayne Norman

St. John’s

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