By Ron Baker
The most recent spat over public library budget cuts is an indication of a changing social reality.
“Community Centre” is open for redefinition.
I love the stories of early settlers of this region. They tell of times of church fowl suppers, Saturday night train arrivals, Sunday church services and seasonal festivals. Barn raisings, community harvesting for those in need, curling rink construction, and other social services were hailed as times of help, but also times of knowing one another.
Recently, on a national radio broadcast, a Saskatchewan citizen was interviewed. She had been a part of a Facebook protest over government cuts to library budgets. The interview was almost surreal. People set up protests by viewing YouTube instructional videos. 7,500 people joined the movement through a mouse click on Facebook.
In a rural setting of 162 people, this lady was able to raise awareness and successfully fight the budget cut. Perhaps she was not the only one in the fight, but her efforts were certainly visible.
And then she made an interesting statement, that her library was the community centre!
In past years other institutions have vied for that distinction – I can think of the church, or the Coop, or service groups or . . .
My own research immediately following the announcement of the budget cut to libraries revealed an interesting tidbit of information. People talked about the library as a good place, a safe place, even a place of fond reminiscences. And then they would add – but I don’t go to the library any more. They buy their own books, they have their own internet, and they don’t feel the need to actually go to a building of bricks and mortar.
So, where do people go to meet each other? What is the community centre?
What is the safe place where a diverse population feels they can meet on an even footing?
Ask a town administration how they best get feedback. Perhaps a “town hall forum”? We soon find that inviting people in isn’t always effective unless there is an already established system in place.
And that established system always starts with a few people desirous of community, finding a few more people, who found a few more . . .
To overstate, but not by much – the community centre is you. With a few others – with a few others – until we build a place we call our own.