July 4, 2020

20° C, Overcast

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press



Library should serve entire community


Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/9/2019 (295 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Even with their superb research skills, staff at the Millennium Library are unlikely to find a Manitoba precedent for their institution’s current plight.

Public libraries are usually considered sanctuaries of welcome and acceptance. When surveys ask which professions are respected and considered trustworthy, librarians are commonly near the top.

CARL DEGURSE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Security screening at the Millennium Library.</p>


Security screening at the Millennium Library.

But since the introduction of mandatory body and bag searches in February, the Millennium Library has been the target of wrath and social action that shows no signs of dissipating.

The latest display of patron unrest came Monday in a uniquely library-specific protest called a "shush-in." A new group called Advocacy For All attended a meeting of a city committee that eventually agreed to let the Millennium Library continue searching patrons and their belongings. Group members held up signs that read "Shhhame" when library services manager Ed Cuddy tried to justify the measures.

Previous protests have included a sit-in at the library foyer, lobbying of the library board and city councillors and public letters of protest, including one signed by 40 academics. Some patrons have chosen to boycott the facility; newly released attendance figures show visits to the library are down 270,000 since the searches were introduced.

The protesters have been clear about their motivation, calling the screening measures a thinly veiled strategy to repel homeless people and people with addictions and mental illnesses.

A report at Monday’s meeting showed visits to the Millennium Library through the first half of 2019 declined by a startling 25 per cent compared with the same period last year.

To put this plunge in patron visits into context, it should be understood that modern libraries aim to increase traffic. Unlike the Millennium, other libraries aim to serve the areas in which they’re situated, becoming more community-focused and more inclusive.

The Winnipeg Public Library also claims this as a goal, at least in words. The system’s stated mandate is "To enrich the lives of all Winnipeg citizens and their communities by providing high quality, responsive and innovative library services."

Many libraries in other locales are also in downtown cores with a large proportion of transients, new immigrants and people with low incomes. But there’s no indication those libraries have resorted to such extreme security measures.

Proprietors of the Millennium Library, please note: your mandate specifies being "responsive" to "all" Winnipeg citizens, not just those who are well-groomed and have a fixed address.

Many libraries in other locales are also in downtown cores with a large proportion of transients, new immigrants and people with low incomes. But there’s no indication those libraries have resorted to such extreme security measures.

It’s as if Millennium Library management chose the nuclear option first, rather than trying less-extreme measures successful in other institutions. The presence of security cameras, for example, has been proven to deter undesirables who don’t want their activities recorded when they are up to no good.

Other libraries have trained staff in non-violent crisis intervention, and have security personnel who are library staff rather than outsourcing the job to for-hire security companies unfamiliar with the library philosophy of providing an inclusive welcome.

Mr. Cuddy has stated repeatedly some Millennium staffers reported feeling intimidated and even endangered. That concern is understandable, and perhaps it’s possible to transfer employees with such concerns to some of the 20 library branches in other areas of Winnipeg.

As a cornerstone of its downtown community, as the gem of Winnipeg’s library system, the main branch needs library professionals who embrace the challenge of interacting with downtown’s eclectic blend of patrons.

The high calling of libraries is to serve the communities in which they’re planted. At the Millennium, that means taking down the barriers and letting the community back in.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.