It’s difficult to know where to enter the conversation on the threat to public libraries (and the threat to everything else for that matter). There is no point that one can enter in a sane manner: to cut public libraries, perhaps in the end the most democratic of public institutions, is to say something about the end of the civil. Forgive me, that is a conceit. There is no ‘conversation’ on the threat to public libraries. There is no interested interlocutor who will be persuaded by arguments as to the necessity not simply for the present libraries but for more support to libraries.
They will simply be cut, as will every social good the city, and citizenship, provide. Depositions will be made and impassioned voices will be heard and it will be said that these depositions were made and these voices heard because we are a democracy but in the end fiscal consideration warrant these cuts. In the end those voices will have no effect because the threat to cutting libraries, and every other social good the city provides, stems not from the fiscal but the ideological.
It is in the end the business of how people see the city, how they imagine the city. It’s quite evident in the language – the talk about gravy, the talk about too many libraries, too many workers, too many unions, too much this and too much that. There is gravy in the city’s budget this ideology states. This simple metaphor, ‘gravy’, summons a number of telling images and beliefs – extra fat as a moral ill, wasteful dissolute people, lazy people of lesser moral fibre, people who don’t work for what they get and who don’t pay for what they get. This is the first, end-of-times pillar, the paternal, angry god vision. Then, there are more libraries than Tim Hortons’ this ideology opines, a perfect illustration of the second pillar of this ideological stance. The implication being that of course Tim Hortons’ should outnumber libraries in a good society – the privately owned should outnumber the public, in fact, every square metre of the public should be privatised. As they say, it is not public space it is real estate, we are not citizens we are stakeholders or customers.
Cutting bus routes, cutting dental plans for children, HIV prevention programs, daycare, breakfasts for children, libraries, the list goes on and on and if you take a close look, as you would a map you will see who and what gets cut out of the city – it is not only a map to less rights but also to less people, less ‘viable’ people. We are in the midst of an ideological correction of all that some saw as wrong with the last twenty or thirty years of an increasingly diverse and increasingly cosmopolitan population, and how to reign it in, not how to embrace or take up the richness it has to offer. Who’s afraid of the city? City council. It’s not capable of imagining us, of expressing our ambitions, so it has brought a consultancy firm in to stifle them.
We should not even be in this conversation, these things should not be under threat at all we should be in a conversation about how we will provide broader, yes broader, democratic rights, deeper social care, to all citizens, not how to cut them.
If what I’ve said here were not all true the city would be knocking down the doors of the provincial government railing about what their fiscal responsibilities should be to the city, not hauling desperate people before immovable, intractable councillors to advocate for the life of the city. A life that the councillors were put in power to advocate for.