Open Millenium Library!

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Open Millenium Library!

Recently in Winnipeg, there has been some controversey over the downtown branch (also known as Millenium) installing a security check point people have to pass through before entering. Well, today a group of people occupied the lobby of the library building for a read-in. Among the wishes of the organizers:

The group is calling for the following demands to be met by the city of Winnipeg and library management: 

  • To stop the screening measures immediately,
  • To fund and house social services and supports at the library,
  • To meet with community organizations by June 1, 2019;
  • And to change library services to better meet the needs of marginalized people.

Cuddy said last month he was told library staff feel safer since the security screenings were implemented.

People were also free to write their ideas as to what would make the library a better place.

People are paying attention. Although the security checkpoints currently have majority public opinion in the city (ironcially enough, it seems from people who would never go downtown themselves) it is important to turn public opinion around.

Most importantly, I am in full agreement with the top bullet point on the list. Public space is important, and the default in a democratic and free society is freedom of movement, not security checkpoints and stopping people without cause.


How did I miss this rabble article when the issue was current?


Here's the context -- as is true in so many cities, public space in Winnipeg's downtown is highly contested. Existing residents are disproportionately Indigenous and poor, and in barely-coded racist and classist ways that part of the city, regularly gets tagged with labels like "dangerous" and "run down." City elites are encouraging the kinds of capital investment and social reorganization that some might call "revitalization" but that others would name "displacement" and "gentrification." And in entirely predictable ways, the things that are done to make the downtown more inviting and comfortable for whiter and wealthier Winnipeggers also tend to make it less accessible and less safe for people who already live there, particularly people who are already more marginalized.

The library administration explained the new security measures by arguing that there was an urgent need to act in response to an increase in "incidents" happening in the library. In explaining what these incidents consist of, they emphasized violence and the threat of it.

In general, public libraries are one of the few public spaces remaining which work to be welcoming to everyone and do not require you to spend money to be there. No other public library anywhere in Canada uses these kinds of security checkpoints. In making this decision, the library administration consulted with police but not with library patrons or even with their own advisory board.

A more rigorous examination of the "incidents" in question reveal that there had been no increase, most were not violent, and those few that were violent would mostly not have been prevented by bag checks and metal detectors anyway. The library administration's identification of dangerous and potentially violent patrons as the reason for the checkpoints invokes existing racist stereotypes tied to downtown Winnipeg and the people who live there. According to today's guests, research shows that rather than making people safe, what security checkpoints actually do is create barriers of various kinds to marginalized people entering a space. Indeed, usage of the library is down by at least 25 per cent compared to the same period in 2018.


Marking a sad anniversary:


A city manager now says putting airport-like security at Winnipeg's main downtown library was wrong.

"I think there is another way, but we need to kind of correct the mistakes we made last year," library services manager Ed Cuddy said Tuesday.

Millennium Library instituted new screening measures last year to deal with violence and intoxication at the downtown building.

Since bag checks became mandatory and metal detectors were installed at the front entrance, security incidents have dropped 43 per cent, Cuddy said.


But attendance also is down by one-third.

Some people are choosing not to come in, and frequent users are opting to go to other branches.