'The Future of the Public Library' -- new rabble series explores libraries and social change

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Photo: Olivia Robinson

When you think about it, public libraries are a pretty remarkable. Fascinating fact -- did you know that the first free tax-supported public libraries in Canada opened in 1883 in Saint John, Guelph and Toronto? And now every town has one.

Where else can you get access to thousands of books, magazines, newspapers, CDs and DVDs for the amazingly low price of free? (Well, except for the overdue fines, that is.) It's a staggeringly great deal when you think about it.

That's not the only amazing thing about libraries, Olivia Robinson has discovered. She's the recipient of this year's Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellowship. You'll be able to read her resulting series "The Future of the Public Library" starting on Tuesday, August 13, 2019.

Robinson is rabble.ca's second recipient of the Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellowship. The fellowship is a joint project by rabble.ca and The Institute for Change Leaders, and supports emerging writers and journalists who are passionate and engaged in developing unique voices in social change reporting.

Robinson has discovered that the role of the library is changing. No more the stuffy, deadly quiet space with lots of rules, libraries are becoming the living room of our communities. And everyone is welcome. That includes people who live on the margins of society for whom reading in a warm space, using a computer or getting out of the cold is a lifeline. It brings about a whole other set of challenges for library staff, but there are some great examples where they are rising to those challenges.

rabble podcast exec producer Victoria Fenner has been watching the progress of Robinson's series and has recorded two conversations with her that you'll hear today. The first part took place at the very beginning of her fellowship in January 2019 where she talked about her background and interest in libraries and the stories she was researching. The series started to go in a different direction in April when Doug Ford's Conservative government brought in some major cuts to libraries in Ontario. So Victoria gave Olivia a call again in May to find out how the project was going, and especially how this latest news in Ontario was shaping her coverage.

Photo: Olivia Robinson


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