By Renée Rodgers
Wii tournaments, art gallery exhibitions and gourmet Panini may not immediately come to mind at the mention of a library.
But perhaps they should – all three are available at the Belleville Public Library and John M. Parrott Art Gallery downtown Pinnacle Street.
The public library is much more than just a place to borrow books.
The public library functions as a community gathering place where people can learn new ideas, discuss important issues and socialize, said Trevor Pross, manager of public services for the Belleville Public Library.
“Libraries are not the quiet, buttoned-down lady with the bun shushing you,” he said. “That stereotype is hard dying, but it’s been a long time since that was the case. I think most libraries in North America now are more noisy, more fun.”
The role of public libraries has been under scrutiny in Toronto since Rob Ford, the city’s mayor, announced in July funding to libraries in that city could be cut as a cost-saving measure. Many people, including Margaret Atwood, a high profile Canadian author, responded with outrage, drawing national attention to the issue. Their reasoning: libraries are much-needed centres for public education.
Pross said slashing funds to public libraries is never a good thing but he believes the cloud of controversy caused by Ford’s announcement has a silver lining.
“It’s showing everybody just how popular libraries are,” he said. “People, communities, are coming out of the woodwork and saying: ‘Don’t close our library’.”
The Belleville Public Library circulated around 345,500 items in 2010, but it offers a number of programs and services aside from just lending resources. Documentary screenings, fireside book chats, poetry recitals, resume workshops, musical performances, teen movie nights, kids’ story times and computer lessons for older adults are just some of the free services the library has to offer.
Pross said he doesn’t expect funding to be cut to the Belleville Public Library in the near future. However, he said he hoped the library’s 22,370 currently registered patrons and the rest of the city would support them if they faced such cuts.
One of those borrowers is Sandie Sidsworth, the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Hastings-Prince Edward branch. An avid reader, Sidsworth doesn’t approve of the government cutting funds to public libraries.
“When we start slashing funding to places that offer opportunities for education and learning, we take something away from the community,” she said, during one of her frequent visits to Belleville’s library.
The library benefits the community, she said, by providing opportunities for education and social engagement.
“The library is kind-of the downtown hub of information and just connecting,” she said.
Alex Garmsiri, who often brings his daughter Doreen, 7, to the library, compared the library to a social hub.
“All individuals have something to share – it’s books,” he said. “The library is a place where people in the community can come together and learn.”
Belleville’s library’s facilities were upgraded when it was moved to a new building across the street from its old location in 2006. The designers of the new building received the 2009 design excellence award from the Ontario Association of Architects.
Kelly Moore, executive director of the Canadian Library Association in Ottawa, said public libraries are constantly evolving to keep up with changing times.
“As users demand the latest technology, the latest eBooks, libraries will progress and keep up as they have always done in the past,” she said.
“Libraries are always going to be here,” he said. “They might look different. There might be more electronics than there are today. But they’ll always be here.”
Belleville Public Library cards are available free of charge to all Belleville residents. A card entitles a person to borrow up to 50 items at a time and two separate hours of Internet use per day.
For more information on services offered by the Belleville Public Library, call (613) 968-6731 or visit http://www.bellevillelibrary.com/.