Public libraries: meeting their communities’ needs – yesterday, today and tomorrow

I’ve had a library card for as long as I can remember.

Seattle Public Library
Seattle’s Central Library:
Function and Beauty
(Photo: Susan M. Gardner)

I grew up in a small town, but we had our own public library, just a block and half from my house. As a young child, I knew the library was the place to find all of the best storybooks. In later years, I found they also had a seemingly endless selection of novels to choose from. (I remember whiling away an entire summer reading the complete Nancy Drew collection – of course, these were the years before video games, computers, cable and satellite television!) Eventually, I discovered a vast world of resources to assist with research for school (and later work) and to help explore and expand personal interests.

Over the years, public libraries have changed a good deal. My relationship with that institution hasn’t changed that much, though. I still visit the library when I’m in search of a good read. When (despite my best efforts with Google), I am in need of an obscure piece of research or a hard-to-find book, the librarian is still my go-to-person of choice. And, my kids can not only grab a good novel there – as I did in my youth – but a DVD to watch Saturday night, or a CD to listen to in the car.

On a recent trip to Seattle, I took some time to visit the new central library … a marvel of architecture, blending light and infrastructure to create not only a well-used and practical resource centre, but a beautiful public space and public art showcase. Indeed, I discovered it was also a popular tourist attraction (listed by as #14 of 331 attractions in the city: “a must-see in Seattle,” enthuses one reviewer, and I would agree).

In the December 2009 issue of Municipal World magazine, though, librarian Rudi Denham reminds us that today’s libraries are doing much more than serving as centres of information and culture. Libraries are often on the front lines of delivering much needed services to the poor and unemployed: free Internet access, skills development training, job search assistance, and a place to be – and (still) to read. In Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside, for example, the city’s historic Carnegie Public Library now houses a community centre with recreation facilities, a kitchen that provides affordable meals, and a public library reading room. Billed by the city as “The Downtown Eastside’s Livingroom,” the centre offers a safe environment, free of drugs and alcohol, and is open from 9 am to 11 pm, seven days a week, every day of the year.

Today’s libraries have changed with the times – they have evolved so that they can continue to provide citizens with the services and information they need. As a result, time has not turned the page on libraries; libraries have simply started another chapter in their legacy of service to our communities.



  1. homelesschampions · November 14, 2009

    Andrew was a great man in more ways than one the fact that he donated so many building’s throughout the world is a great testimonies. Unfortunately the one he built here in Vancouver Canada is unlike the over twenty five hundred in the world the Carnegie Centre also known as the Carnegie Drug Mart is a national landmark here in Canada to buy heroin crack and all kinds of RX drugs for the last ten years day after day year after year people go to the steps and or sidewalks of this building and openly purchased illicit drugs here in Vancouver this is apparently acceptable on another note the Vancouver Police Department is only three hundred yards from this corner of main and Hastings I wish this was not true but you can see for your self poor Andrews legacy is in my opinion being tarnished in this city he must as we say be rolling in his grave concerned citizen

    Here is a video i personally took of the Carnegie on a quiet day normally there are hundred’s of people out front buying selling and using drugs


    • mwblogger · November 14, 2009

      There is no doubt that Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is burdened with serious problems of homeless and addiction – and that the corner of Hastings and Main is a focal point for these problems. However, I guess the point I am trying to make here is the facility has adapted to respond to community needs. It would be unfair to suggest that the Carnegie Centre has created these issues; rather, it is working through programming and community services to help heal a part of the city that many would like to forget exists. Thanks for posting this video and drawing awareness to the issues on the streets there. I agree, it’s a problem that shouldn’t be ignored.


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