Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie committed a vast amount of his wealth to philanthropy, specifically libraries. He once said “A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people.” Carnegie put his money where his mouth was and over 30 years he contributed nearly $60 million to funding construction of nearly 3,500 free libraries, including 125 in Canada.
The definition of a library has changed since Carnegie’s time. Now books are only one of many offerings at your local library. Lending libraries have started, enabling access to everything from tools to sports equipment.
South Dundas established a lending library 10 years ago and through that library residents are able to borrow sports and recreation equipment at no cost. This lending library is a success story of the often underfunded recreation department.
Last week, South Dundas council discussed at a Committee of the Whole meeting the operation of the lending library including if deposits or other security means (credit card) should be a condition to borrowing an expensive item. Councillors Archie Mellan, Donald Lewis, and Mayor Steven Byvelds supported some form of security means in case a kayak, canoe, or other high-valued item disappears. We disagree.
The benefit of the lending library is barrier free access. Anyone can borrow any equipment. For some, the library enables a person to try an activity before spending money on the equipment. For others, it is the only way that someone can take part in a sport or activity. Several Canadian studies cite financial means as the largest barrier to access for recreation.
If South Dundas council opts for some form of security deposit or the need to leave a credit card number to access equipment at the Lending Library, it will impose an unnecessary means test, creating a two-tier lending program. Those with financial means can access everything – those without can only access certain things. That flies in the face of the goal of this library. Should council decide to impose an access means test, it may as well close the doors for good.
Manager of Parks and Recreation Austin Marcellus told council that no equipment has gone missing. What problem are members of council trying to address by considering access barriers then?
Libraries are one of the great services that any community can provide to its residents. It levels the playing field, increases access and opportunity for all. Placing a financial barrier counters that and should not be considered.