Community Hubs Provide Safe Spaces to Seek Truth and Grow Community

Story by Nancy Saunders, Photo by Raili Zgrych

Thunder Bay has been profiled in national news stories several times in recent years. These stories have focused on various aspects of our city’s rates of racism and violent crime. Amidst these frightful and sobering tales of discrimination, corruption, gangs, and drugs, was a hopeful piece that appeared in The Globe and Mail in June 2019, in which Thunder Bay’s library service was praised as being “a leader among civic bodies in healing a racial divide.”

We live in a time during which we are inundated with sensationalized news from the moment we wake up to when we go to bed. The terms “fake news” and “click bait” have grown freakish legs largely due to social media, and can be applied to almost anything. Now is not the time to underestimate the importance of libraries as institutions of truth. Through the provision of educational and historical resources, we have at our disposal a comprehensive repository of facts, as well as access to librarians whose very careers are based on championing and guiding us in our quest. A fundamental purpose of libraries is to support literacy of all kinds—reading, numeracy, media literacy, emotional intelligence, and cultural competence. These functions will never stop being relevant to the development of healthy communities.

The current strategic plan for our local libraries speaks of a vision to “become the heart of the community—a welcoming and inclusive centre of social innovation and change.” This may come as a surprise, as not mentioned are the many resources we typically associate with libraries: books and reference materials, both print and electronic; DVDs and CDs; public computers; printing and faxing; programs, activities and events; and the list goes on. Our city’s libraries are engaged in a timely shift to becoming community hubs, where “multiple services are located together, creating a one-stop shop for people in the community to access the resources and services they need.” In addition to offering free materials for education and enjoyment and a variety of programming for various user groups, libraries provide meeting spaces, internet access, job search and entrepreneurial assistance, life-changing—maybe even life-saving—services to vulnerable patrons, and a safe refuge and shelter to all, and all under one roof.

There is no question that all Thunder Bay residents should have access to safe spaces and social programs that enhance their quality of life. The ongoing transformation of libraries through greater innovation and accessibility is helping to meet these needs. Rather than creating silos to serve various groups separately, libraries serve as a bridge between diverging populations. A sure way to enhance and grow community is to provide a safe space in which we are all welcome.