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The Changing Nature of Public Libraries

Editor's Note: The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) has been advocating for accessible public library services for years, and is currently engaged, in a Coalition with other groups representing people with print disabilities, in attempts to have the public library system provide more of its services through mainstream means, rather than print-disabled Canadians having to rely on segregated and charitable disability-related organizations for their information needs. John Rae is AEBC's 1st Vice President.

Many of us believe our public library systems should do more to better serve Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. While this is reasonable for us to expect, as we also pay taxes that support our local libraries, do we make good use of what's currently available at our local library?

For a long time, many blind persons never thought about visiting their local library, and many of us probably still don't. After all, why should we? The CNIB Library sends us some books through the mail and over the internet in braille, large print, audio and electronic formats, and too many of us still assume public libraries have little to offer us...

But times have changed!

Libraries do remain repositories of books, mostly in print. Libraries also now offer an increasing range and variety of audio books, recordings and the chance to download materials electronically. Many libraries also offer adaptive equipment, such as low vision aids, and screen-reading and -magnification software, to conduct research. Inter-library loans can help us gain access to materials in the collections of libraries in other parts of the country that our own system may not have.

Many libraries also do much more. Many offer public lectures on a wide range of topics, from upcoming theatrical productions to the chance to hear and even meet noteworthy authors. Many also offer book clubs, which provide the opportunity to come together with like-minded citizens to engage in stimulating discussion on a new or classic work.

The future of library service requires a two-sided approach. Public libraries do need to do more to serve Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, but we must also do our part, to expect more from public libraries, learn to patronize them more, and participate more in the programs they offer.

Today, many local libraries are threatened by the prospect of cutbacks, and they need more patrons. The more we look for programs that will interest us, and get involved, the more likely our public library will do that better job of serving us that we seek.

This is a win-win idea, whose time has come.

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