On my bike ride today I came upon a small elementary school at the junction of two roads in a little rural pocket South Burnaby with farms and acreages. I felt such a pang a disappointment when I rode up and discovered that it was boarded up and the parking lot is grown over. Who knows how long since this school had kids in it, and I thought, isn't that funny, I've been doing so much reading and talking to friends about how school doesn't work anymore and how standard schooling is really a response to the industrial revolution and yet this little school, with maybe three or four classrooms, that would have served this funny little farming neighborhood, seemed so attractive to me and I was so disappointed by the reality that it's just not needed anymore . The rain came while I was standing here so I got off my my bike and sat underneath the covered area. All schools here have covered play areas to keep the kids out of the rain. They're handy when you have a habit of riding a bike in the rain.
I don't know how old this school is but it probably lost population when the other side of the freeway became all big box stores and business parks and the little farms disappeared. So now there's not enough kids around here for the school. Actually, I don't really know if that's it. Maybe that's not it. Maybe the school lost population because parents just didn't send their kids here: they sent their kids up the hill to a school that's more central. I don't know . From where I was standing I could see the high rises which are part of what's called South Point Burnaby. I shouldn't forget that Burnaby is a population of 200,000 people and it's not even at the edge of Metro Vancouver which has a population of 2.5 million people. I admit, I don't really know much about this neighbourhood.
So now let's think about that in terms of libraries and relevancy and about comfort zones and what we perceive. Many of us in libraries (and many of our supporters throughout our communities) have a fuzzy, warm picture in our heads that represents our comfort zone: the thing or place or people that made us love libraries and go work in them and that we often think of when we think about what a library should be.
I know when I rode up to this school, I pictured kids walking down the road with their friends on their way to school on the sunny springtime morning but the reality is the school's closed and for at least a few years before it closed, it was a private school for learning-disabled kids (I looked that up) so it wasn't serving the local community, anyway. I don't really know why it's closed and that reason, whatever it is, may have the same relationship to my fuzzy-warm picture in my head of kids walking down the country road, as our fuzzy-warm view of libraries has to the realities of library service in 2012. We like to think of the members of a small community doing things together. In the case of a library, they're sitting around a nice reading room or looking in the stacks to discover new things. The reality, however, is that more and more people don't do that. They don't even think of libraries at all when they want to find something out or even if they want to find something read. What are we gonna do about that and about how we have this fuzzy warm feeling that many people in our community share, but that doesn't actually relate to how people use our libraries?