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Gerry ChidiacBritish writer Doris Lessing said, “A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants.”

I have to admit I had forgotten what a wonderful and amazing place a public library is until I brought a group of students to my local library for a tour. I spent a fair bit of time there when my children were young but it had been years since I explored its shelves.

What I discovered was a vibrant place of learning, a place for everyone. There were many parents and young children there for story time and picture books, but there were many adults as well, exploring in their own space.

A great library is a mixture of tradition and a mindset of constant improvement. One could see that staff members not only loved their work, they understood their role as public servants, constantly trying to bring in materials and resources to meet the needs of an ever-changing population.

The resources offered in a public library today are unbelievably varied. There are places exclusively for teens to gather and even play video games. There are downloadable e-books in many languages. There are quiet places to study, to charge electronic devices and to access the Internet. There are even old newspapers on microfilm. All with friendly librarians to answer our questions.

Being a person who is always learning yet doesn’t often have time to sit down with a book, I was thrilled to find mobile apps offered through the library that allow me to sign out audio books to listen to on my phone. I don’t even need to leave my home to gain access to the vast array of books in every genre.

A good public library provides an easy access point for any journey of discovery and a place to find directions when one feels lost. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, old or young, an established resident or a new immigrant. Even when you’re simply passing through a community, the library is a place where you can feel welcome.

Mexican-American children’s author Yuyi Morales spoke of how she felt out of place when she first arrived in the United States. She knew little English and was doing her best to find activities while she looked after her young son. She discovered a local library and feared being told to leave, until a warm and friendly librarian named Nancy reached out to her.

Morales discovered a peaceful place of learning and beautiful books. She has since won several awards for books she has written and illustrated. Her son, now an adult, also learned to love books and has also become a writer.

Morales recently expressed how she will be forever grateful to Nancy the librarian.

Along with being a centre for learning, the library is a gathering point for the community. Anyone can access the meeting rooms for a modest price. This is vital in creating a space for healthy dialogue and discussion, a cornerstone of democracy.

The library also hosts a vast array of free events for every age group. There are family movie times and teen outreach programs. There are lessons on resume writing, local history groups and various writing workshops, to name but a few.

At its core, a library is a place of learning and discovery, regardless of a person’s age. It’s a true community treasure and an amazing resource.

As Albert Einstein said, “The only thing that you have to absolutely know is the location of the library.”

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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