Sunday, March 30, 2008

Locked out - What do we do??

According to Wikipedia "A library is a collection of information, sources, resources, and services: it is organized for use and maintained by a public body, an institution, or a private individual. In the more traditional sense, a library is a collection of books."

This is something I think we all know. Something else we all know is that this is place of knowledge, of learning, of fun. I grew up visiting the library to research school projects, to find that next crime thriller in the series that had enthralled me for so long or just to hang out with my friends and not be lying to my mother - "no Mom, I really was at the library".

As I got older, got my own job and was responsible for paying rent and bills, I discovered that money for books to read for enjoyment was a little further down on the priority list than I would perhaps like. But what's that? Oh, the library! Of course. Off I would trudge with my backpack and take out as many books as I could carry. This number was usually far lower than the number I was allowed to take, but short of buying myself a donkey to cart all those books around on, a backpack full was all I could manage. The library was a small piece of sanity in my hectic world, somewhere I could escape to and leave the world behind. To be able to escape into the world of the Swiss Family Robinson or to experience the heartbreak of Anne Frank, is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. Just being able to sit and read a newspaper in the relative quiet of the stacks was an experience that many in this world never get to experience.

While the library is still all that and more, now that I have my own children, I see other facets to the institution. Now when I visit, I see parents and caregivers sharing the joy of the books with the children in their charge. The expressions on the faces of those children as they read about the life of the mouse under the stairs and how he escapes from the big black cat. The giggles you hear ripple through the kid's area as they hear about Walter the Farting dog. Story time for the kids introduces them to the wonders that await them through their lives and the explorations they can embark on as they wander the world of the library.

All of this, and so much more, is why the last weeks and months have been so horrible in the world of Victoria BC book lovers.

We are locked out of our libraries!!

In September of 2007, the union workers that staff our libraries in Greater Victoria went on strike. They are seeking pay equity and getting nowhere. The last pay equity agreement was reached in 1992 and was intended as a way to end gender based pay scales. So why, 15 years later, were the Labour Relations Association and Libraries Board so unwilling to bend that our library workers felt the need to strike? This is an answer we are still waiting for.

Over the months between September and February, the union continued to strike but the libraries remained open with minimal services. The lack of internet service a concern to a small few. The inability to pay fines not a big worry. But, the Library Board and LRA, in all its infinite wisdom felt that they were losing inordinate amounts of money and as a result, a lockout was surely a better solution.

February 18, 2008 - All the library workers, and the library patrons were locked out indefinitely with no whispers of negotiations.

As a result, I have gone from almost daily visits to the library with my children to nothing. Numerous times I have tried to explain the situation to them but at the ages of 3 and 5, how do you explain something so complex that many adults cannot understand it? How do you help change the injustice that is being done?

Not only have the workers been locked out, and are therefore losing wages and salaries that inevitably support their own families, but the people like me, who frequent the library, have also been locked out. As taxpayers, this is our library too. There has been much discussion surrounding this on a local forum of mine (KidsInVictoria) with many of us wondering how we could help. How can we get our point across to the negotiators, to the people who make these big decisions? How do we make them understand what an impact they are having on the lives of the children, of the students, the elderly and the shut ins?

A couple of local mommas who will forever be heroes in my mind, staged a "story time sit in" at the GVLRA offices. Had my children not been sick, I would have attended myself.

I have come to realise over the last months that we take our library privileges for granted. Today while reading a post From the Pear, it struck me as funny that she was raving about how great the library was and the tongue in cheek shock of not being arrested for leaving the library with books that cost so much. It also made me incredibly sad to think that it could be months before my children see the inside of a library again. Every day I hope that our union and our GVLRA will be able to reach an agreement, but at the same time I need to be realistic and understand how hard those negotiations can be.

Here's something special for you though - we now hold the distinction of being the only city in all of North America to ever be locked out of our libraries. Yay??

Stay tuned!

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