There’s been a lot talk about libraries in Moncton these past two years. Mostly around the question of whether or not the current Moncton Public Library should be moved to be the anchor tenant in a proposal to revitalize the former Moncton High School. I think there are compelling arguments on both sides, and a potential compromise I haven’t heard discussed.
Losing the architecture and history of Moncton High School would be a huge blow for Moncton. The architectural renderings of what the space could be, as envisioned by MH35, are exciting. The building could indeed be a missing piece to the puzzle of creating a revitalized downtown that includes Resurgo Place, Aberdeen Cultural Centre, and the continued additions to St. George Street. While the corner of Church and Mountain is not in the core, it’s still part of downtown – and I don’t think moving the library one kilometre is a make-or-break situation for the number of people who will visit. The lunchtime business patrons who would be lost with the move would be replaced by people who avoid the downtown core like the plague.
However, limiting the future expansion of the Moncton Public Library would also be a short-sighted move by the province and the municipality, both of which are responsible for the library. As per the government’s website, the province is in charge of strategic planning (among other things), while the city is tasked with “providing and maintaining library facilities.” A decision of this magnitude calls on both parties to reach an agreement, and perhaps be innovative in doing so.
The Moncton library board has made it clear it does not believe moving to a renovated Moncton High School would be in the best interests of the library. It has raised financial concerns, citing the $1 rental fee it currently pays for its space. It also notes that the space would be at best similar in size, if not smaller given some of the architectural changes. A lateral move is not often the best business case.
Statistics show that library use in on the rise, and this should continue to be the case. Libraries are much more than dusty rows of books and research rooms. They are vital, vibrant community hubs. I spent time in two different local libraries this week. Each had a steady stream of visitors, enjoying a warmth and breadth of programming that was obviously creating connections among people, as much as it was providing access to literature and learning.
With visitor numbers climbing and resources provided expanding, our libraries will need more space. Why hasn’t there been a discussion about creating a new or satellite branch at the former Moncton High location? Libraries across North America are planning for large-scale expansions with multi-million dollar price tags; just look to Halifax’s nearly $60million building. Has anyone considered the pros and cons of creating an additional library at the Moncton High site as a means of dealing with future demand, rather than moving our existing library? Perhaps it’s not the answer, but it begs the question – are the long-term goals of both volunteer groups, MH Renaissance and the library board, really at odds with each other?
My worst fear with all this debate is not that we will lose the Moncton High building, but that we will devalue our library by continuing to talk as if it’s a history versus literacy issue. The divisions created by the ongoing uncertainty are not helping our community move forward, the much-stated goal of the city. Reading online commentaries about the proposals it is clear there is an ‘us vs. them’ mentality at play that is detrimental to our community.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.