EDITORIAL: Libraries: courage, class and character

Public libraries supporting free speech and open debate even difficult topics and issues is praiseworth they they walk the talk, demonstrating class and philisophical integrity.

Recently, the Toronto Public Library showed real class permitting a controversial public figure’s use of the library space to hold a public meeting. Opponents of the speaker demonatrated outside the library branch but these demonstrators failed to understand a number of things.

First, the library does not necessarily endorse causes which may use its facilities for meetings. They are merely providing convenient space for the public to meet, as well they should.

More importantly, the library is acting as a portal of information, again, as it should. The library should be the first space for free speech. It should open its doors to people gathering together to debate and discuss issues of the day. The library does not have to support the opinions of the meeting’s stakeholders but they should permit them space to talk about issues.

The Toronto library did all of the above and it deserves praise for that. The Toronto City Council criticizing city librarian Vickery Bowles for permitting the Meghan Murphy meeting is small minded and nit-picking as well as being unprofessional. Their intention of reviewing the library’s policies on public space use is wrong-minded, small-minded and unprofessional. The council approved the librarian for the job. Now it is second guessing and end-running their own appointment.

Bowles should be praised for doing the right thing in fulfilling her responsibilities as gate keeper of information and free speech.

Kudos also to the Pickering Public Library for reversing its stand on the inaugural presentation its news series, “Hong Kong: two systems, one country.” At first, the PPL opposed the presentation for safety, security and insurance reasons they said. However, second thought considerations reversed the decision and the presentation will go forth on November 19. Acting CEO Kathy Williams and the PPL Board deserve praise for taking a position of public welfare and information dissemination for the public good. They have taken a position which is most gratifying and appreciated, supporting free speech and information dissemination though the library may face demonstrations and protests. However, shutting down free speech, cutting off public debate of controversial issues is more dangerous and a greater threat to the public welfare than street demonstrations and opposition protests.

Again, the PPL and its Board show courage in doing the right thing for the good of its patrons.

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