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Lezlie Lowe dreams of building a better library.

What should our libraries look like?

Please hold for a likely unexpected answer: Chapters/Starbucks in Bayers Lake Business Park.

There. I’ve said it. That’s a load off. Phew.

I’m unloading my deep dark love of the Chapters/Starbucks corporate mega-machine for good reason (and with a disclaimer: I buy 90 percent of my books from local independent book sellers).

The Nova Scotia Public Library wants to know what we imagine a 21st century public library looks like. Inside and out, up and down and all around—it’s all fair game and free fodder for the current slate of public consultations, the last of which takes place at the Alderney Gate Library June 6.

I hope library schemers take a page from Chapters/Starbucks in the planning that comes out of these sessions. I want our libraries to be—more than anything else—meeting places. Open them on Sundays all year round and invite people in with comfy chairs, fireplaces, high ceilings and lots of sunlight (in local library terms, I’m thinking more Dartmouth’s Alderney Gate and Clayton Park’s Keshen Goodman than the main branch on Spring Garden, where a nuclear device could explode the entire DalTech campus and readers in the kids section would only know by the crumbling dust). Turn our libraries into Churches of the Book. Make libraries our primary community gathering places. If you build them, they will come.

I love libraries. I’ve loved them as long as I’ve loved to read and as long as I’ve loved to cleave books to my grubby little hands. When I was a child and the Bookmobile visited my north Dartmouth neighbourhood, it was like manna from heaven chugging up Crystal Drive. Then, and still, I read obsessively. Books, magazines, CD liners, the ads on the back of my Canadian Tire bill envelopes.

I must make a brief, crotchety mention here of my desire for libraries to be book-prejudiced. Information comes in all shapes and sizes, I appreciate, including DVDs and Internet access and computer databases. But I worry the lowly book is being left behind. Libraries must hold books on high, in all their tactile, spine-creaking, clutch-them-in-your-hands-and-smell-their-pages glory. Libraries must be book-biased. Few other places are.

But above all and besides everything else, libraries must be places that bring people together.

Bookmobiles, perhaps, should not just bring books to people, but bring people to books. If there are regular shuttle buses that take gamblers to the Casino from seniors’ centres, can’t our libraries receive funding to do the same?

Libraries need to be places where everyone goes by default. They need to be places where people can hang out and play music on the front lawn, where comfortable public readings can take place, where you can snuggle up with a book and read for a few hours, where kids can chuck foam toys around, where the community pinkos can plan their next take-over. Libraries need well-serviced bathrooms. They need to be fully accessible. They need a good cafe with excellent coffee.

There’s more. Libraries need to house all the information people can’t retrieve at home—whether that’s simple Internet access, the latest Simon Winchester book, a carefully kept clippings folder on Halifax streets that library staff have been tending since the ’60s or the sage advice of a reference librarian.

Libraries need to be places people can go and feel welcome. Where people can sit and talk. And where they want to sit and talk. If Chapters/Starbucks can do it, so can we.

Build your bibliotheque. Email: lezliel@thecoast.ca

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