Supporting Striking Library Workers

On Sunday, March 25, the Writers’ Union of Canada joined the ongoing demonstration by striking library workers outside the Metro Reference Library. As an honorary member of the union, I was glad to be able to lend my support to this event, which was organized by Susan Swan and headed by TWUC President Greg Hollingshead.

After Greg and Susan, a number of other authors spoke briefly but vigorously in favour of libraries and their workers.  These speakers included Ken McGoogan, (the head of the Public Lending Right committee, which ensures that authors are recompensed for the use of their books in libraries), Erika Ritter, and me.

Photo: TPLWU Local 4948

I spoke (entirely unofficially) on behalf of publishers, none of whom were present (ahem), noting that publishers knew and appreciated the role of librarians. Then I spoke as an author, and as a member of the union who was glad to participate  in the event. I explained that I was a writer who had benefited from the libraries, pointing to the adjoining Reference Library and announcing that I had researched my own book “right there.”

Then I commented on the famous proudly ignorant statement by Doug Ford that he would not recognize the (library-supporting) Margaret Atwood if she passed him “in the street.” I was able to tell the crowd that in June I was in Kirkwall, a small town in the Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland. There an excited Scot stopped me in the street, saying, “My wife’s just seen Margaret Atwood!” Since Margaret and I were both staff members of the visiting Adventure Canada cruise I was able to confirm the sighting, and he went off, thrilled. Clearly, people around the world do recognize Toronto’s famous author in the street. Doug Ford – who embarrasses Dougs everywhere – should himself be embarrassed.

I did not go on to comment that Rob and Doug Ford do not strike me (and this may be an unfair assumption) as people whose worldview has been shaped by much time spent in libraries. Nor did I go on to suggest that the library workers are in the front lines of a battle that concerns us all; battle between Tea Party-inspired politicians who believe that all taxes are bad, and must always be cut, and never, ever raised. This has led to an extraordinary event in Silicon Valley (as I learned on a brief recent trip to California) where there is extreme, billion-dollar private affluence alongside public squalor, with closed libraries, crowded schools and bad roads. The situation is so bad that major players at the head of some  Silicon Valley companies are organizing to raise private funds in support of public services. One company spokesman noted that people don’t like living in communities with these public flaws, hence the new fundraising movement.

It all reminds me of the American judge (was it Oliver Wendell Holmes?) who said flatly, “I enjoy paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.” I’m sorry now that I didn’t lead the crowd in a chant: “What Do We Want? . . . Civilization! When Do We Want It? Now!”

But, clad in my bright yellow, orange and red Buchanan tartan shirt, I learned a useful tip about making outdoor speeches against the roar of passing traffic. Speak loudly, and wear a loud shirt.

— Douglas Gibson

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