The Globe and Mail features a terrific article today on the transformation of community libraries. Far from disappearing in the digital age, libraries are experiencing dramatic increases in both visits and circulation. The article notes that the Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal gets 8,000 visitors per day, while other libraries are emerging as community centres for culture, education, and access to knowledge. The librarians note that they are taking a "user-centred" approach with lots of Internet-enabled computers and electronic databases (the Grande Bibliothèque spends 25 percent of its budget on electronic materials), reading areas, and coffee shops.
Few people would dispute that this is an exceptionally positive development, leading to a better educated, better informed, more community-focused population. Yet government policy – particularly copyright – often creates barriers to the ability for libraries to realize their full potential. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down some of those barriers in the CCH decision, yet the focus on anti-circumvention legislation and the tepid reforms proposed in Bill C-60 for libraries, suggest that the government is more interested in restricting access than enabling it. Moreover, the growing reliance on electronic materials cries out for protection against onerous contractual terms that limit access and create a world in which library resources are rented rather than owned. The Globe article provides a compelling vision of libraries in the 21st century. We now need policies that work with – not against – libraries and their patrons.