Librarians are, generally speaking, a gentle lot. We speak in hushed voices, smile at children, and spend our time off—yes, you guessed it—relaxing with a good book.
And so it’s not often that we feel emboldened to rise up and make a public stand. We’re not politicians, after all. We prefer to provide information from a variety of viewpoints and let people make their own informed choices.
When the public debate centers around an issue which threatens the core of public library service, however, it is time for us librarians to don our capes, to drop our gloves, to throw down the gauntlet, and to shout from the mountains for what we stand for. To paraphrase The Incredible Hulk, “Don’t make us angry. You wouldn’t like us when we’re angry”.
Consider this fair warning.
Libraries across Canada firmly support diversity and social inclusion. This is explicitly stated in our own library policies, and those of libraries across our country:
[Creston Valley Public Library] believes that a diverse and pluralistic society is central to our country’s identity. Libraries have a responsibility to contribute to a culture that recognizes diversity and fosters social inclusion.
The public debate over immigration and inclusion that is taking place across the border has led many in this country to assert competing visions of our national identity. Some have put forward an idealized Judeo-Christian heritage upon which our national identity is supposedly based.
This imagined heritage is frequently supposed to be at odds with, even in conflict with, the cultural norms of immigrants and visitors from outside of this Judeo-Christian sphere. Immigrants, say proponents of this view, should either conform to this imagined “Canadian culture” or go back home. After all, we are doing them a favour by letting them in to our country in the first place.
I say, “Hogwash”.
The stated aims of Canadian immigration policy have never been to help people from other countries. Rather, immigration policy is designed to attract professional workers from around the world to provide badly-needed services and investment that our own citizens are unable to provide.
The statistics support this. In 2015, for example, there were 9488 government-assisted refugees accepted into Canada, compared to 170,398 “economic” immigrants, including 70,145 skilled workers, 5460 investors, and 27,230 caregivers.
Moreover, the children of these immigrants are tomorrow’s leaders. Young people with Chinese origins, for example, are 40 percentage points more likely to attend university than those with Canadian-born parents. An increasing number of our doctors, dentists, engineers, and professors are either immigrants or children of immigrants.
So much for immigrants not adapting to “Canadian culture”.
At your local public library, you will find works by Canadian authors who speak from many viewpoints, reflecting a wide diversity of cultural and intellectual traditions. Internationally renowned Canadian authors include Kim Fu, Thomson Highway, Shani Mootoo, Saleema Nawaz, Wayson Choi, Lawrence Hill, Kim Thuy, Ghalib Islam, and countless others.
How incredibly fortunate we are to live in a culturally rich nation committed to tolerance and understanding, a nation with a long history of attracting the best and brightest from around the world to help enrich both our economy and culture.
I can’t imagine a more outstanding and diverse heritage for us to celebrate.
Aaron Francis is the Chief Librarian at Creston Valley Public Library. He is currently reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell.