Why attack those trying to help?


We’re amazed that Jim Bell has fallen for the GNWT’s bait, hook, line and sinker, in last week’s editorial, “Libraries top priority?”

Isn’t it a little suspicious how quickly the department of education culture and employment in Yellowknife is disclaiming the figures released in its draft policy document, as soon as the people of Nunavut have done a critical analysis of them?

What year were the statistics in this document based on? Why would a policy document be circulated for discussion with inaccurate figures in it?

But more the point, what purpose is served by tearing down one of the first concerted efforts by the people of Nunavut (note, we say Nunavut, not just Iqaluit) to resist yet another GNWT attempt to remove valuable elements of our public infrastructure before division takes place?

How can a piece of polemic such as the Feb. 7 editorial possibly contribute to the wellness of the Nunavut community, for all that it rants on about all the things that are wrong with our society?

When was the last time Mr.Bell actually patronized any public library? Not a school library: these are set up to serve the specific needs of a particular educational community.

Where does he think all those kids who need a warm place to go after school show up? Where do students who live in overcrowded housing go to study when the school library is locked up for the day?

Where do pregnant women go to find information about their health and how to care for the children they carry? Where do parents, from Clyde River to Iqaluit, take their children to introduce them to stories and books and find an opportunity to talk to other parents about their joys and difficulties, maintaining their sanity?

Where do people excited by the prospect of mineral development go to find information on basic geology? Where do young sportsmen find the information they need to hone their skills? Where can families find videos that expand their horizons and provide more wholesome entertainment than the slasher movies so prevalent at the box office?

Where do the elderly and blind find audio tapes and large print materials so that they don’t have to cease being literate simply because they cannot see well? Where will children find a safe haven where there are no drug dealers and booze pushers?

Where will you find such a positive atmosphere, where the only reason for people being behind the desk is to help you find what you are looking for, whether it’s information to help you improve your life, or a few moments of escape reading to help you bear it?

We cannot as a society even begin to address the question of illnesses among us unless there are also examples of wholeness and wellness.

Children do not learn from being told they are bad; they learn from being encouraged when they are good. And one of the few havens of positive behavior left in our society is found in public library systems.

Contrary to Mr.Bell’s insinuations, it is not only the privileged and comfortable who are concerned about this service, which is in fact one of the very few the government currently offers that is actually accessible to everyone.

From the poorest child to the richest businessman, from the youngest infant to the most elderly, every person has the right to use the materials supplied at this public access point.

And because, until this current cut, this service has been staffed by appropriate professionals, people from Resolute Bay, Arctic Bay, Taloyoak, Grise Fiord – the remotest of communities – can call or fax and say, “I need this- can you find it for me?” whether or not they know how to use a computer, whether or not they know how to type or find their way through the maze of a library catalogue or the Internet.

This is not an Iqaluit issue, much as some Iqaluit residents have been spearheading it. The collections that people see in the Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit libraries serve their whole regions; at any given time, 1200 books from the Baffin collection are circulating around other Baffin community libraries, and hundreds of other items are in the mail back and forth from communities with no libraries.

The removal of the regional librarians is a blow to literacy improvement in Nunavut, where the professional staff know their client communities and select materials accordingly. To say that this service can be provided equally well from the west is farcical.

And for Mr. Bell to say that the efforts expended to forestall this ill-thought cut are wasted because the issue isn’t serious enough misses the point entirely.

First, the issue is serious: public access to information, both educational and recreational is critical to mental health and self-improvement, most especially so in an area where there are few or no bookstores or other alternatives to information gathering (sorry, but it will be a while still before most communities’ communication networks will be up to providing even basic Internet service).

And second, this is an instance where people have been seen to come together to support the preservation of something good. Maybe not the highest good, but good nonetheless, and it can prove to be a jumping-off point for people from all over Nunavut to work together to make their new territory a better place to live for everyone.

The pages of this newspaper are very adept at continually pointing out what’s wrong with everything in our society.

It’s time for Nunatsiaq News to wake up and realize that it can contribute as much or more to the territory it ostensibly supports by providing non-destructive coverage of the positive and life-affirming activities also undertaken by Nunavut’s citizens.

Lisa Rigby

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