J. Patrick Boyer studied law at the International Court of Justice in The Netherlands, served as Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary for External Affairs, and works for democratic development overseas. The author of twenty-three books on Canadian history, law, politics, and governance, Patrick lives with wife, Elise, in Muskoka and Toronto.
Local Library, Global Passport
A local library, passport to a larger world for its individual patrons, is also a democratic institution whose contribution to the strength of a community is out of all proportion to its size or membership.
Several thousand Carnegie libraries were built a century ago when Andrew Carnegie, who had risen from poverty to become "the richest man in the world" vowed to donate all his money before he died and set about giving millions of people around the world the same "gift of reading" he had with access to a library as a factory working boy. Across the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and other corners of the English-speaking world, he created "the free republic" of libraries. This is the story of one of them.
By tracing evolution of library service in the Canadian town of Bracebridge from 1874 to the present day within the broad sweep of larger cultural and economic patterns, Boyer’s engaging book provides a specific example of the universal transformation of books and information technologies and the libraries that house them from the 19th to 21st centuries. Most readers will find endearing and tantalizing parallels with their own library experience, wherever they live.
Written to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Andrew Carnegie Library in Bracebridge in 2008, Boyer’s book is an inspired and engaging effort to show patterns and perils that probably hold true for most local libraries although some of the dramatic and comedic episodes here are surely unique. This story is so rich it could be a feature movie.
One of the first acts of dictators when they come into power is to destroy and ban books. In this important book, Patrick Boyer reminds us that to protect democracy, we have to protect the written word and the free access to it; in other words, we have to recognize and celebrate the role of public libraries in making books accessible to the public.
If an informed public is the foundation of a democracy, then libraries and a free press are like twin cornerstones. In Local Library, Global Passport, Patrick Boyer reminds us just how essential libraries and an unfettered press are to the functioning of democratic society.
From my perspective as an historian with responsibility for a library, Patrick Boyer's book appeals on many levels. As he so eloquently sets out in the context of Bracebridge, libraries are far more than bricks and mortar that house books. Libraries are fundamentally linked to their communities, whether it is Bracebridge or Parliament Hill. These communities provide the support not just for the bricks, mortar and books, periodicals and newspapers that fill the shelves, but increasingly computers, databases and online versions of all these things as well. In turn, libraries have a responsibility not only to be repositories of knowledge but also to make this knowledge available to their community. This is the vocation of a librarianto serve as the conduit of knowledge to those who seek it-in the service of their community.