14 January 2007

Do you use the library for genealogy?

Ottawa is a knowledge-based city (government and high tech), one that started moving away from a natural resource base 150 years ago and has never been strongly manufacturing-dependant. So Ottawa has more reason than most to nurture the knowledge skills of its people as the base of its economy.

I'm sure the city's mayor and councillors understand that, but equally they are subject to the tyranny of the urgent trumping the important. In the current situation it's the urgent need for some of them to meet a promise during the recent municipal election to hold the line on property taxes. Those who use and value the public library system are, or at least feel, threatened.

In Ottawa we are fortunate to have a library system that is sensitive to the needs of family historians, I know that having spoken to the City Librarian, Barbara Clubb. However, the OPL is not well funded, even compared to other Ontario communities and family history resources share in this poverty.

Thanks to a posting on Resource Shelf it was interesting to discover a report, hot off the e-press, from the US Urban Institute. Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development adds to the body of research pointing to a shift in the role of public libraries—from a passive, recreational reading and research institution to an active economic development agent, addressing such pressing urban issues as literacy, workforce training, small business vitality and community quality of life. The study was commissioned by the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. I suspect the findings are equally applicable to Canada. It should be required reading for local politicians.