Lately, the answer has not been inspiring. Recently, an American banking company was reportedly interested in buying the film library of Alliance-Atlantis. This library contains more than 1,200 titles, which are usually loaned (at a price) to Canadian television stations so they can fulfill their legal requirement to have 60 per cent of their airtime filled with Canadian content. If the American company owned a majority share of this library, it would profit by selling Canadian movies back to Canadian television stations. More importantly, a storehouse of our culture would have been in the hands of a foreign company.
When this news broke, I saw a story buried in a national paper and heard a brief interview on the radio. But that was it. The stories mentioned big names like Atom Egoyan and Paul Gross were ticked off with the possible sale, but there was no public outcry.
More biblio-apathy occurred earlier this year, when the Canadian government took some books out of the legislative library in Victoria — one of the oldest in the country — and put them into storage in Burnaby. After much searching, I discovered the official line: the books were moved while seismic upgrades occurred at the library. Rumblings through the grapevine told a different story — that the government wanted to convert the library into a banquet hall for visiting dignitaries. In any case, the truth was unclear, and again, nobody appeared to care.
Whenever I read a story about how people don’t seem to care about libraries, I think of an e-mail I saw late last year that was widely circulated in the library community. It told the story of Saad Eskander, head of the Iraq National Library and Archive. Mr. Eskander kept his library open even after it had been bombarded with mortars and set aflame three times. On top of that, three of his employees had been murdered since 2003. The e-mail said Mr. Eskander was finally closing the library, but he kept it open for so long amidst tumultuous chaos: this is an inspiring thing.
Indeed, librarians go to great lengths to ensure their collection is preserved for future generations; sometimes, this passion may defeat good sense, but stories like Mr. Eskander’s show that people care. Sometimes, that’s all the disillusioned student needs.