Calgary’s Central Library was unveiled Oct. 25. Photo: Calgary Municipal Land Corporation.

Culture, community, the commons

Calgary’s Central Library opened in October of last year, and people have not stopped talking about it since, with good reason. According to the CBC, the project was 14 years in the making, costing under-budget at $245 million. The library itself provides 240,000 square feet of space, featuring far more than just study spaces and book lending services.

According to its website, the library features a performance hall, services for newcomers, a teen tech lab, artists and authors in residence, a children’s library (with a jungle gym), a recording studio, and bookable meeting spaces. It also has an on-site cafe, free child minding, a nursing room, an interfaith room, and Indigenous placemaking. On Jan. 23 the library unveiled an Indigenous Cultural Resource Centre.

Calgary’s Central Library answers a question that has been asked about libraries for decades. How will they adjust to information being so readily available through technology? Rather than avoid extinction by merely “computerizing” all knowledge, this project has highlighted the necessity for other aspects of the library. This library now provides inspiration and means for innovation. When I was able to visit this past winter break, I saw first-hand an introductory class for Microsoft Word being conducted to a group of older adults. With video conference rooms, recording studios, and classes on technology, Calgary’s Central Library shares and nurtures knowledge in a way built for the 21st century.

Additionally, the cultural needs of the community are addressed throughout the Central Library. On Level Four, one can find a shared history centre just doors down from an interfaith room. The Elders’ Guidance Circle is a space for anyone to speak with Indigenous elders from many nations, who also provide spiritual ceremonies and smudging. The library also features a historian in residence, in a residency program shared by an author and artist.

Upon entering the library, it’s difficult not to be struck by an overwhelming sense of community. Level 1M belongs to the children, with a Questionarium, early learning centre, and the aforementioned childminding service. It also features “The Mom’s Stairway” which connects the on-site cafe to the reading area. Lined with strollers on one side, the mom’s stairway is a necessary (and adorable) climb in order to get to the second floor.

As you proceed up in floors, it gets quieter and quieter. Every type of reader can be found throughout the library, tucked into corners or reading nooks, or enjoying a coffee with friends. When I visited, there was a group of older ladies taking a tour of the space, with fascinators and feathers in their hair, university students pouring over textbooks, and lovers stealing kisses behind bookcases.

Ottawa’s downtown library is a dreary little place by comparison. A small concrete building thrust onto a street corner, having no business being the capital’s main library. Morisset, built in 1972, is no better, featuring out-of-date computers, and a downright depressing atmosphere. The few times I’ve been there throughout my undergrad have been terrible. The Learning Crossroads building is onto something, but I think the university can push it farther.

Ottawa, boasting two universities and one college within its city limits, should be improving the services provided to its residents, and the Calgary Central Library should act as a guide.

The Calgary Central Library fulfills needs many didn’t realize we had neglected. The commons, a space we can go and spend hours at a time, without having to spend money. A place to rest, or learn, or be inspired. Ottawa should follow Calgary’s example, and invest in culture, the community, and the commons.