Library as Place

library as place logoThe Ontario Library Association organizes an Annual Institute on the Library as Place. The purpose of this event is to provide a learning opportunity for the library, municipal, design and architect sectors to learn more about physical space and to become better equipped to plan and respond quickly to capitalize on opportunities for development for all types of libraries. For example, what are the characteristics of great future-oriented spaces? How can we advocate for the library as physical space? And how can we build effective collaboration with communities, architects, project managers, municipal officials and builders? The Library As Place is a great opportunity to meet and network with library workers and architects from across Canada, to share ideas and future proof our libraries.

The theme of this year’s Library as Place was decolonization and the opening keynote by Dori Tunstall – ‘An Unsettling space: the values, design, and experience of the library as decolonized placemaking’ – was based on the seminal paper by Eve Tuck and K.Wayne Yang, ‘Decolonization is not a metaphor’, which addresses the question ‘What is unsettling about decolonization?’:

Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools. The easy adoption of decolonizing discourse by educational advocacy and scholarship, evidenced by the increasing number of calls to ‘decolonize our schools,’ or use ‘decolonizing methods,’ or, ‘decolonize student thinking’, turns decolonization into a metaphor. As important as their goals may be, social justice, critical methodologies, or approaches that decenter settler perspectives have objectives that may be incommensurable with decolonization. Because settler colonialism is built upon an entangled triad structure of settler-native-slave, the decolonial desires of white, non-white, immigrant, postcolonial, and oppressed people, can similarly be entangled in resettlement, reoccupation, and reinhabitation that actually further settler colonialism. The metaphorization of decolonization makes possible a set of evasions, or ‘settler moves to innocence’ that problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity.

The challenge at Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) is to ensure that decolonization does not become a metaphor.  Part of our response to this challenge is to partner with Indigenous organizations such as Anishinabek Employment and Training Services (AETS) to create ‘An Indigenous Partnership: A Shared Community Hub’ at Waverley library. This was the title of the presentation made by myself, John DeGiacomo (Executive Director, AETS) and Janna Levitt (Partner, LGA Architectural Partners) at the Library As Place conference. We suggested that partnership working can move us along the inclusion continuum from indifference and intimidation through to integration and full inclusion.

Research on Indigenous partnerships found that ‘corporate Canada’ lacks the motivation, competencies and organizational readiness to effectively engage and partner with Indigenous organizations.  One third of corporate Canada has never considered engaging, and many organizations take a passive approach, see limited perceived value,  view partnerships as time consuming or costly, and are only willing to allocate a few resources.  As a result of this indifference 85% of organizations are disengaged, 9% are engagement novices, 4% are relationship developers and only 2% are committed partners.

I’m very pleased and proud to be able to say that TBPL is one of these committed partners. We have taken an active approach in inviting AETS and other Indigenous organizations into TBPL. We recognize the enormous value that these partnerships can offer. We see the investment and time as being well worth the returns and benefits. And we have allocated significant resources to ensure that these partnerships succeed and are sustainable into the future.

John Pateman  – If you have a comment about today’s column, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below!

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