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Speaking notes
Dr. Guy Berthiaume, Librarian and Archivist of Canada
Presented to Ontario Library Association Panel
Toronto, Ontario
January 29, 2015
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Let me begin by quoting a document titled Statement of vision and purpose that was published in mid-January by the British Library

“At a time when the provision of knowledge and culture is increasingly digital and screen-based, the value and importance of high-quality physical spaces and experiences is growing, not diminishing. (We) have seen a 10% increase in visits to our [main] building in the last 12 months alone. The more screen-based our lives, it seems, the greater the perceived value of real human encounters and physical artefacts; activity in each realm feeds interest in the other.”

Source: Living Knowledge, the British Library’s statement of vision and purpose for 2015-2023, published January 2015

Importance of quality space

The choice of location is a key to success – and should be sending a signal to the entire community that the library is open to all and that all are welcome. This commitment to openness, access and democracy is inspired by the model of library found throughout North America.

That model always brings to my mind the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, engraved on the Statue of Liberty: I quote: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

Because in North America access to libraries is completely free, more than any other cultural institution, it is the library which can provide solace, learning, opportunity, hope, and a refuge from the wind and the snow, to “the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses”.

The high quality of the library’s physical space promotes the well-being of all who enter, helping to inspire, to motivate, and to nourish the soul. When the physical space is of a very high quality, it elevates, uplifts, and ennobles all who enter within. 

Today’s libraries are strong when their architecture says freedom [Lise Bissonnette]

The prevalence of natural light, open spaces, bright windows, ease of movement, and the way the spaces interconnect, all speak to the openness of the library and its philosophy of knowledge for all.

The role of a national library

The architecture of a national library is a strong statement by a country of how it views knowledge. Our iconic building at 395 Wellington represents Canada’s cultural and intellectual identity.

Its prestigious location, steps from Parliament and the Supreme Court, signifies the importance we give to knowledge. It overlooks the river, with its expansive windows and natural light, so that it fits into the wider natural landscape. It is built of noble materials meant to last, marble, brass, and gold. And it is filled with art, glass engravings, sculpture, murals, giving it a unique cultural identity.

The building was once a vibrant presence in the heart of the nation’s capital and I want for 395 Wellington once again to be a centre of cultural activity and the go-to building for exploring who we are, as a people.

We are introducing a full range of public programming, partnering with universities, museums and galleries. We are renovating our public spaces, so that we can hold conferences, book launches, concerts, exhibitions, and other community events.

I really believe in the magic of the library as a space.

And I want to walk the talk all the way to 395 Wellington.

Thank you.

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