From the First Year Seminar course syllabus (Fall Semester 2015:
Should Guelph have a new main public library? For the past 20 years repeated efforts have been made to replace the old and insufficient library with a new main library building appropriate for a growing city. Repeatedly these efforts have been dashed; either support from citizens and/or city council faded, financial constraints delayed it, appropriate locations were unavailable, or a myriad of other barriers emerged. Once again a new main library is being considered by the city but it’s not a given that it will succeed this time.
Many people (city councilors and citizens) continue to object, significant challenges exist, and numerous questions remain unanswered.
The course will focus on this long term public debate to discover, explore, analyze, and communicate all perspectives. It will do so in a way that engages the broader Guelph community in a discourse about libraries and civic development. Utilizing social media, community radio & television, and other tools and vehicles as means of community engagement, the course will position students as journalists, city planners, editorialists, media commentators, researchers, and interested citizens.
Some believe libraries are no longer necessary in a modern city (e.g. the Internet has taken over the role of libraries); others see libraries as more critical than ever (e.g. as community learning hubs). While our civic neighbours in Hamilton, Kitchener, and Cambridge have all built new main facilities, Guelph’s new main library remains much talked about with little accomplished. Why? And who is making these decisions? Are there other unheard voices?
Students will engage with key stakeholders in this debate: library staff, city politicians, city staff, library users, non-library users, business leaders, political commentators, local activists, provincial bureaucrats, and others. Through a variety of interactions, reflections, and investigations they will explore the nature of contemporary libraries, analyze the process of city planning, funding, and construction, and nurture a dialogue with citizens about the diverse perspectives around the public library in the 21st century.
The Guelph Library Project is an exercise in community engagement. It will position the students in the center of an active public debate. This issue is unfolding in real time; students will be on the leading edge of a developing story. They will be a witness this unfolding; they may also influence it.