Let's talk about the pain of shuttered public libraries in Vancouver

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      I can do without a local skating rink. I'll get by lining up to purchase groceries. I can accept the need to wash my hands 50 times a day.

      But shuttered libraries?

      How could COVID-19 be so cruel?

      This isn't to minimize the horrors that this disease is inflicting on people around the world. With the case load mounting in Canada, it's understandable why civic officials decided that a systemwide shutdown was necessary.

      But it's also easy to imagine how much misery is being inflicted on those of us who cherish these pillars of learning and community engagement.

      Our Vancouver library branches are the great equalizers. They provide a haven and learning opportunities to the homeless, the elderly, and the very young.

      Libraries are also stuffed with books, magazines, and DVDs in a multitude of languages for new and not-so-new Canadians. And they're a safe space for the unemployed to polish up their résumés and research job opportunities on the banks of computers.

      In addition, libraries host a multitude of free events that build a more enlightened citizenry. People go to the library to learn how to build websites, make music, and learn to cook food found in countries around the world.

      Most importantly, libraries are a bulwark against authoritarianism.

      As novelist Doris Lessing once said: "A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants."

      Last year, the Vancouver Public Library system recorded a stunning 6.9 million visits.

      Back in 2015, it was ranked first in the world in a study by researchers at Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf, beating out libraries in New York, Toronto, London, and other larger cities.

      The VPL is a source of civic pride—and when its branches remain closed for weeks, the city loses a piece of its soul.