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  • Writer's pictureTaylor McNallie

Protect the Knowledge; Not the Institution

"There's nothing more punk than having your library card."

Actually, it really isn't that "punk." Now, before you say "is Taylor telling us to hate libraries now?!" The answer is, no. I am asking you to divest from institutions and create new structures. I want us, together, to envision a world beyond what we know now; one where community safety is the priority and everyone is welcome. While free, public access to knowledge is important, public libraries still use severe carceral and capitalist practices and approaches that continues to cause harm to communities. Between their security using force to remove unhoused people, to anti-homeless architecture, to lack of accessibility in their design, to the types of events held within their space, public libraries are not the "safe places" most people perceive them to be.

Yesterday was International Day Against Police Brutality and we recognized this day during our Friday night pop up that takes place beside the Central Library in downtown Calgary every Friday night. Part of our night included sharing the faces and names of 555 people who have been killed by police in Canada since 2000. We lit candles to honor their memories and took turns having our moment of silence, many people being able to point out their friends and loved ones.

However, almost immediately after we had begun to put the posters up, library staff told us there was a problem: that the bigwigs wanted the posters removed because they "don't want to be perceived as supporting the message." We politely explained what the posters represented, the significance of the day, and agreed to remove them at the end of the night. Ironically, there eventually came a threat that police may be called on us if we didn't remove the posters.

Police were never called, we removed the posters at the end of the night, and there were no further complaints or problems.

The Central Library was a $245 million project. For what? Wasted space and gentrification of the East Village area. I've personally witnessed and experienced some really awful things both inside and outside this space. The worst is the way these institutions work with police to remove unwanted guests, like unhoused people. When I lived in East Village overlooking the Central Library, Studio Bell and The Bounce Basketball Court, there wasn't a day that went by where police didn't violently removed people in order to keep up the "appearance" of East Village. I've seen people die on the steps on the library from drug poisonings. I've seen people thrown down the steps of the library by police officers. I've seen people kicked out of the library by staff into -30 temperatures. None of this should come as a surprise, because public libraries are ran much like any other colonial institution with high-paid CEOs and a board of well-off individuals. Looking at the Board of Directors for the Calgary Public Library for example, you'll find city councillors (Kourtney Penner), oil and gas executives (Haritha Devulapally), lawyers (Kate Andrews), and presidents of development corporations (Margaret Wu).

By the way, this is what "feminism" looks like - when women see their advancement as simply holding positions of power while still engaging in harm.

Protest sign held by a Black woman says, "TRADE IN YOUR PINK PUSSY HATS FOR A MOLOTOV"

We often hear phrases like "decolonize the workplace" or "decolonize the classroom," but it's not something I believe is possible. We can't build on a foundation that was built on and by white supremacy and colonialism in the first place; nothing rooted in white supremacy and colonialism can create the networks of care we need. By default these structures will always be rooted in harm, thus will always uphold and practice harm in some way. That's why there is great importance in creating new; divesting from and dismantling the structures that have been made available to us and creating something better. This includes all spaces, like libraries. This means putting in the work to DIVEST and RECREATE. Everything.

We have the knowledge and the power to build something else, something even better, something that has us all in mind.

What does the library provide? Access to information and resources. It's not the institution we want to protect; it's the knowledge, and there's many ways of sharing it. Inside/Out, Ottawa Trans Library, and Vancouver Black Library are just a few collectives who understood the need to create new spaces for public education and information that is accessible to everyone, where morals and integrity are upheld through a commitment to their communities. Much like the way society has resorted to calling police in every situation, passing on "the problem" to someone else, we have gotten stuck in the practice of expecting someone else to do the work for us. Sharing knowledge can come in so many forms, and it up to us to put our words into practice. We don't have to accept what's given to us; we don't have to accept crumbs. We have the knowledge and the power to build something else, something even better, something that has us all in mind. So let's commit ourselves to doing that.


Criminalization 101 for Information Workers, facilitated by Mariame Kaba, Megan Riley, and Bean Yogi, is another great resource to understand the ways in which "Libraries are a part of the carceral web." 


"Taylor McNallie dedicates her time to seeking racial justice and collective liberation through education and hands-on work with both marginalized communities and accomplices alike. As the co-creator of Inclusive Canada, she provides education on anti-racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. She is also a member of the Walls Down Collective which provides access to no-barrier resources and care such as Harm Reduction, free food programs and an alternative to local policing."

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