Colleen Alstad
Email: coljohn@islandnet.com
Colleen is a part-time teacher-librarian, a student librarian in both an academic and a public library, and an MLIS candidate at the University of British Columbia. She ardently supports intellectual freedom, cultural heterogeneity, and an activist role for librarians

Dr. Ann Curry
Email: ann.curry@ubc.ca
Ann was a reference librarian and administrator in Canadian and Australian public libraries from 1972 to 1988. She is now an associate professor at the UBC School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, teaching research methods, collection management, library architecture, and a special course on intellectual freedom and censorship.

The traditional mission of the public library—supporting the self-education of the citizenry in order that they may become fully participating members in a democratic society—has been devalued of late in favour of popularizing the library to attract more users. This shift has led to an emphasis on entertainment and marketing, and an abandonment of what many feel is the true purpose of a library. Loss of democratic tradition has simultaneously occurred on another front: civic space which allows for public assembly and discourse has disappeared or been downgraded into places for leisure and recreation rather than politics, with a concomitant decline in the quality of public discourse as citizens increasingly depend on profit-driven mass media for their “opinions.” This paper contends that the public library is an ideal physical and psychological space for public discourse. By supporting public discourse, the public library can begin to reinvigorate both the quality of public discourse and its traditional commitment to democratic ideals.

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