Books without barriers

Millennium Library reopens without security screening

On Feb. 25, 2020, people gathered at the Millennium Library to protest its "airport-style" security measures, one year to the day after they were first implemented.

Photo by Daniel Crump

Frequenters of the Millennium Library may notice an absence upon their arrival. As part of the third phase of reopening libraries, Millennium Library has now opened its doors without security screening measures in place at the entrance. 

The “airport-style” measures, introduced in early 2019, were criticized by community organizations for being invasive, exclusive and counterintuitive to the library’s community-centric purpose. 

In email correspondence, Joelle Schmidt, a communications officer for the City of Winnipeg, says the decision to suspend the library security measures has not been finalized, and the library is currently in the process of conducting a community consultation to determine the next steps. 

The City of Winnipeg did not comment on whether the current suspension of the security measures were due to concerns over COVID-19 transmission. 

Putting the reasoning behind the suspension of the program aside, Brianne Selman, a member of Millenium for All, sees it as a positive for the downtown community. As one of the key organizations that advocated for the removal of the security barriers, Selman says the suspension is preceded by over a year-and-a-half’s work of community organizing and resistance.  

Selman, who also works as a scholarly communications copyright librarian at the University of Winnipeg, saw the security measures as going against the professional ethics of the library community. She says the invasiveness of having to go through a search can potentially be a retraumatizing experience for marginalized library patrons. 

“They disproportionately affect anyone who has had negative experiences with law enforcement,” Selman says. She says this includes racialized communities, refugees, sex workers, trans people and even parents who don’t feel comfortable normalizing the security measures to their children. 

Given that the measures have not been finalized by the City of Winnipeg, it remains uncertain as to whether or not they will return in the future. For the community groups who rallied against these measures, the fight may not entirely be over. 

To prevent a reintroduction of these measures in the future, Millennium for All’s Facebook page encourages people to volunteer at the library or consider running to be on the Winnipeg Public Library Board to have their say. Selman adds that local news reporting and public awareness of these issues is also a crucial part of elevating the cause. 

However, Selman stresses that supporting and advocating for the downtown community must not stop at removing security barriers. Public services, as well as public spaces, must also be improved. 

“There are much bigger conversations we need to be having as a city,” she says. “The library is a community service, but it’s certainly not a replacement for funding healthcare, harm reduction and all the services that people need to have downtown.”

“We need to think about public space downtown,” she says. “The downtown needs to have public space where people can be without being harassed or bothered by security. That’s what we need to keep fighting for.”

Published in Volume 75, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 8, 2020)

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