I remember CBC radio personality Bill Richardson saying, when he came to Squamish for a public library fundraiser, he felt public libraries and public schools were the two most important institutions that we have to protect our democracy, because they level the playing field, at least a little bit.
If we accept that knowledge is power, then public libraries and schools, Richardson argued, help ensure that power is not held solely by the few; but instead, anyone who wishes to gain that power at least has an avenue through which to do it.
Our school, and our school library, lost one very strong advocate of that principle last week with the death of long-time HSS librarian Colin Chafer.
Throughout his career, Colin was tireless in arguing for the importance of the library in schools. He worked to ensure that students had access to current, thoughtful and thought-provoking books. He promoted literacy and reading with a fervor that was almost religious, and introduced the daily ritual of REBEL (Reading Everyday Brings Endless Learning) at HSS.
Over the past 10 years, since the Liberal government began its assault on public education funding, students in our school district have suffered through a 45 per cent decrease in teacher-librarian time. And Colin was a leading voice in our community highlighting the shortsightedness of this thinking. We live in an information age, yet we are closing the central portal to organization and classification of that information.
But for the students, Mr. Chafer was much more than that. He was, in their eyes, “a gentle, non-judgmental, man,” “a kind person,” and “a good man.”
He was the guy who had read every book in the library. He was the guy who could find you a half dozen that were similar in subject or quality to the ones you had already enjoyed.
He was the teacher who provided a safe space where you could sit and be yourself. He understood the library as a refuge.
Those of us who taught with him know how much we lost last week. Colin could be irascible, cantankerous and emotional. But his passion was never irrational; it was driven by his desire for the best for our school and its students.
He worked harder than anyone I know and was at school almost every day including weekends, holidays and throughout the summer.
Colin was a great defender of public education and with his passing our democracy may be just a little more vulnerable.