Knowledge is power. See also: knives, crystal meth -

Knowledge is power. See also: knives, crystal meth

Despite a recent remodeling, Edmonton’s Stanley A. Milner Library has problems


Pardon me while I clear some bile on a strictly local topic. An elected official of the City of Edmonton stood up today to declare us a “City of Learners”. There is no record of anyone pointing out that such a thing, if it actually meant more than opportunistic civic wankery, would involve having a big central library that people could visit safely. You could even argue that this condition is essential to possessing any respectability at all as a “city”, let alone one peopled by “learners”.

The Stanley A. Milner Library’s problems aren’t something that most tourists or visitors will encounter directly; they’re experienced solely by the people who live here and get around on foot or by city bus. And they do not admit of any easy solution. The recent violence in the area surrounding the front of the library is merely the exposed tip of an iceberg of asociality and unpleasantness: mooching, arguments, low-grade physical scuffles, public intoxication. It’s a complex interaction of several phenomena.

Edmonton Transit map of Churchill Square & Milner LibraryJust for starters, it seems to be, in part, an outcome of security measures designed to make the inside of the library safer. It’s a reliable general rule that you can leave books lying around anywhere without having them stolen—though this rule is suspended in the case of unattended textbooks on a college or university campus—but libraries are still attractive to a certain genus of social nuisance: homeless internet users, cranky pseudo-scholars, public masturbators, street-corner eschatologists, avid readers with what we’ll call “underground businesses” that they can manage from a cell phone.

The EPL takes an extremely broad and tolerant view of its social mandate, and is reluctant to ban or eject disruptive patrons for anything short of common assault. It counts engagement with the poorest and craziest as a success, and takes less notice of the middle class (which, after all, has its own district branches). But “incidents” inside the Milner have plummeted in number recently, and as far as I can tell it’s partly because staff and hired heavies are more aggressively rousting out the bathroom crackheads, napping bums, and ranters.

These flakes are being disgorged onto the street facing Sir Winston Churchill Square—lately transformed, with the support of current mayor Stephen Mandel, from a green space into a concrete festival venue. It handles that function nicely, seven or eight weeks every summer. The rest of the time it’s a drug mall for truant punks and a theme park for transient Indian youth. And the front of the library, kitty-corner from an LRT station, is essentially a poor man’s transit hub for the entire downtown between 97 and 109 Streets—an issue intensified by the recent closure of 102A Ave, another Mandelian “redevelopment” move that merged the Square with the City Hall block for pedestrians but forced westbound bus traffic to move nearer the library entrance. If you were looking for a proximate cause for intensifying conflict and boorishness at the foot of an edifice dedicated to liberalism, reason, and peace, this is surely the obvious choice.

Churchill Square, as it appears todayMandel provided a perfect metaphor of his approach to government when he was asked how the Milner’s problems could be solved and he suggested that it switch the main entrance—like the Square, recently remodelled at enormous expense—to what is now the south-facing rear of the building. He apparently saw no irony in asking the library to turn its face away, as if in shame, from his own cement calamity. Mandel, who is up for re-election in October, has wild, Kubitschek-esque plans to reshape Edmonton’s entire downtown. He’s done a heckuva job with just a couple of blocks; imagine what Mr. Unintended Consequences could accomplish if he’s really let off the leash.


Knowledge is power. See also: knives, crystal meth

  1. I live three blocks from there, and quite frequently visit the Milner Library. I'm the reason Yes, Minister: The Complete Series is missing its first disc. Mr Cosh has it mostly right. As for librarying amongst vagrants, I wouldn't have it any other way.

  2. Well, I'm a middle-class, professional Edmontonian and I use the Milner as my branch, where less than a block away, and frequently visit the cafes along Winston Churchill square. Vagrants or not, I've never felt unsafe downtown. However, I do agree that the bus stop in front of Milner is crowded. (I'd prefer moving the bus stop down the street to the Citadel, but not right at the entrance.)

    The violent incidents, along with the "cell-phone commerce" can be attributed more directly to organized crime. If I pay attention to the chatter of the vagrant kids around me in the square I frequently overhear names of gangs. I'd like to see the EPS take a broad and aggressive strategy to crush the power of these gangs. Building can have consequences for crime (I'm very fearful of the effects that Katz's plans to build the arena but we've probably lost that battle and have to fight merely to make sure he doesn't do it on our dime now), but the main cause is that the EPS is often stunningly ignorant of the social and demographic currents of the city it's trying to police.

  3. Good post which will resonate with many of us I think as it sounds similar to my city's downtown library. I notice you use the word liberalism, which was invented millennia after libraries, like it's a good thing. Really dude, a little light doesn't go off in your head connecting what you see at your library with liberalism? Say what you will about authoritarianism but one needn't worry about getting stabbed for not giving a cigarette to a mooch in countries where it is implemented and that benefit needs to be acknowledged.

    • "Say what you will about authoritarianism…"

      Just don't say it out loud.

      Sorry, I just can't believe you could write that without bursting out laughing…

      • Hey, at least its an ethos. :)

        • Reading this post I get the same feeling as when I read about a grieving mother wondering how the killer of her baby could only get a few days or months in jail; of course you feel empathy at the loss of innocent life, but you wonder how many times in the past she's called conservatives fascists for wanting to send criminals to jail for committing violent crimes. The Conservatives seem to smell what I am cooking, rightfully rebutting the abortion thing by noting that public safety is a major woman's issue too.

          A person who persists in supporting the "liberal" status quo knowing that it leads to an increasingly violent and uncivil society goes well beyond being soft on crime and crosses the line into actively colluding and co-operating with criminals. Look, it's gotten so bad that Liberal advisors are openly admitting on national television that they seek to campaign next election against morality itself, and not a single member of the Liberal Party distanced himself from that suggestion.

          It's not difficult to connect the dots between liberalism and mooches who stab. Fleeing social capital, a decline in trust among citizens, increases in violence and crime, a growing aversion to the very concept of morality, the belief that it is wrong to punish criminals, these are features of liberalism, not bugs.

          • I'm guessin' you don't have much difficulty connecting the dots between liberalism and whatever you think is ailing the world, especially when you're willing to blatantly lie to do so.

          • You're saying that "the belief that it is wrong to punish criminals" and "a growing aversion to the very concept of morality" are features of liberalism?


            Because those two statements are so astoundingly absurd that they immediately invalidate anything else you may say.

            Your eagerness to use ridiculous hyperbole and sweeping generalizations presented as fact is an admission that you have no factual argument.

          • Canadian judges are forbidden in their sentencing guidelines from considering punishment in determining sentences, and there is as least one high ranking Liberal Law professor with a blog who opposes punishment for criminals. I have debated him a bit on the matter: Go ahead and ask him, he'll tell you he is against punishment for criminals, and he is a member of the Liberal party, a law professor, and a member of the Liberal blog roll.

            So I've proved the former. Can I prove the latter? Bien sur!

            "In his advice, (Liberal adviser, donor, and supporter) Mr. Graves could hardly have been more blunt. “I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism"

            Liberals, both soi-dissant small l and partisan big L, do, in fact, oppose punishing criminals, and they do, in fact, oppose morality, and this does, in fact, lead to what Cosh describes in this post: Strangerland, a society of hostile strangers quick to stab, litter, and steal.

          • What have you proven? You've taken unreferenced quotes out of context. You're a jackass.

          • It would appear that he is willfully blind. As such, I've chosen to no longer engage.

  4. What is with Edmonton and stabbing anyway?

    • Well, it couldn't very well be "Stabmonton" without the stabbing now could it?

      • It's the gun registry finally working

    • Regina — stabbings — try Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary. Western city crime is stabby and methy.

  5. "…though this rule is suspended in the case of unattended textbooks on a college or university campus…"

    I know of at least one campus where that's not true, but I don't think Edmonton has the means to apply their solution to this problem.

  6. Mandel has done a wonderful job of revitalizing downtown. What happened to the complaints of downtown being empty after 5pm every night. The tapestry of "truant punks" and "transient Indian youth" is a sign of success.

  7. I also live in north central edmonton and share the frustration with a mayor and council who think altering the orientation of a library's door will address this problem. There is a serious underlying issue in edmonton that stems from the administration and leadership of the police force. Nowhere is this more visible than in the police ads that are seen around town. They all basically shift the onus onto the victim to prevent crime. Don't wear your earbuds on the LRT, don't carry so much as kleenex in your car, don't allow anything at all to be visible through the windows of your house. The grafitti bylaw is just another version of this attitude. Penalize the person who has already been victimized, and spend money on crime cleanup rather than crime prevention. Given this attitude, Mandel's "move the door" brainwave is just what we should have expected.

  8. Is it, you know, impossible to place a few uniformed police in the square?

  9. I've used the library, I don't mind it.
    They should definitely keep the airport open, though.

  10. What could one possibly add to this, Colby?

    Not much.

    Oh, this one thing: perhaps when Mandel and Iveson start thinking in terms of adult communities being made up of adults, you know, they might start talking differently. Right now they treat Edmontonians as if they're being led into kindergarten for the very first time.

    What a joke.

  11. Providing a safe and welcoming environment is a priority for EPL. Incidents that disrupt or interfere with another customer's enjoyment of library services are handled quickly and respectfully. We have introduced security measures which have resulted in an almost 50% reduction in incidents at the downtown location between 2008 and 2009, and approximately 80% decrease in the first quarter of 2010. Our security processes are proactive and collaborative, including frequent consultation with the Edmonton Police Service and City of Edmonton Corporate Security Peace Officers. (continued…)

  12. Over 400,000 Edmontonians, or half the city, are library cardholders. EPL welcomed almost 1.4 million visitors to the downtown location in 2009 – a 20% increase over 2008. Our visitors come from all walks of life, including children, parents, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants, teens, seniors, business people and daycare groups. (continued…)

  13. EPL provides programs and services to all Edmontonians, and we are extremely proud of this mandate; it is a fundamental principle of public libraries. This includes the “middle class” to which Mr. Cosh refers, as well as those who do not have the same opportunities. Rather than simply ignoring those who require additional support, the Library, along with the City of Edmonton's Community Services, the YMCA, Catholic Social Services and numerous other organizations in the downtown area are collaboratively providing programs to support at-risk youth and other vulnerable populations.

    The Edmonton Public Library has been fortunate to have great support from Mayor Stephen Mandel and City Council. They remain committed to working with EPL and other stakeholders in the downtown area to resolve these complex societal issues.

    If you would like to discuss the facts related to the safety, security and customers of the Edmonton Public Library, a library representative would be more than happy to talk with you Mr. Cosh.

    Joanne Griener,
    Executive Director
    Edmonton Public Library

  14. So how bout sign on door – No Natives, White Trash, or Pseudo-Scholars – the place would be empty except for Colby – till they spot-quizzed him on his last check-outs – "I am Journalist!!! for Christ Sakes!"

  15. Sorry Buddy, but the same dynamic is in my neighbourhood. That would Toronto. Wychwood Public Library. Where feces smeared men's washrooms and open crack dealing are the norm while the TPL board ponders the San Jose Way.