Lesson of the Year: Remember the Library!

When I saw that the wonderful Vancouver Public Library was named number 1 among the world’s libraries, I had a flurry of reactions. First, I was astonished – they compare libraries? – and then I was proud, HURRAH Canada (Vancouver tied with Montréal) – and then, I was kind of, not surprised. The VPL truly is a wonderful place, not only is it an invaluable resource, it’s system is clear, organized and helpful – as are it’s librarians. The holds system is phenomenal. They are coping with changing technology fairly well and there are just so many branches! The library is everywhere. Vancouver is one of the most literary cities I have known and it is wonderful. This news got me to thinking about libraries through my own life and I thought that’s what I’d blog about. My new years resolution will be to continue to use the library to the crazy extent that I currently use it. I want to encourage you all to at least figure out where your nearest library branch is and to visit it once, get a card and talk to a librarian about how their online catalogue works and for their number one recommendation is. If you have kids, or know kids or find a child on the street looking bored, take them with you.

And now to reminisce – bear with me if you like and share your own library experinece.

I remember going to the public library for the first time. I was born in rural Manitoba where there just wasn’t a public library. I still became an avid reader, and this is probably because my parents were or, at least posed, as avid readers as well. We also have school libraries, one big one and one in our own classrooms and we could sign out up to five books at a time. I took advantage of this system, and I think many other kids did too, because there just wasn’t a bookstore within a half an hour drive, and as kids we aren’t going to drive out every time we need a new book, and that’s barring the money issue – well, that library was all we had.

O’Kelley, where I went to school in Shilo, Manitoba.

When I finally left rural Manitoba and moved to urban Manitoba we lived far away from a public library branch and our school library was seriously lacking, but my teacher loved to read and tell stories. He was our library. We read The Chronicles of Narnia, from The Magicians Nephew to halfway through The Silver Chair and he let me read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (the only full set of books that captured my interest) for my years quota of book reports. He would tell us stories of life in Germany and emigrating and he would ask us to tell our stories and to write – he was a wonderful and encouraging teacher for the 8 months that I stayed in Winnipeg.

Isabelle Turner Library branch, Kingston, ON
Isabelle Turner Library branch, Kingston, ON

But it was in Kingston that I went to the public library. It was a 25 minute walk from my house to the nearest branch, but the branch was also right beside the local mall, so it was two for one, though most of my time was spent sitting at a window poring over Anne Rice or David Eddings or Margaret Lackey or Stephen King or Michael Crichton… well, you get it.  By now I was 12 going on 13 and allowed independence so I walked to that library, often by myself. I began by scouring the children’s literature shelves – I’d read most of the books there – and the young adult section at the time (1996?) was mysteriously lacking, so I went into that adult fiction section and I didn’t re-emerge for a long time. While reading all of that adult fantasy was great fun and a wonderful way to elevate my diction, I think I made a mistake by not asking the Librarian for help. They would have asked me about the essentials, they would have pointed me to a variety of texts that I hadn’t even thought of reading. Even now I don’t think of genres like historical fiction or biography, or formats like picturebook or illustrated novel, or novella, or short story! But every time I end up reading one I am fascinated and I tear through it. A librarian could have helped me by at least suggesting a couple of options – and maybe, maybe I would be more partial to poetry, haha, but I’m sorry my poetic friends I have great respect for your art but I really don’t understand a thing.

Then of course University brought with it a whole new library experience. All those awful and wonderful critical texts, the textbooks, the movies, the periodicals – it is glorious! And I am lucky to still be at a University today and to still have those resources available to me, because once I graduate I also leave behind the writings of academia, they will  no longer be available to me unless I pay a hefty fee (see poets? that rhymed!). 

Now in Vancouver I have one of the best University libraries and the best public libraries at my disposal and I always have borrowed books on my shelves – so many that I can’t even get through them all before they are due! It’s wonderful. Libraries, books, storytelling, avidly reading whatever appealed to me on a whim, film, my three year obsession with Manga, all of it have been important to me. So, if you can, remember the library – how has it, if it has, influenced you?

Regardless, join me in my resolution! It’ll be fun!