Sunday, May 13, 2012

libraries I have known

I am immersed in books these days.  It's charity book sale season around these parts, and I just finished my stints with the CBC / Calgary Reads book sale, my first go at actually attending the event.  I've been doing communications for the sale for the past three years, but this is the first year I have been in situ for the sale itself.  

There are no excuses left when you no longer have to help your Offspring move home for the summer.

Being surrounded by all those books, and the fact that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Public Library, has got me thinking about all the libraries that have passed through my life. 

The first library I remember was an empty classroom across the hall from my new Grade One class.  When the mean old teacher left abruptly about a month into the school year (I have no idea if she died or just jumped ship), our class was divided amongst the two remaining Grade One teachers and our old classroom turned into a library.  If I recall correctly, it was even open after school let out for the day.  Even back then I remember thinking it was a pretty sweet deal.

We then moved to Regina, and the library I used there was a bus that came around every two weeks, parking in front of the strip mall with the confectionery. There weren't a tonne of books available in the book mobile, and by Grade Two I was a pretty greedy little reader, so I went through the kids' section pretty quickly.  I still recall the day that the librarian let me check out The Yearling, although she did subject me to a brief psychological exam beforehand.  Evidently I passed, although I am sure I didn't understand half of the book.  At least she didn't tell me that the deer dies.

In graduate school, I spent a fair bit of time in the ramshackle stacks of the old Agriculture library, doing literature searches for my thesis in musty old bound journals, ordering obscure journals through interlibrary loan, and filling out endless reprint requests on little slips of paper.  The late 80s seem so archaic now, don't they?  Many trees died for my thesis.

We had the most amazing library in our neighbourhood in London, where the Offspring and I would spend countless hours when she was a toddler.  It was a 15 minute stroller walk from our house, down leafy streets of red brick houses with big front porches.  The library wasn't large, but it was a new mom's paradise, with a kid's area complete with puppet theatres and puzzles and story hours.  The sidewalk out front was always crammed with strollers.  Fortunately this was in the day before Hummer strollers, which kept the parking rage to a minimum.

I remember the first trip the Offspring and I made to the nearest library after moving to Calgary (a 10 minute car ride replacing the leisurely stroller walk).  I had been talking up how great this big new library was going to be, how much fun we were going to have in this new city.  We followed the arrows up the stairs to the kids' section on the second floor, and as we approached, the Offspring ran excitedly toward it, expecting to find all manner of kids to play with, just like in London.  Instead, she stopped short, confronted with a wall of nothing but books, and turned to me accusingly. "Where's the play area?" she demanded.  No puppet theatre, no puzzles, no kids playing, nothing but books.

Despite that, the Offspring quickly became an even bigger fan of libraries than I am.  Many of her first solo C-train trips were to the downtown library, where she could shake off the taint of the suburbs, immerse herself in the anonymity of the city, and lose herself in books.  We still go to the library whenever she comes home for a visit.  Probably always will.

What are your favourite library memories? 


Wandering Coyote said...

Rossland's library when I was small was a dungeon-like space in the basement of the courthouse and it used to be the city jail. This is where I fell in love with Curious George.

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

I'd love to go to a big used library book sale in your fine city sometime.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It actually sounds like a rather magical place, WC, a place where naughty little monkeys hang out with the ghosts of miscreants. Gotta love repurposed libraries!

You should come to this one some spring, Dr M! So many great books, you'd be drooling.

Anonymous said...

Oddly prowling among the shelves of books to be discarded in the basement of the Virginia Historical Society when I worked there. Goodness, but I found some jewels.

John Mutford said...

I got spoiled with no-late charge libraries growing up and so I almost never frequent the library here. I've been trained to lake any discipline.

I do love library used book sales though.

mister anchovy said...

At some point during my childhood, a library was built in our community. Before that, I recall we were serviced by a bookmobile, basically an RV or a bus full of books. All I can really remember about it was that us kids would get really excited when the bookmobile was coming.

Allison said...

Great post!

I've had some amazing libraries in my life too. In Stratford we lived 5 minutes from the library, and it was a gorgeous red brick building on the Avon River. Most of my early memories are filling our there. Each week we'd visit and fill up our library bag with books.

Sarnia had two libraries, but sadly we lived closest to the small one, which wasn't very exciting.

In Kingston, Queen's had lovely libraries, older than Canada itself. Gorgeous stained glass and flying buttresses, which is where I got the name for my blog. :)

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You probably scored some rather valuable collectibles as well, Vicomtesse. Nicely done.

No late-fee libraries in your home town, John? I know some people who should definitely consider moving there.

We used a bookmobile during the two years I lived in Regina as well, Mr Anchovy. Every other Tuesday was an exciting day!

I never realized that there was a library connection to your blog name, Al! That just makes it all the more perfect, somehow.

The McIlrath Family said...

The Moose Jaw library with it's marble staircase and little hidden alcoves. Growing up Friday evenings were known as treat night and it always started with a family trek to the library.

The book mobile that used to come to Carlyle Lake in the summer was always a lot of fun too.

Now my favorite is the Oak Bay Library. They did an awesome job of fusing the modern structure with an old house.

p.s. The annual Victoria Times Colonist book sale is something I look forward to every year. This year I managed to snag an awesome little book filled with Japanese watercolours. I can't read it but oh the pictures!

John Mutford said...

Apparently I've also been trained to lake spelling skills. Lack?

Do they check out dictionaries at the library?

Barbara Bruederlin said...

The Moose Jaw library sounds fantastic, Toccata! I am just more and more impressed with that city all the time.
You have known some good libraries in your time. Enjoy your booksale treasure!

Blame it on autocorrect, John. That's what I always do.

umbrellalady said...

I have always loved libraries - university was like a mecca for me with all it's books.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Most of the books I dealt with in university were not ones that I particularly wanted to read, Kathy. But then I may have done the wrong degrees.