Tag Archives: libraries

About Libraries

Activity Being Avoided: None. It’s a writing day. I’m allowed to be doing this.
Music In My Head: Kaa Khem — Yat-Kha
Tea Being Drunk: None. It’s water. I celebrated the civic holiday with chocolate cake, and I now have the same stomach ache I recall from childhood.
Books Being Read: Rebecca–Daphne du Maurier, My Happy Days in Hell–George Faludy

The Globe and Mail published this on Friday: Amid growing demand, GTA libraries are helping to fill a social-services gap

That’s my library they’re talking about at the beginning of the article.

Much as I appreciate this article, I’d like to correct the author: libraries have always filled a social-services gap.

 The small town I grew up in didn’t have a lot for kids like me: there were church groups and Brownies, and sport things. As a child, I had some friends but was more interested in books. (The inside covers of my childhood books all have death threats for the sister who had the audacity to thieve from my shelves.) I was eleven years old when I started volunteering at the local library. Very likely, I wasn’t what the average librarian might call helpful, but I was very happy to be there, touching all the books, getting quite side-tracked by reading the books I was supposed to be sorting, and maybe being a little bit useful or something. I felt mature.

I felt like I was being educated in a way that school could never offer.

The building was dusty, high-ceilinged, hushed except for the creaking of old wooden chairs and titanic reading tables. I can’t find any pictures of the interior, but here’s the exterior of heaven:

Image from Canada’s Historic Places

In 1980, someone made a prediction about the town: because of all the sinners and implicit sinning in the area, God was going to lose His patience and deal with the whole sinful mess. Sadly, God (or someone with a flourishing complex) chose fire to express His displeasure. Along with a good handful of other places, the library went down in 1980.

My heart broke. I think there might still be a small fissure beneath the thick scar.

Not to be thwarted, I volunteered at the school library. It was limited in both size and scope, filled with a lot of books that were, frankly, boring. The library contained books that were “appropriate” for W.A.S.P. children up to Grade 8.

I needed better than that. I needed adult books. I needed my big library.

We moved to a larger town just before my 13th birthday. The library there was much the same: old, creaky, educational and safe.

I had even fewer friends as a teenager. Didn’t need them. I had Timothy Findley and Jane Rule.

Can’t think what I’d be, or where I’d be, without public libraries. Certainly, I would be a demand on social services. Where else, pre-internet, would I have learned to be who I am? Where else would someone like me find sufficient sources of words for their sanity?

It’s always good to see public acknowledgement of our need for libraries.

If you need further proof that a good chunk of society’s money needs to go to libraries, you can also check out WMTC’s Things I Heard at the Library. (She’s a librarian, not just someone who would be a drain on society if she weren’t given enough to read.)

Do I Look Like a Librarian?

I work in my local library. The key word in the previous sentence is the preposition: in, not for. I’m not a librarian. (I may have enjoyed being a librarian in former days, but the modern librarian spends a hell of a lot of time on a computer and not much time with the books. As a tutor who meets students at the library, I get to be with the books.)

I’m often mistaken for a librarian. Not sure why that is: the silver-rimmed glasses, the no-thought/no-effort hairstyle or the unfashionable clothing? I don’t always have a stack of books in my arms…. Sometimes I politely set the person straight, and sometimes I just tell the person what they want to know because one of the benefits of working in the library is that I know my way around it and my job demands that I keep up with book awards, etc. My bibliophilia has a purpose at the library. The assumptions that are being made do not offend me in any way.

Photographer Kyle Cassidy recently did a series of photos called “This Is What a Librarian Looks Like”. Apparently, it created quite the stir—as if the librarians’ appearance were more important than their knowledge of books. I read his blog, the article in Slate and, in a fit of senselessness, the resulting blogs and comments. It was like watching a natural disaster; no way could a human control something of that magnitude.

What’s intriguing about this is the stereotypes. Now, as an English major, I’m necessarily a big fan of archetypes: they’re dependable, highly communicative signs for a character. Stereotypes, though, are something I’ve been taught are bad things—horrifically terrible things. The word stereotype is synonymous with prejudice and racism; at best, it’s synonymous with common and vulgar. The communicator in me, however, hesitates to condemn the word. Stereotypes exist for a reason. Librarians are, frequently, more concerned with history and words than with modernity and being hip, just as most scientists look towards the future and what can be discovered. It’s a matter of personal preference that leads to a vocation.

Used properly, a stereotype is merely a sign. If one were looking for a carrot,


one wouldn’t pick up a bright pink oval with green horns.

If one were looking for an uber-cool night-club, one wouldn’t usually ask the octogenarian shuffling down the street with her walker; one probably doesn’t have any objection to said octogenarian, but reason must be involved in decision-making.

So, I’m reluctant to dismiss stereotypes, and the people who inadvertently depend on stereotypes.  Rather than turning vicious on people who clearly don’t know what a tutor looks like but think they know what a librarian looks like, I could just assume that they mean no harm and only want to know if the book is worth reading.