If you’ve tuned in to my blog before, you might recall a confession that involved me burying library books in elementary school. The books were well overdue and I was mildly terrified of the librarian and my only rational option was to bury the books by the pond behind our house. I remember two of the three distinctly: The Legend of Bigfoot and a NHL scrapbook of some sort.
Upon reflection, digging a hole and hiding the overdue books wasn’t the best solution. My pre-teen mind believed that if I made the books truly disappear, the librarian might have to admit that the books in question had been returned and become MIA on the shelves. One of the student volunteers probably screwed up the Dewey Decimal system and had shelved them with the Funk & Wagnall encyclopedias. Or, that’s what I hoped would happen. I can’t even remember the fall out of that one. Maybe my parents had to pony up some money. Maybe they threatened to hold my year-end report card ransom. I’ll never know.
Flash forward to high school. Library guilt coursed through my generally responsible veins. I applied for a summer job placement, in the library. I was successfully hired, but, gently removed from the front desk as I was prone to practical jokes and setting off the unchecked book alarm when certain friends left the library with checked items. Oh, what a gas! After less than five attempts at library hijinks, I was repurposed and became rather intimate with Dewey Decimal. Shelving duty, full-time. I’m not sure if I actually made it to the end of my “term” but I do remember being kicked out of the library for a) Watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in a private seminar room b) For becoming stuck inside a recycling box when wrestling with Paula Faragher in the middle of the day.
Back in 2010(ish), Toronto Life magazine featured rocker and Rough Trade heart-throb Carole Pope in The List, a Top 10 can’t-live-without profile of local movers and shakers. Writer Amy Verner wrote that “the post-punk queen of raunch” named her Schwinn faux-mountain bike, a vintage Vivienne Westwood raincoat, a Fender Mustang guitar, breakfast at The Senator on Victoria Street and her late mother’s art deco ring in her Top 10. Better yet? Carole Pope can’t live without her library cards from L.A., New York and Toronto.
The library was the beacon of our childhood weekend. I’d max out the allowable books on every subject. Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary were my faithful babysitters. And, to give my mother a voice on this blog, because I know she is shaking her head in memory—yes, I lost a hardcover book on teddy bears for six months. It was truly lost because it was stuck in the side pocket of our canvas tent which we slept (barely) in one night, terrified out of our minds with every falling pinecone and hiccuping frog. The tent was packed up after that very night, with the library book tucked in the pocket, not to be discovered again until the next July camp-out set-up.
My mother paid some exorbitant amount for replacement of the book to the Brantford Public Library. I would like to point out that the book was critical to my career plans at that time (age 10). I fancied myself a fashion designer for teddy bears. Yeah. We’ll leave that at that.
Also, yes, we scratched a Foreigner record in our childhood rambunctiousness, and, after my parents paid out another replacement fee to the library for that, Cold As Ice, my sibs and I were no longer allowed to take out albums from the library. Oh, the angst and agony.
We found quick refuge at my grandmother’s house just up the road. Imagine, over 30 sets of encyclopedias and the entire National Geographic magazine since, oh, 1920 or whatever. Every elementary and high school project had a bibliography attached to her library. It had a pair of western-saloon style doors where we re-enacted Yosemite Sam scenes. Pistols blaring, of course. Plus, the library came with a panting and doting resident dog, Sally, my grandparents’ Great Pyrenees.
I’ve had a long love affair with the library and agree with Carole Pope and her public display of library card affection. When we moved to Galt in January, I was only nervous about where I might feed my indie movie rental habit. Living in the Annex in Toronto, I had become a daily fixture at Queen Video, and before that, at 7-24 on Church when I lived in Cabbagetown. With the flunk out of Rogers and Blockbuster Video, where was I going to rent movies? (I know, I know, Netflix. Ugh. But I still want the tangible and physical stealth search and reward element!)
As I poked around my new library branch at Queen’s Square in Galt, with my newly minted library card, I found the treasure chest on the second floor! The library’s motto is “Ideas Unlimited”—and they cater to that very notion with 4,803 DVDs. I had never considered renting movies from the library! And, I can’t even begin to fathom the dollars I could have saved over the years!
Of course, the books are the first draw—but, the Cambridge library has over 250 magazines on its subscription list. I have also damaged my dowry with random grocery store line magazine purchases over the years too. I’m a sucker for Toronto Life, Bon Appetit, Outside, Esquire, Men’s Health, Dwell, House & Home and Cottage Life. And, I have the ability to tear through them at record speed. A latte + a mag = one hour minimum wage. Okay, I can justify that.
But, back to the free stuff at the library. The Queen’s Square location has a gallery space too—Ian Johnston’s “Sometimes Things Are Exactly As They Appear” art installation is on display until June 15th, 2013. Kim and I went to the opening night to see his reconstitution of a felled cherry tree—while enjoying a beer, IN THE LIBRARY! That same night, library staff were on hand, eager to solicit submissions to a 30th anniversary project, gathering client feedback and memories on their best library experience over the years. I looked at Kim, and, clearly, it was “drinking beer in a library!”
Point is, libraries are adapting to the surge in social media (faster than I am). There has been an obvious shift from the traditional library definition as the public embraces kindles and kobos. There is no reason for the library to continue to house hardcopy collections (but, I’m thankful they do). Daily newspapers are still available to read too (from the Ayr News to the Calgary Herald to USA Today)—another endangered species. To visit the modern library you will see the shift to a civic space—one that is tapped into our needs and wants—DVDs, scanners, internet access and CDs. You can even download music legally from Sony Canada’s catalogue of artists at Freegal.
The library will even pimp you out with a Book Club Kit—eight copies of the same book and a discussion guide.
Whether you are working your way through the Booker Shortlist, Giller Shortlist or Charles Taylor prizewinners, the library will satisfy all your whims. Pick up a copy of the Great Lakes Swimmers New Wild Everywhere CD, an intense memoir (Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika), an audio book to fuel road trips (Kim gives Saab thumbs up to Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me Chelsea—the 2008 bestseller by Chelsea Handler), some design mags for Sunday morning coffee and flapjacks and a stellar flick like Sarah Polley’s Away From Her or the high octane doc, Untouchable Girls.
Whatever you do though, don’t bury your library materials by the pond.