Thursday, February 11, 2016

Libraries in my life

This week I am reading a wonderful book called The Artist's Library: A Field Guide, courtesy of the marvellous Ms C. The book invites us to be inspired by the wondrous work of the humble library. Libraries have been important to me for the entirety of my life, so today's post is a reminiscence about my formative libraries.

Centennial Library: Some of my earliest memories, which are little more than flashes of image and feeling, involve the Centennial Library (now the Stanley Milner branch). It's a very different place now, and poised to receive yet another facelift soon. But it is perhaps the library at the heart of who I am. When my parents took me to the library, it was a very special event. The children's section at the Centennial kept animals, which I found fascinating, and then there were all the books. I have memories of my mother reading library books to me (which she tells me she did only to keep herself entertained). When I was older and in Mr Van den Born's enrichment program, he took us to the Centennial Library to do research and write our first "articles." (He later took us to the University of Alberta, which was ultimately much more important for me, although as I sit here and fumble about what to write next academically, I do wish I'd formed a stronger habit of research and dissemination back then...) Strangely, Centennial was not one of my teenage haunts, despite that I spent many hours downtown. But it still feels welcoming whenever I go there.

Fife Library: Perhaps this is the library of my heart. I still dream of this library; it formed the core of the school, and I would be crushed to go back to Fife today and discover that the library's glorious crow's nest and open area shelves are gone. My early elementary schooling was somewhat strange, but I imprinted on Mrs Campbell, who was my grade two teacher and also the school's librarian. She was a delightful woman and a fabulous teacher; I stayed in touch with her until I finished high school. (To be clear, I don't know whether she was technically a great teacher, as I was far too young to notice such things when I was her student, but she inspired me and many other students to read, to learn, to know things. That makes her great to me.) When I was finally in "Division Two" (grades four to six), I joined the library team and was an assistant captain in grade five and a captain in grade six. (Yes, a sports metaphor for librarianship. Go team!) Working in the library was SO much fun! I loved shelving, filing sign-out cards, stamping pink return date cards ... all of it. And of course I read many many many of the books in this library. In dreams I walk around the shelves trying to find books that I miss. Of course they're never there.

Dickinsfield Branch: This is the library where some integral parts of my being formed. I became independent and individuated from friends and family in part because of this library. In Todd Babiak's history of the Edmonton Public Library system, he dedicates only a few sentences to this branch (in part because it no longer exists), but that does not reflect the place it held in the community. Dickinsfield branch tried valiantly to contribute to the growth of north Edmonton and had an admirable collection for a small, out-of-the-way location. It is another place I can walk through in my memory, although not a place I dream about. Still, I was sad when the branch moved to Londonderry Mall (though Londonderry Mall was and is one of my safe places).

This reminiscence seems to be developing a theme of loss and change, but if libraries teach us anything, it is about permanence, resilience, and adaptability. For continuing to be champions of books, reading, and learning, libraries are amazing. And if you want to learn more about how libraries can incubate creativity, be sure to read The Artist's Library.

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