Archive for March, 2011

Borrower’s Card: Lillooet Public Library

A couple of years ago I set out to write a series of poems about libraries: the public library in my town, the book swap that may or may not still operate in its very casual fashion on Mayne Island, BC, the little branch of the Buenos Aires public library system in the neighbourhood where I lived for a month one recent spring. But these poems just didn’t turn out the way I had hoped, so a few months back I finally gave them up as un-editable and moved them into my Discards folder where they’ve been hanging out with all the work I did in university, set to auto-detonate the day I die. Then I started reading Kerry Clare’s book blog, Pickle Me This, where she has a semi-regular feature she calls “Wild Libraries I Have Known.” Perhaps, I thought, my little failures would be happier transposed into prose. I sent Kerry a note telling her of my plan. Libraries are for everyone, she said (more or less).

In the mid-eighties the Lillooet Public Library was housed in a one-storey building at the corner of Main Street and 8th Avenue. Eighth Avenue is on an incline, so from inside the library, near the twirling paperback racks, you could see the sidewalk and the legs of pedestrians disappearing up the hill. My mother was one of the librarians and so my sisters and I spent a lot of time looking out the window, perusing the stacks, and in all the places other kids weren’t allowed to be, like behind the giant check-out desk on the rolly chair using the date stamp, and in the glassed-in staff room behind it eating snacks.

The children’s area was next as you came in, boxed in on two sides by higher shelving, with a colourful carpet and slant-topped tables with Richard Scarry, Robert Munsch, and the rest displayed. The book I remember best, though, was actually a Via Rail promotion of some sort, with photos of a girl, maybe early twenties, travelling across the country by train, getting off in Banff, then Winnipeg, and Montreal. I would love to find a copy of that book. It obviously had a lasting impact on my travel preferences. Good marketing, Via.

Speaking of trains, in the middle of the library was a large glass case where holiday-themed displays were housed. And one snowy day when I was maybe five or six my mum packed all the candy from the Christmas display into a bag and my dad and I got to take it on the train with us to Vancouver. (Kids, if your parents ever ask you for career advice, librarian is a really good pick. The perks for you will be endless.)

Toward the back of the adult section, near the large-print editions – which I always thought were intended for kids who were ready for adult fiction but not the drop in font size that went along with it – had been created a little sitting area with a couple of vinyl-covered armchairs and a reading lamp. I remember it as surprisingly civilized back there, and along with the fiction, I looked forward to the armchair and lamp that might go along with adulthood. Still waiting on the armchair.

Then, in the late eighties they moved our high school to a new building and transformed the old building into a rec centre. The library was relocated to this new complex, and it’s never been quite the same for me.