Library Love

I got my first library card when I was five.  We’d just moved to a fishing outport, and our new community had a lending library in a room in the Grenfell hospital.

For those who never heard of a Grenfell hospital, it’s one of the small hospitals in isolated communities across Newfoundland and Labrador, parts of Quebec, and maybe some other places. As far as I know, they’ve all been assimilated into provincial health care systems, and a number of them have likely closed.

 But when they operated (forgive the pun – but they DID have operating rooms!), they served intellectual and social needs as well as those of health care. In that particular community, it meant a lending library and a craft centre.

I don’t know where the books came from, but they covered the gamut from baby’s board books through Noddy, The Hardy Boys, back issues of National Geographic magazines to philosophical tomes. The library opened on Saturday mornings, when one could borrow six books, max, to return the following Saturday morning.

My father had taught me to read before our November arrival in the village, so I wouldn’t be disadvantaged by a late start to kindergarten.   But it turned out there was no kindergarten in the two-room schoolhouse. I had to wait until I was six to start school.

Meanwhile, I read everything.  It was too bad no one taught me to add and subtract numbers because I lagged sadly in that respect. Nor was I very good at sweeping floors: one of my classmates had to teach me during the daily rotation.

But I could read, and read I did – often all six library books before Sunday morning, by flashlight under the blankets until the batteries died, and then by the dim light of the oil lamp that Mom kept burning in the hallway.

When we moved again, my new school had a library. I volunteered to sort and put away books so I could read the new ones before anyone else laid eyes on them. The next place we lived had – oh, perfect bliss! – a public lending library AND a school library. Imagine.

When I left home for university, one of my first acts was to march downtown in Antigonish to get a library card; and I did the same after I got married and settled in Pictou County – which, incidentally, shares the same library system as Antigonish.

I still have my library card, but I don’t borrow books as often as I once did because I have trouble remembering to return them.  Despite that, I remain a great believer in public libraries. It’s free, and you don’t have to store all the books you read at home – just take them back. You can ask for books that aren’t there, and the library folks will bend over backwards to find them for you.

Borrowing from a public library doesn’t hurt writers. For one thing, libraries have to buy the books, which benefits the authors.  True, the books are borrowed by a lot of people who might otherwise buy books – but maybe they couldn’t afford to read at all if the only way to hold a book in their hands was to buy it. To make it easier to access books, the Canada Council for the Arts operates the Public Lending Rights program to compensate Canadian authors whose books are found in – and borrowed from – public libraries. Libraries also support authors by hosting readings, showcasing their works, and – often – providing a nice quiet writing corner. So, go ahead. Love your library. I recommend it.

A writer in her natural habitat: a library