Since that visit, I've been thinking about about how much libraries have shaped my life. A lot, it seems.
The North Battleford Public Library
I learned to read at one of Canada’s historic Carnegie libraries: in 1975, I was the youngest person in North Battleford, Saskatchewan with a library card. North Battleford's library building is still there today (one of Canada's few Carnegie libraries left standing west of Ontario), although it's not a library anymore, apparently.
I don't actually remember going to this library (I was two). What I do remember is the walk to the library, which I drew in this unpublished 2003 story:
Trinity College LIbrary
Strangely enough, when I look around the internet for photos of the old Trin Library, I can't find a single one. It was in a century-old basement, and rather dark and dingy. The whole thing has been moved to a shiny brand-new building (pictured here - and not even that new, anymore). I knew the library had been moved to this new and improved location, but I'm surprised that there isn't a single picture of the old one to be found.
Incidentally, I'm also surprised that I can't find a single image of U of T's old Sig Sam Library, either. The stacks were built of metal grilles. You could see through the bars. The floors and ceilings were made of it, too. So if you stood in the aisle between the stacks, you could look up, down and all around and just see rows and rows of books. It felt as though you were in a kind of surreal 1950's book-filled cage.
Somehow, it seems no one's taken a picture of this.
However, I did find this picture of the Hart House Library, a cozy spot in which, according to both my dad and my grandfather, students used to come for a nap. If you Google "Hart House Library Nap" you'll find quite a few pages of testimonials from other erstwhile nappers. (Incidentally, the picture was part of an article in which the author mentions that she, too, used to take naps here.)
I may be the only student who actually read a book there. I still remember taking it off the shelf: Aldous Huxley's Music at Night. I was crazy about Huxley, but hadn't read this book of essays. I was sitting there getting positively electrified by his prose. (Well, I was an English major, what can I say.) And then I saw that the title of one of the essays was "Squeak and Gibber." It's a reference to Hamlet (Horatio's talking about the creepy inarticulate sounds made by the ghosts of some dead Romans). Well, I love it when authors share these kinds of semi-private jokes with those members of their audiences who get it. I got it. And that's when I knew I really had become well and truly immersed in books.
Christchurch City Library
This is my only picture of Margaret Mahy and me. She was signing my old copy of The Catalogue. As I wrote in a tribute to Mahy published in Storylines' online newsletter following her death earlier this year: she reminded me of an Ent. It was fun to see that we were both wearing long drapy scarves around our necks. (It was freezing. But so was my whole trip to New Zealand. A intelligent-seeming graduate student asked me the following question about Canada: "Don't you have some kind of special houses up there to keep the cold weather out?" Well, we have insulation, if that's what you mean. Anyway.)
Here's a bit about Mahy and libraries from the comic-strip portion of an essay I wrote about Mahy.
Calgary Public Library
I know - that doesn't sound too strange. The strange part was that the charts depicted oil derricks pumping oil out of the ground. (I have tried to draw a picture of this big chart here.) Each child got an oil derrick (and was allowed to name their own oil company. I can't remember what I called mine, except that it ended with the words "In Company," which I thought was what "Inc." was short for. You can see my future wasn't in business). At the bottom of the chart there was a picture of an enormous underground pool of oil. As each book was marked off, you got a bit closer to the oil. When you struck oil, you hit the library jackpot! I can't remember what the prize was. But I remember loving the big wall-sized chart on which some creative librarian had glued construction paper to represent layers of sand, rock, and other stuff you had to "drill" through to make the reading journey more exciting and suspenseful. I remember thinking, "when I'm grown up, I'll make a big wall-sized poster like that."
Well, that was Calgary in the oil boom of the late 70's/early 80's. It didn't occur to me then that there was anything unusual about oil-pumping library incentives. I also thought that building cranes were a regular feature of any city skyline.
A later Calgary Public Library memory is going with my dad to hear Robertson Davies speak at the Central Library in about 1991. I remember he took questions from the audience in a rather bored manner. With a pounding heart I raised my hand and asked, "What do you think will be coming up next for Canadian literature?" (Or something like that.) He gave me a piercing look and said, "Now that's an interesting question." R. D. had some strong feelings about Canadian literature, and even helped to shape it. I think What's Bred in the Bone was his only really good book, though.
I don't remember going to the Memorial Library (below)- Calgary's first library, and another Carnegie gem - as a kid. I remember discovering it in my twenties, when I went in to explore it with a few Beltline-dwelling friends. I was instantly captivated by a box of "discards" for sale. My eye was caught by the classic children's book Freight Train by Donald Crews. I bought it. My friends thought I was crazy.
And now Calgary's getting a new central library. This would be exciting enough if it weren't for the added good news about the library's location: the East Village, not too far from Ramsay (my own hood). This has been a long work in progress - you can watch Special Projects Librarian Rosemary Griebel's 2010 talk about the library (from Calgary's sixth PechaKucha) here.
I’m so glad to be putting down roots in a city with a world-class library system. Doubtless there will be more library stories down the road! But, I hope, no more glue paste.