Once Upon a TIme…

Sometimes you forget that not everyone is like you, or values the same things as you do. So sometimes you have to write an “I can’t believe I’m writing this” post. I’ve done it with numbers a few times. Let’s talk about books.

As many of you know, it is entirely possible that our public libraries may come under cost-cutting attack. There is a petition here for you to sign if you already haven’t – I suspect many of the folks who read this blog already have.

This post is not about bricks and mortar, or necessarily about books themselves. It is rather about what they represent.

I’ll start by saying I learned to read when I was three, and have had a library card since I was six. (Only child – what else was I supposed to do?) I remember learning to read, I remember reading out loud when I was four, I remember the sound of my voice – I remember reading the sentence that said, “oh wear pants it’s going to be a pinch,” and learning what the word “picnic” looked like. “Oh wear pants it’s going to be a picnic.” Gotcha. I remember that over 30 years later.

Now then.

Whenever I take a book out of the library it’s usually something I had on hold. I live in Parkdale, and that is my branch. This book came from Don Mills, which might as well be Ireland, because I’ve never been there either.  I was the one hundred and thirty seventh person to want to read it.

When I open a library book it is like a small glimpse into the lives of those who have read it before me.

This book has dog-ears: I do that too, I confess. It means someone else does that.

This book has a cracked spine: Either someone else leaves them open facedown, or they were sitting somewhere wanting to read with one hand. I read with one hand all the time.

This bookpage is marked with an Eglinton Subway transfer: someone else reads on the subway.

This book has a quote from Cicero underlined: someone has used this book for research.

This book has a love quote from the hero underlined: Someone has definitely used this book for research.

I don’t mind dog ears and underlines. It tells me where someone before me had to stop, what they thought was important (and sometimes why. Although I don’t know what a response of “NO!” to a quote from Cicero means.)

I got a copy of The Thornbirds out a few weeks ago. Summer reading, right? Easy peasy. And as I read it something struck me. There were a lot of underlines (No, not just the dirty parts, get your mind out of the gutter). Words. Basic ones like “thresher” and “voile” and “enraptured”. And the definitions were written very lightly, in small letters, in pencil in the margins.

I’m pretty sure someone had used my “easy summer read” to learn English.

It’s not just the book that expands your mind, your sense of self, your sense of adventure. The book is just a symbol of it. It’s a symbol of who you were then (Little House series) who you are right now (Bossypants), and who you might become (30 Days to fluent Italian!) A book holds the world.

Final story. Library a while back. Little girl in front of me getting out a dozen books. I had to smile because I get that.  Off she went with her bag of books. And then there was a little boy at the desk. He’d lost his Dad in the stacks. And the librarian asked very gently, “Are you lost?” And the little chest heaved and the giant tears spilled over and we all instinctively moved closer to comfort him. And the security guard went to look for his Dad and little lost boy stayed with us, eyes full and big as saucers and Dad was found and all was well again. But that ten minutes – that ten minutes of community – we didn’t know each other. But we all had a library card.

How do you privatize that kind of community?

4 Comments to “Once Upon a TIme…”

  1. I went to the library on Tuesday. It was packed; especially the online learning centre. That tells me that a) Torontonians are curious and eager to learn and b) not everyone has a home computer. Oh right. Or a book budget to buy their own books.
    So the other thing I loved were the three sweaty 12-year-old boys hanging out in the lobby eating takeout after tennis (my library is next to some tennis courts). At first I was a bit 1965-small town shocked. Eating? In a library? And then I thought, how cool (literally and figuratively) that the library was the place to hang just like the tennis courts and the corner store.
    Now that doesn’t have a lot to do with books but like your lost boy story, it does say a lot about community.
    thanks Sue
    I signed the petition today.

    • I think that’s the part that people wo do NOT frequent the library are forgetting. It drives me crazy when I read comments like, “it’s books, they’re outdated, everything’s on the web nowadays.” The library HAS free computers for people to use! What about the folks who need those? It’s a centre for INFORMATION, not just one type (books) – people are checking out e-books, DVDs CDs braille, large print.
      And I think you have hit it on the head – that it’s somewhere for kids to hang out. Ford was talking today about summer camp getting kids “off the street” – that’s what the library DOES.

  2. Love it Sue! Adara is so well known at the library that she arrives and they just start looking for the Nate the Great books for her.

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