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Pickle Me This

June 13, 2011

Wild Libraries I Have Known: West Vancouver Memorial Library

Reader, Editor and Poet Kate Kennedy (who has known a few libraries in her time) tells us about the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

West Vancouver Memorial is my grandmother’s neighbourhood library and she’d often take my sisters and I along to browse when we were in the city visiting. It was significantly larger than our library in Lillooet (about four hours away) and we were always a little floored by the selection. We didn’t have borrowing privileges, but between them my parents usually got down to the coast every few weeks, and if it could be ascertained that the next visit would be before the next due date, we were allowed to take a few books out on Granny’s card. (The possibility of losing or damaging one of these books once you had it home was fairly terrifying.)

It was through these visits that I read most of Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman family series (Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, and the rest). I wouldn’t say there was any real lack of tomboy characters in the fiction I read at that age, but Dicey Tillerman (particularly as depicted on the first-edition cover of Dicey’s Song, next to her boat, in her red sweatshirt) seemed to set the bar a little higher. She wasn’t ignoring her appearance because she’d decided that was the type of person she was, in contrast to, say, the artistic character, the flirty character, the geek and the baseball star. Her mother had abandoned her and her siblings in the parking lot of a grocery store and now Dicey had to take care of them all on their long trip to find other living relatives. Dicey didn’t have time to be a type of anything. I haven’t reread  much of the fiction I read back then, but I think there was an authenticity to the high stakes in Voigt’s books that wasn’t so common, and maybe isn’t now either.

Apart from the books themselves, what I loved best about the library in West Vancouver was the pair of rounded, enclosed, wood-panelled study carrels up in the adult section. They were reminiscent of hollowed-out trees and illuminated by inviting pot lights, and the thought of having something to study in one of them was pretty thrilling. Then, when I was in grade eight, I got to spend a year living in the city, attending a private school that went in for the full tie and kilt uniform. Having by this time moved into a lot of boarding school literature (Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series and Kit Pearson’s The Daring Game, among others) this was heady stuff for me. I found myself one afternoon at the West Vancouver Memorial Library, in my uniform, with a friend, having nabbed one of the precious study carrels, books spread open before us, watching in confusion as this friend began an elaborate process of removing or obscuring all the recognizable parts of her uniform lest we be spotted by public school students. But we were wearing blazers! With crests! In the world’s best study carrel! What could possibly be wrong?

The ambiance of that library was in part, for me, an extension of the ambiance of Vancouver, a city that was always a treat and that I didn’t want to leave when it was time to go, but that I also never figured out how to fit into properly. I eventually came to love the Interior, and would probably now choose it over the coast, but the coast will always feel a bit decadent, full of things that we didn’t have in our town, the books we had to hurry up to read in time but that we didn’t want to ruin by rushing through.

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