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Pickle Me This

September 15, 2011

My Library Matters to Me

The good news is that I didn’t win the “My Library Matters to Me” essay contest, which means I won’t have to make (more) awkward conversation with Margaret Atwood. (Don’t get me wrong– I’m totally gutted. I really think my library matters to me more than it does to anyone. I can’t believe I didn’t win, and am going to demand a recount.) The even better news is that I can post my prize non-winning essay here as a blog post. Most of you have heard this old story before, but I think it becomes more and more true every time I tell it.

Back during my unsettled twenty-something days, my library card gave me roots in my neighbourhood, a sense of belonging. As a student and an avid reader, I made regular visits to my Spadina Road home branch to pick up stacks of books, though the branch itself I regarded primarily as a point for books transactions (ie. borrowing, returning, paying late fees in regards to).

When I had a baby, however, my perspective shifted. During those first few weeks of my daughter’s life when I wandered the neighbourhood shell-shocked, unhappy, under-slept and out of my mind, I’d go to the library for the sake of a destination. And perhaps the library staff saw the desperation in my eyes, because they reached out to me. I was always met with a smile, they would ask about my daughter, and tell me that she was adorable (never mind that at the time she most resembled a pickled amphibian).

One day the head librarian gave me a flyer for the library’s baby program. I was a bit dubious about how much I, a grown woman, would get out of a half hour of “songs, stories and tickling rhymes”, but it turned out to be a lot, because it was through the program that I began to learn how to be a mother. I learned how to engage with my daughter, how to play with her with stories and songs that delighted us both, and then my husband would come home from work and demand that I teach them to him so that he too could be part of the magic.

Life got better. I borrowed several books from the library that promised to teach me how to make my baby go to sleep, and none of them helped much, but more worthwhile were the baby development books, the lullaby CDs, the baby food cookbooks, and countless other books that had nothing to do with babies at all but were an indication that I had my life back.

All that was two years ago now, and we go to the library as often as ever. We’ve graduated from the baby program, and now attend the toddler program at the Lillian H. Smith branch, whose children’s collection is huge and always yields new treasures for our weekly haul.

So it’s about the books, of course, but it’s mostly about the people, because it’s rare that we go to the library and not encounter a familiar face. We’ve made some of our dearest friends through the children’s programming, there’s the staff we adore, and it’s such a natural spot to run into friends and other people in the area.

The library is truly the centre of our neighbourhood, and the reason why instead of being just another family in a big city, we feel like we’re a part of a community.

Now check out the pieces that won. Clearly, the TPL is beloved.

One thought on “My Library Matters to Me”

  1. patricia says:

    You shoulda won. But I’m convinced that you will one day have another conversation with Peggy, and it will be amazing.

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