li·brary. Pronunciation: ˈlī-ˌbrer-ē, -ˌbre-rē; British usually & US sometimes -brər-ē; US sometimes -brē, ÷-ˌber-ē, -ˌbe-rē. Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French librarie, Medieval Latin librarium, from Latin, neuter of librarius of books, from libr-, liber inner bark, rind, book. Date: 14th century. a: a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale b: a collection of such materials.
The popular understanding of the word library has evolved since this definition was published thirteen years ago. Today’s public and educational libraries offer a diversity of materials for a diversity of patrons. Highly trained staff work to expand their services both geographically and digitally. Among corporations and governments, however, the title “Library” has become nearly obsolete. It brings to mind dusty old tomes and card catalogues, an image that unfortunately enables cutbacks and downsizing. Within the space of two years, one small environmental research library I worked for was renamed the Resource Centre, Information Centre, Resource Information Centre, and finally Knowledge Centre. It was a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to escape the government axe.
As libraries have evolved, so has the relationship between writer and library. Throughout our lives, we writers develop a strong bond with these institutions. They have provided us with refuge, with research, and above all with inspiration for our own writing. We were loyal fans of our school, public, and post-secondary libraries. If you were lucky the company you worked for might have a libr–pardon me, an Information Resource Centre of Knowledge.
Libraries didn’t become a solid presence in my life until high school. The children’s section in our small town’s public library was practically nonexistent. Our elementary school’s collection was organized by grade, and we weren’t allowed to sign out books above our grade level. This was frustrating for a fourth grade student who had burned through the entire allotted selection within the first month of school and had to wait another year to access those grade five and six shelves. Perhaps it was this early deprivation that inspired me to switch careers in the late 1990’s. I was working in a techie position at CKTV in Regina. Among libraries it was an era of rapidly expanding collection development and online technology. I began spending so much time in the public library, patrons assumed I worked there and asked me for help. It occurred to me that I might as well get paid for my efforts, so I became a library technician.
People say reading is a disconnect from the every day world, but those of us who use the library on a regular basis know we’re attached to the world in a fundamental way. Beyond the physical act of meeting other people who love books, in the materials we gather there we connect on an emotional and intellectual level to other writers, to the subjects of their writing, and to the readers of their writing. Occasionally I’ll open a library book and a slip of paper will fall out. It’s the list of books signed out by the person who previously borrowed the book. I always examine it to see what else that person was reading, expecting to find we have similar tastes. I spin a little fantasy of discovering a kindred spirit, of bribing the library staff to track down their contact information so we can become BFFs and start our own book club. After a glance at the list I’m taken aback to discover this person is, well, a little strange. How many books does one person need on eating right for their blood type? What is this obsession with lemons?
I was going to compile a list of tips for searching an online library catalogue, but it would have taken up too much space. So I will direct you to the How to Search a Library Catalogue page of my website, which has the added benefit of shameless self promotion. The examples I show are from the Provincial Public Library, but most online catalogues follow similar design.
OK commenters, it’s time to share your own library stories. What is your earliest or fondest library memory? Do you have any stories about a favourite librarian? How have your experiences with libraries influenced your career as a writer? What’s the silliest thing you’ve done in a library? My personal ongoing silliness during visits to the public library is to sneak my latest novel into any empty space on the display racks. A few days later I’ll check the catalogue to see if it’s gone out on loan, boosting those circulation statistics and convincing the library to order an additional copy.
Glenda Goertzen lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After a decade in a multimedia career, Glenda was overwhelmed by a desire to be surrounded by books rather than TV screens. While working on a homework assignment for her Library Technician course, she grabbed a piece of scrap paper and discovered it was a page from an old draft of The Prairie Dogs. She dug up the manuscript, read it, and decided to return to writing and illustrating. She now spends her days, at work and at home, surrounded by books. Those books include the award-nominated Prairie Dogs Adventures series.