Do you know anyone who played library as a child? Store, school and doctor, sure, but library? I used to take a book from my shelf, slip a piece of paper inside with my name, and the date, and read quietly.
My library memories started early: day activities at the Fraser-Hickson. I can still make a cup that actually holds water out of a square of paper thanks to them. Another day, we learned about Leonardo Da Vinci, examining his sketches of flying machines in a velvety bus that was a mobile museum. I was in pre-school. I fell in love with creative genius. The library hooked me.
Living in Cote St. Luc when the library opened its doors at its current location, I’d never seen so many books! Across the street! From my house! Open 365 days! That’s how you get spoiled!
In my teen years, the less impressive, but still pretty neat Pierrefonds library had air conditioning; I didn’t. Temperature aside, I was sure that somewhere in the obsessively organized walls of plasticized cardboard and yellowing pages were the answers to all the secrets you’d ever wanted to unravel. Certainly if you fortified yourself behind a tableful of books with tousled hair and knotted brow you could solve the equation of JFK’s bullet trajectory, or determine finally that the butler did it. If you focused hard while wearing a serious expression you would translate an ancient language, or find the co-ordinates to the long lost spaceship that explains everything. I dove into the occult, taking notes on spells, and rituals (please note, there were no goths at the time per se, and I wore too much plaid to be one anyway. Also note, vampires of the time died from the sun, and we took our angst very seriously). My friend hung out with me, carefully removing the magnetic strips from books so she could steal them. We were badass.
Back in DG early this millennium, I happily reunited with the Fraser-Hickson, though I’d somehow gotten bumped from the ornately decorated kids’ section. Time’s a bitch. One of the first Libraries in Montreal (originally at University & Rene Levesque in 1870, moving to Kensington & Somerled in 1959), there were times in the library’s history when it touted itself as the only truly free library in town. Their noble nature, including the fact that they never accepted cheques with strings, seems to have worked against them, sadly, as the building was sold to a private school in 2007, and their collection went into storage
Today, their homepage says “Library to reopen: watch this space”. The site still provides links, resources, and contact information. A vacuum was left when they closed. For a whole vital section of NDG, the only library left is Benny, opened in 1956, housed in what was originally built as a temporary chapel. It’s in painful need, deserving both pimped out new digs and truckloads of books. There’s the Cote St. Luc library, and Westmount library, though they both charge hefty annual fees for non residents, with Westmount charging $119 a year, and CSL coming in at a whopping $175 annually (Montreal West residents can become members for $5, making it arguably worth the schlep to the other side of the tracks).
Why go to the library at all when you can download a book, or hit a Chapters if you’re craving the touch of nostalgia that paper’s becoming? There are plenty of reasons.
First off, Chapters are few, far between, and atrociously expensive. I also don’t care what bestseller’s lists the book was on, I care if the book is good. I’ve never seen a big bookstore with a display devoted to the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but they sure did assault me with tableloads of Oprah books, so let’s say I don’t trust them. The info-age is not the time to determine our learning curve by our economic standing.
What if you have download bandwith limits, or tricky moral clauses by which you deem pirating media to be fundamentally wrong, or an aversion to the technically illegal? Hit the library! They’re fully stocked with multimedia from the periodicals you’ve stopped buying (because they cost what soft covers used to), CDs, and DVDs. Having changed postal codes, I’m exploring my new library, L’Octogone, in Lasalle. Aside from it giving me both the resources and the necessary kick in the pants to get reading again (you have 3 weeks! And….GO!) it’s also inspired quite the documentary binge.
Libraries dare you to explore. The only thing stopping you from picking up that book, are your thoughts on the book. Will you try it? This, by the way, is how I ended up with Douglas Coupland’s Generation A, which I thouroughly enjoyed, and a book of Tupac’s poetry that I found chilling non-chalontly with Ginsberg and a few of his buddies. While I didn’t finish Tupac, it impressed me more than I’d expected, though less so than I’d hoped. At least I tried. Plus I learned that rappers, the internet generation, and dead beatniks sometimes use the same spelling. There’s nothing new under the sun….
Before I get out of your hair and let you get on with your reading, I ask you: where else can you hang out for free, in the winter, without being a weirdo? Seriously. That always bugs me about winter; you have to have a destination and it’ll cost you. When the grass runs out, there’s still the library, warm and cozy, probably nearby, with more goodies than you could go through in a hundred winters.
A library can only be as good as its community support. If we don’t use the services available, and nag for better ones, one day we’ll wake up and all the libraries will be condos (or private schools). Go! Get out! Get a library card. Reading is sexy. Take your kids there; they may end up remembering it fondly. Hopefully, they’ll grow up literate, critical thinkers who consider learning fun, thus ensuring that your grandkids will be able to read more than an infographic and a tricky coffeeshop menu. We live in a pivotal age that way.
The library system is fairly well unified these days: one free card will get you stocked up at 44 different locations. And the Bibliotheque Nationale which recently opened in the heart of the city is a great place to spend an afternoon.
The history of Fraser Hickson is from their homepage, and deserves a full read..
If you have book or movie recommendations, or just want to see what falls out of my head, catch me on Twitter @McMoxy