Why the Library Matters to Me

Well it didn't get picked for the Why the Library Matters to Me competition but like my father's rationale for buying a cottage "so I'll have a place to wear my old clothes" (e.g. baby blue polyester cut-off leisure suit shorts) I have a blog! - a cozy public home for my words. Check out the winners. There are some great pieces!


Our arms full of kids’ books, we head downstairs to the checkout desk at Lillian Smith Library.

 “Mama!” my son Ari screams. “My arm.”

It’s lodged through the banister. Librarians come running. Although limb extraction is not their area of expertise, they offer problem-solving, research and people skills.  After much gentle twisting the arm comes free to clapping and cheers. We hurry home to dig in to our books.

At four Ari, who has “read” hundreds of books thousands of times, arrives home from school chanting with gusto.

I love the library

It’s my favourite place

Rows of books in every case

Fat ones, thin ones

From wall to wall

If I read and read I’ll read them all.

 Now equipped with an anthem to celebrate them, he stands, chest thrust out, arms wide declaiming wall-to-wall.

A drama queen and performance enthusiast, Ari happily indulges my repeated request for the poem. More than just the words I adore the way he delivers them - as a prayer, a cheer, an attainable goal.

            We love holding and smelling books, reading them in funny voices. They have touched and been touched by thousands of other kids. Teeth marks, fingerprints and bits of breakfast or lunch tell their own tales.

Books and their stories imprint like tattoos on the tummy, in the gut, comforting us through the ritual of their reading and re-reading, offering places to rest, get excited, be elsewhere. The books may leave our hands and head back into circulation but the stories stay – the most magical of toys.

Journeys to the library break isolation. In my days of new motherhood, a haggard, sleep-deprived gang gathers for reading circles, grateful for someone else’s effort to distract pre-literate babies with happy words.  A haven on a lonely day.

When my partner Gael lands in Toronto from across the world, under life-as you’ve-know-it-ripped-out-from-under-you circumstances, no home, no friends, she finds the library. If a competition for most frequent user were held, she’d win. The librarians know her by name - the one on the borrowed card she uses until she gets resident status. The day her papers come she gets her SIN number and her own library card.

 “I want to show you something so cool at the library,” Noah, my eleven year old, says. That “so cool” and “the library” are together in his sentence thrills me. We head to the Osborne Collection of early children’s literature. We peer through a microscope at a book so small the words can’t be seen by the naked eye.

Much of what is offered at our public libraries cannot be seen by the naked eye. But ask the scruffy fellow reading the newspaper while his shoes dry, or the newcomers' children lost in a book on the floor, and it will come into view - the comfort, the heaps of knowledge, the facsimile of home, the connection to people and the world.

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