Lately I’ve been talking a lot about the virtues of bookstores: Massey Books in Vancouver, Munro’s in Victoria, even our new little new and used bookstore in Nanaimo, Windowseat Books. These, and so many other independent bookstores, are inviting spaces which are full of treasures.

But today I am thinking about libraries, because yesterday my friend Patricia Young, an award-winning Victoria poet, and I had the pleasure of reading from our new books at the North Nanaimo branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library, and it got me thinking about the special attractions of libraries.

As a child I was taken frequently to both the Dunbar and the Kerrisdale libraries in Vancouver. What freedom I felt in those places, with all those shelves and shelves of books. I remember that there was a children’s section and an adult section, but I don’t remember anyone ever stopping me when I moved from one to the other. I felt on the brink of great discoveries. As Virginia Woolf said, I ransack public libraries, and find them full of sunk treasure.

It was a privilege to work part-time at the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art at McGill many years ago, and to live across the street from the very beautiful old Westmount Library with its inscription, Tongues in Trees, Books in the Running Brooks. Later there was the fabled New York Public  Library with its stone lions and the majestic Rose Main Reading Room. Most wonderful to me was the Bodleian’s Duke Humphrey’s Library at the University of Oxford, where inside the books were chained to the tables and the church bells from the surrounding colleges ring regularly. All these places fueled my imagination so that when, years later, I saw Wim Winders’ film, Wings of Desire,it was easy for me to accept that invisible angels might gather in libraries.

“What a great environment,” many people said about the meeting room of the North Nanaimo  library where Patricia and I read. The space is airy and light, with comfortable chairs, and Darby Love, the librarian, is friendly and facilitative. The library is frequented by people of all ages and all sorts, and is clearly a well-used community meeting space. Libraries, like churches, are welcoming to everyone and so, especially at downtown branches, they are used by the homeless and troubled, which is a good thing for all of us.

As Anne Herbert, author of Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty has written, Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

We’re lucky to have them!


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