Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Sunday April 8th, 2012 Memories of Brodie Resource Library

I was born in the Brodie Library! Yes, that was almost the headline I could have begun this article with, but alas, it is not quite true. My mother did visit Brodie to get books to read in the hospital just before I was born, and I certainly spent time there in utero, but I didn’t actually visit in person until I had spent a few weeks in this world. Considering the significant role that the Brodie Library has played in my life, being able to say that I was born there would have been perfect.

My earliest memories of Brodie relate to the first day I was given my library card. Up until then, one of my parents had signed my books out, but one day we approached the tall children’s desk at Brodie and requested a card for me. The librarian peered over her glasses down at me and said,” How old are you dear?” When I told her that I was almost four, she kindly explained that I needed to be going to school and reading in order to get my card. I thereupon grabbed a book and began reading aloud to her to prove I was worthy of my own card and so I basically charmed (or was it brow-beated) her into breaking the rules and giving me my first card. I vividly recall that Leif the Lucky, Boy Viking was the book I chose and I must have read it eighty times before it had to be returned. What I learned: Books are wonderful and Librarians might look a little scary but they are actually very nice indeed.

In my memory, not only the books but the library had its own unique smell and feel. The stairs going upstairs smelled of stone and evoked a monastery or church, while the children’s department smelled of glue and crayons and warm wood. Going to the Museum which was housed at the Library at that time, and later to “Mrs. Tripp’s Art Class” in the auditorium, brought new sensations as I painted, drew, sculpted and chalked my masterpieces. What I learned: Books are wonderful but the Library had even more than books to offer. And children notice everything about a place.

The first Children’s Librarian to be hired by the Fort William Public Library was Phyllis Taylor in 1952. By the time I was using the library, children’s services were well established and we had the entire downstairs of the Brodie Library to explore. In addition to writing and working at the Library, Dorothy Reid offered a weekly storytime on the local radio called, “Magic Carpet Stories”. Unfortunately, it ran at the exact time my family went to church. I petitioned, this time unsuccessfully, to be allowed to stay home to listen to the stories. I even offered to go to Mass twice on the following Sunday, but to avail. It is one of my enduring regrets that I never got to listen to those stories. What I learned: you can love books and still love other media. Also,never underestimate the power of the story.

Every week my father drove me and any of my neighbourhood friends to Brodie to exchange books, do homework, listen to records or whatever else we felt like doing. Walking to the circulation desk I would pass my teenage neighbor who was usually sitting at a desk sorting date due cards. What I learned: you can share your love of books with others through the library and it would be a good place to work.

Every once in a while I would see the Library Bookmobile cruising around town and I was excited by the idea of a mobile library. It started up in 1976 and ran for many years bringing books and other materials to citizens in more remote areas. Librarians would also visit my class at school to tell stories and talk about using the library. What I learned: the Library wasn’t just a place, it would come to you!

It was probably inevitable that I would seek at job at the library when I turned 13 and I was thrilled to be able to work as a “Page” shelving and repairing books at the Brodie Library. When the staff found out that I had an artistic bent, I soon became the person who created the displays and designed the posters for puppet shows and storytimes that I had once attended. What I didn’t know was that my love of reading and great affection for the Library would stay with my for my entire life, and that even after I got my degrees in Philosophy and English and lived in Toronto, I would feel drawn back to Thunder Bay and to that wonderful place I had known since I was almost born there – the Library. After getting my Masters degree in Library Science I was still deluded enough to think that I could enjoy working in a corporate library, or doing illustrations for a children’s magazine, but after learning that there was a short-term contract available in my home town for a librarian – well, I said goodbye to Bay Street and winged home happily to begin my first professional job in the Library. What I learned: love of learning and reading and libraries is a life-long thing.

Now that I am in the position of Head of Children’s and Teens services, I can still see the library from my childhood and teen perspective, even as I integrate new services and technology into what we offer. When people ask me, “Do people still use libraries?” I peer over my glasses at them and say, “Yes they do. We are busier than we have ever been!” Much has changed in Children’s & Youth Services over the years – we retired the 16mm films, records and once-new and exciting filmstrips, the card catalog’s cards were all recycled, and computers are not merely a way of life but an integral vehicle for delivering services and promoting what we have. But there are some things which do not change and I see it every time I visit “my” Brodie Library or any other branch. There is magic here. Magic in the books which speak to our imagination. Magic in the librarian who finds just the exact right book for a child. And magic in the moments when parent and child are snuggled together reading or childhood friends are giggling and working together on an assignment at one of the Library tables. The Brodie Library is one of four branches of your Thunder Bay Public Library and this year we are celebrating that it has been weaving that magic for one hundred years. It is astounding to imagine all of the children, like myself, who have used it and who will never forget the experience. Happy Birthday Brodie. May the magic live on !!!

Angela Meady

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