Love of libraries will never get old

The coronavirus looms over us, Canadian politics is in turmoil, and Facebook posts underscore the increasing divisions in our country, but – and I think this is a big exception to the barrage of depressing news – Canadians love to read. We love it enough, in fact, to make it the most common spare time activity in the country, according to Reader’s Digest.

As a lifelong reader, someone who would much rather browse stacks of books than racks of clothing, this lifts my spirits. It tells me that no matter how messy our politics and how bitter our arguments, we’re still out here trying to expand our knowledge.

I was pleasantly surprised to read about a recently released Gallup Poll, which revealed that in the United States, trips to the library outpace those to the movies, to sporting events, to live music or theatrical events, and even to a museum or national park. On average, Americans took 10.5 trips to the library every year, though women and people in the 30 to 49 age group visited more frequently. I don’t think Canadian numbers are that high, for many reasons such as accessibility and geography, but I like to imagine we’re close.

When I lived in Halifax, before and after I was a student there, I used to be quite the library regular, taking a trip to the Spring Garden Road branch several times a week. Depending on my workload at school while I attended university, I would spend quite a bit of time at the Saint Mary’s library, as well. If you factored in my time at both locations, I’m sure I qualified for the frequent flyer roster.

I’m probably not the only writer who attributes their childhood reading habits for their choice of profession. I credit my grandparents for teaching me to read, but I also give credit to the Bookmobile, for expanding the pool of offerings and making available an unending variety of literature that I otherwise would not have had, beyond Grandpa’s prayer books and old volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I remember waiting to see that blue bus come up the driveway once a month – it parked at the top of my grandparents’ lane on the South Side, and people from all over River Bourgeois would come by to return and borrow. I felt so grown up walking into it by myself, and being able to choose any book that I wanted. The smell when I walked inside is one I can’t describe, that I’ve never smelled since, and that I’ll never forget.

Before my youngest son started school, we used to go to the library in Port Hawkesbury every week – that was our regular outing. Though there was a structured playgroup for preschool-age children, we would spend just as much time there after it was over, picking out books he was interested in, both to read there and to take home. At 14, I don’t think he’d have the same interest in going now, but it makes me a little sentimental thinking of how many hours we spent there.

While most people who haven’t spent much time at one see libraries as simply a place to check out books, over time they have evolved, and they actually do so much more for the community. The offerings aren’t as extensive in our local area, but in larger areas they offer such things as free WiFi, language classes, resume writing, computer courses, and more. I haven’t looked into what the new Halifax library has available, but I expect, with a modern facility that size, they likely have a whole menu of activities. How lucky for those who live close enough to take advantage.

The lure of a library has not changed for me in the Internet age, despite the ease of on-line access. Information in the digital world is vast and sometimes hard to navigate. Not only that, but it’s invariably controlled by cookies, ads, and algorithms, which takes away from the enjoyment of whatever is on the screen.

Not so at the library. Wandering those stacks, whether in a building or in a blue bus, no one has ever tried to sell me anything. No one was looking where I click, what I browse, how long I’m on a page, or asking what I think of the content. It’s just me and the books, and that’s just the way I’d prefer to keep it.