Public libraries lands of the free

I had a chat with a friend of mine recently about the presence of shelves, and of books, and the effect that they have on us. It is inexplicable. But, the effect in question can be summed up by one word: comfort.

New Westminster Library image courtesy of Dennis Sylvester Hurd

There is something comforting about rows and rows of books – the colors of the spines, the smell of them, the visual appeal of the irregular heights and widths. I love the look of new pages, white as snow and with lines of text that draw my eye along like a magnetic force. I love aging pages, too; yellowed, and sometimes with the mysterious thumbprints left by readings past (I am a notorious re-reader, friends). Books are treasures. They are artifacts of great worth.

In this age of digital this and electronic that, I still find great comfort in the sight of books, not to mention delving into one, and having a world open for me. Now, I am not knocking the electronic medium. What an ironic thing that would be, given where you’re reading this, and how I’ve written it!

But some of my best adventures have been in libraries. When I say that, I’m referring to personal, actual adventures, not symbolic adventures that I found in books (although I had those too). Like the time my friends and I put on a completely plot-free play based on the Hardy Boys TV show when I was a kid. We put up a flyer on the cork bulletin board of our local library, instantly making us a theatre troupe, just by that action alone.

It wasn’t much of a play, mind. There was a lot of hitting with plastic bowling pins involved as the bad guys knocked out the good guys. At one point, one of my friends imitated Shaun Cassidy singing “Da Do Ron Ron,” just like in the show.

I just dated myself thoroughly there. Wow. Oh well.

Anyway, the library was a stage for us, a forum. It was a place where we could make idiots of ourselves, if we wanted to, under the watchful eye of a long-suffering Librarian. We were free to do so. We didn’t pay to rent the space to put on our play. And no one (thankfully) paid to see our theatrical debacle.

It was free!

This of course is not even considering all of the books I took home. They were free, too. It was absolutely free access into the minds of authors from across the globe, and across the ages – Maurice Sendak, Bill Peet, H.A Rey, Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Franklin W. Dixon, and later Edgar Rice Boroughs, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, J.R.R Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Ray Bradbury, and more. And what a privilege, to enter into someone else’s perception world like that, or even to be given a new set of perceptions to suit an entirely alien world.

Libraries, even in some of the stories themselves, are places of refuge. In Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, a strategy against the forces of darkness is formed by 13-year old heroes Jim Nightshade, William Holloway, and Will’s Librarian father. In Stephen King’s IT, the library in haunted Derry, Maine is the site of a similar gathering of souls against a hateful darkness over which Mike Hanlon, a Librarian, has kept a constant vigil. And what is the prize in these stories? It’s freedom, ultimately.

And rightly so.

Because libraries invite you in, whoever you are. They are sanctuaries. They are places of peace, and of coming together with others, even if it’s in silence. They are places of understanding, of seeking, of learning. You are free to come and go, read a book, study, listen to a tale read by someone else, read one to another. They are places of community if there ever were such places.

I am lucky enough to live very close to New Westminster Public Library. I take my daughter there a lot. She’s four. And when we go, she bee-lines to the puppets, who then come alive to her, and to me. Because she gives them voices, breathed into them by her imagination.

Then, it’s the puzzles. And then, it’s the first eye-catching book she can find. She doesn’t just choose a book, she mines for one, focusing her eye on a bejeweled spine, drawing it forth. Then, we delve together – books about trains, about dinosaurs, about bees. We explore. We’re explorers, together.

Now, I’ve used the word free a lot, here. And sure, literally speaking, your public library is supported by tax money, and rightly so You kind of do pay for them, being all grown up and stuff. But, even in this grown-up context, these are not just conveniences in our community, they’re investments in it.

But, that’s not really what I mean anyway. I’m talking about the feeling of being able to access worlds of fact and imagination without having to worry about what it costs you. In those moments of exploration, the library gives us a glimpse of what it would be like if we didn’t have to put a price tag on knowledge, on community, on expanding our possibilities regardless of our age. It is the spark of childhood, of being unfettered once the imagination is ignited.

Maybe this is why I find the presence of books so comforting.

And as usual when I write these things down for you here at Tenth to the Fraser, here are 5 songs related to what I’ve been talking about. In this case, it’s books, or references to them anyway.

  1. Paperback Writer – The Beatles
  2. The Book I Read – Talking Heads
  3. Everyday I Write the Book – Elvis Costello & the Attractions
  4. The Book Lovers – Broadcast
  5. Page One – Lemon Jelly

Massey Theatre ‘the heart of a community’

Massey Theatre. Photo: BuckyHermit
Massey Theatre. Photo: BuckyHermit

This is a guest post by Frances Monteleone, drama teacher at New Westminster Senior Secondary.

A theatre represents the heart of a community; a single performance can unite strangers and evoke a sense of belonging and understanding. New Westminster cannot lose its beloved Massey Theatre.

During this period of economic breakdown and resulting budget cuts, we must continue to recognize what is integral to our city’s livelihood. Moreover, we cannot turn a blind eye to the many benefits this particular stage has provided to the students in our district. We must make every effort to preserve and save an aging building that has presented its users with so many opportunities throughout its sixty years of history.

I have had the privilege of directing numerous shows on the Massey Stage, including sold-out performances of Annie and Bye Bye Birdie. It is imperative that the students continue to have access to this particular theatre. Anything smaller would not suffice.

The more we work together the happier we’ll be. Let’s find a solution so that everyone can stand up and applaud.

New Westminsterite In Space

This morning a Canadian astronaut blasted off successfully in the Soyuz spacecraft from Khazahkstan (low res video here, high res video here) as part of a mission called Expedition 20/21. This expedition is a Canadian milestone, as it is the first time a Canadian has taken part in a long term space mission. That Canadian’s name is Dr. Robert Thirsk, and although most of his growing up was elsewhere, Dr. Thirsk was born here in New Westminster. He has been in space before, and is a highly respected member of Canada’s Space program. Here is Dr. Thirsk’s mission patch, designed by BC artist Bill Helin:

Which I personally think is AWESOME. There is a great long design rationale here. Dr. Thirsk (aka: Bob) has listed his musical tastes here, and his space menu is also posted online because us Canadians need to know not only what he’ll be humming along to while he conducts experiments and takes care of some maintenance at the International Space Station for six months, but what he’ll be consuming for that same duration. 

I read the pre-launch interview with Bob, and I have to say that Bob Thirsk strikes me as the type of guy I’d love to sit down and have a beer and some nachos with. Check back to the Expedition 20/21’s page for updated content as the mission progresses. 

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The Way We Were: Videos from our Past.

Recently, commenter and contributor Ruth Seeley mentioned a link to Rick Springate’s website Go See TV, a website that contains fascinating old video footage of New Westminster events, converted into easy to view digital vignettes. This website is a rare treasure trove of nostalgia for all who have lived a life in the Royal City or who are interested in the way lives use to be lived here.

One page of Go See TV exclusively presents footage from most May Day celebrations from 1932 to 1963, all of which were filmed by H.Norman Lidster, who was involved in the celebrations. Each file is a precious time capsule into the past of our city, our country the British Empire (take a look at some of the earlier videos and you will see what I mean) and the World. See elementary school students and high school students doing orchestrated calisthenics and complex dances. See the look of common purpose and confidence on the faces of the youth and the pride and respect they seem to get from their elders. It was a different time.

Here is the oldest of the files, from 1932.

In 1944, The May Queen arrived on an armoured personnel transport and there is an aircraft carrier in Coal Harbour.

Have a look and ask yourself: “what has changed in our society since some of these videos were created”? For one thing, I don’t think today’s school board would issue band and sports uniforms with such short skirts. Wait, we could once pay for uniforms?

For more period videos, see www.gosee.tv/history
and www.gosee.tv/mayday as well.

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Salmonbellies fan sends lacrosse gear to troops in Afghanistan

A shipment of lacrosse sticks, warm-up jerseys, balls and assorted New Westminster Salmonbellies paraphernalia arrived on the base last month. They got to open it Christmas Eve.

“They were really excited,” said Tracy Brown, a Burnaby resident who got it all started.

“It was the hockey players that got their hands on it first. Some of them had never tried it so they all had the T-shirts on and went out to the rink right away and started playing with it.”

Brown has a friend whose brother, Brent Vanover, is a rabid Salmonbellies fan stationed in Afghanistan. She hooked him up with Salmonbellies president Dan Richardson, who organized the shipment that took about two months to get there, having to jump several bureaucratic hoops and getting sent to the U.S. postal depot instead of Canada’s.

‘Bellies brighten life for Canadian troops | New Westminster News Leader.