Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Library Memories

In response to my post about independent bookstores, Quillhill wrote:

What is it that makes independent bookstores special? Why does one remember fondly a used bookstore, but not a library? Why don't we have the same feelings about a laundromat, or a grocery? Can feelings for a place such as a bakery, or a local fruit stand, match those for an independent bookstore? Is it the "independent" or the "book" or something else that makes them so special to so many?

I note that Quillhill is a bookseller, so probably these questions are rhetorical. But he got me thinking.

I do have fond memories of libraries, particularly of the one that I visited regularly as a child. The Children’s Department was decorated on a Winnie-the-Pooh theme (based on the wonderful drawings by E.H. Shepard, not the Disney version). Story Hour was held in a cave-like room that one entered through what appeared to be a door in the trunk of a tree just like the House at Pooh Corner. There was a plushy blue carpet on the floor and star-shaped lights embedded in the ceiling. I have vivid memories of lying on that carpet looking up at the twinkly lights while listening to the story ladies reading aloud. Out in the main room, one of the walls was just one long window seat with steps leading up to it. Each week I selected my ten books (that was the limit), then perched on the window seat and disappeared into them until my mom and dad came upstairs to collect me. I can even recall the precise places along the shelves where my favourite books were located, the ones that I checked out over and over again.

I can’t claim similar fond feelings for any of the laundromats or grocery stores that I’ve passed through in my life. However, there has been the odd bar or café that I've embraced as a second home. There, it’s all about the ambience of the place -- the décor, the food, and, most importantly, the people.

All of which takes me back to the initial question: Is it the “independent” or the “book” that makes independent bookstores so special to so many? Certainly the books are central. Being in a room full of books generates a paradoxical combination of comfort and excitement that I've only otherwise experienced in a really good relationship. But in a truly great bookstore, the sort that inspires devotion, it’s never just books randomly tossed together. It’s an inventory carefully chosen and arranged in a space permeated by the personalities of those who own and run the store. It’s the books together with the independent character of the store that make for magic.

Anyone else out there with memories of beloved libraries or bookstores to share?

1 comment:

patricia said...

Wonderful post.

I would say that it is possible for a library to have the same powerful effect on a person as a very good independent bookstore. Although library branches are run by a larger central system, each indidivual branch has their own unique DNA, due to the staff, the design of the building, and the neighbourhood (which in turn effects the diversity of the collection).

I've always been a big reader, but strangely enough, I only ever went to the library to sign out my books; I never attended any of the programs (I was a very shy kid and adults kinda scared me). I preferred to just read the books myself in the comfort of my own home. Thinking back on this now, I find this a bit odd, since my mother is a librarian (but her specialty was the adult collection as opposed to the children's stuff).

Now that my husband works for The Toronto Public Library, I notice how each branch is very, very different. The quality of programs in each branch depend so much on the talents and enthusiam of the staff who work there. But I'm sure there must be kids now who have a cherished library branch in the city which they frequent.

For me, when I was younger, the independent bookstore 'A Different Drummer' in Burlington, Ont, was (and still is) my favourtie independent bookstore. An absulutely amazing place.

Here's a link to a post I did about that store recently: