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The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia by Dave Obee

“My elementary school was Lord Roberts in the west end of Vancouver.
Its library was the place where I felt most like me.”
—from the Foreword by Sarah Ellis in 
The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia

150 years of anything would probably make a good book—so long as the research and writing are up to snuff. In 2011, the British Columbia Library Association marked its centennial, fittingly, with a book dedicated to the development of libraries over the past one-and-a-half centuries. Journalist and author Dave Obee was awarded the task, and the result is a visually engaging history appealing to anyone with a love of libraries and history.

Explorers as far back as Simon Fraser brought books with them on their journeys, to stock the lending libraries of the Northwest Trading Company. British Columbia’s early libraries were established in saloons, hotels, news agents, in private collections, company reading rooms and a shelf or two of shop space.  In the 1860s, British Columbia’s pioneers were eager for the writing of Charles Dickens; George Eliot; Anthony Trollope and Charles Darwin. Today, despite the fact that more than 50 million books [are now] circulated through British Columbia public libraries every year” you can make a purposeful and productive trip to the library without even looking at a book.

Since their inception, every aspect of public libraries had great appeal to British Columbia’s growing communities, except for who would pay for them. And how. The precarious financial position of libraries continued well into the 20th century and Obee cites the many measures, from the delightful (picnic fundraisers) to the dire (summer and permanent closures) that have been implemented to deal with debts and rising operating costs.

Andrew Carnegie’s place in the history of British Columbia’s libraries is worthy of a chapter all it’s own. Of the 100 libraries in Canada made possible by Carnegie money three were in British Columbia: Vancouver, Victoria and New Westminster. There would have been a fourth, in Nelson, had the town not spurned the railway magnate’s generosity.

Historical photographs and carefully curated quotes from librarians, writers, public officials and patrons bring colour to this chronicle. “The library is the mother ship,” writes Annabel Lyon. “It’s vast, it’s warm, it hums, you can sleep there if you need to, head on your arms in a carrel, and no one will bother you.”

Beyond books, the library was, even early on, an “alternative to the saloon and a refuge for those with no place to go”. Today, libraries continue to function as “community living rooms” and librarians in the information age are relied upon to help us find “and filter the good from bad”.

“The Internet is marvellous,” librarian Mark Y. Herring is quoted as saying, “but to claim, as some do now, that it’s making libraries obsolete is as silly as saying shoes have made feet unnecessary.”


Mohamed Elnemr said…
great book very usefll

thank you very much
Mohamed Elnemr said…
great book it is very usefull

thank you very much

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