Searching for treasures: An ode to the public library (by Heather Phipps)

I ransack public libraries, and find them full of sunk treasure.

–Virginia Woolf

I’ve always had a love of public libraries. They provide safe spaces for learning, creativity and intergenerational connections. When visiting a library, I am always looking for image one cultural centre.jpgtreasure and ready to find the unexpected. While it may seem at first glance that libraries are simply quiet places, when taking a closer look it becomes apparent that they are much more than that. The beauty of the public library is that the doors are open for all to visit. One can explore and read to one’s heart’s content. Most recently, I have enjoyed visiting the new Benny library that has recently opened its doors in Notre-Dame-de-Grace (NDG), situated in the local arts and cultural centre, Le Centre culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grace.

Even before one enters the building, Le Centre culturel de Notre-Dame-de-Grace is intriguing image two piano.jpgwith its bright and colourful exterior. Just inside the entrance is a painted piano. Beside the piano is a food bank donation box. A gallery room features a photo exhibit on dance in Montreal. Community bulletins display information on local events such as the Blue Metropolis literary festival presently taking place in the city.  This arts and cultural centre offers visitors the opportunity to engage with the arts in multiple forms, including music, dance, and the visual and literary arts.

Once inside, the library buzzes with an energy that flows image three library entrance.jpgthroughout the building.  A poster at the entrance to the collections displays the  following words which encapsulate the vision of the public library: s’évader, échanger, rêver, comprendre,
participer, communiquer, s’informer, créer, apprendre, découvrir, construire, jouer
(escape, exchange, dream, understand, participate, communicate, be informed, create, learn, discover, construct and play).

The spacious and beautiful arrangement of the library provides many areas to explore. The design of the building takes into consideration the many ways that people may wish to use the space. For instance, the wide staircase to the second floor provides an open seating area with cushions for young readers. On the upper level, in addition to the large collection for adults and young adults, there are comfortable reading areas and open study areas, as well an area where adolescents can gather, read and use computers. Large windows and plants brighten the space and provide for an inspiring image four staircase.jpgenvironment. Here, I came across a wonderful spot to read and write, at a table situated in a very quiet corner of the library with sunlight pouring in the window and a lovely plant. image five plant.jpgThis is a more secluded study area, but others may prefer to work at the open tables that are situated throughout the second floor. I notice a father and son working on homework together at one of the tables, both silently concentrating on their studies. Another man is seated near a window and quietly rehearsing a speech. Groups of students have their books spread out across larger tables, focused on their work.

When I inquired about the library collection, I learned that this particular library collection is approximately 60% French and 40 % English. There are eye-catching displays of books for adults, inviting discovery; for April, a display with a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction books in both French and English related to the subject of autism. Here, I came across a treasure of a book titled Feelings. I paused to enjoy its creative textures, words and images.

image six feelings book.jpg

Beside the book display, an information board with posters related to literature caught my attention. One poster indicated that local award-winning novelist Monique Polak would be visiting the Benny Library to discuss her most recent YA (young adult) books this month. Another indicated an upcoming Speedbooking event taking place on World Book Day (April 23rd) when readers are invited to share their love of a favourite book with other readers in 180 seconds. What a great way to engage with fellow readers and learn about new books (perhaps I will sign up!). Another poster promotes shortlisted books for a Montreal library book award, Le prix du club des irrésistibles. There is a lot happening here and so many new books to read!

Returning to the first floor, I quickly browsed the music and films and then wandered over to explore the children’s literature section (littérature jeunesse) that includes a wide range of picture books, documentaries, novels, and even games and toys. In addition to the image nine bookcase.jpgbooks, computers are set up for children to research and play games. A special desk is available for young readers to consult with the librarians. The section is filled with children and parents, devouring the books with delight! Comfortable spaces are provided for children to sit and read together.  The books are appealingly displayed in such a way that children can select books according to
their own interest. There is a mélange of fiction and non-fiction texts in English and French on a wide range of diverse topics. As the library was about to close at 5 pm, many of the children were still lost in the imaginary world of their books! A librarian approached the reading area announcing, “En tout cas, on va fermer dans quelques minutes!” (So, we’re closing in a few minutes!), but the children did not want to stop reading or move from their comfortable chairs. I had to smile as it occurred to me that reading is alive and well in this library! How wonderful. As an educator and language and literacy researcher, I would say this public library has succeeded in engaging young bilingual readers!

image ten picture books.jpg

A public library is much more than a collection of books and image eleven plants and stairs.jpgmultimedia resources. It is also a space where people spend time thinking, reading, imagining, and being together. Providing access to information and resources for all members of a community, the library is at the heart of life-long learning and community building. Have you visited a public library recently? Have you taken part in a literary event at a local library? If so, what treasures did you and your children find there? Visit your local library to find out about events taking place! You’ll be glad you did.
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