: In 1988 the Nelson Daily News ran this photo of Chief Librarian Deb Thomas throwing a line to patron Fran Reisterer on the narrow

COLUMN: Blood, guts, and the History of the Library

It’s The Story of the Nelson Public Library, 1986 – 2013 by Eileen Holland. And it’s launching Thursday, October 2

It’s a tale of mystery and intrigue. There is romance, and there is risk. There may even be bloodshed — or at least, it has sometimes felt like that to its protagonists. And for the author, it’s been a tale of toil and hardship — but also of reward.

It’s The Story of the Nelson Public Library, 1986 – 2013 by Eileen Holland. And it’s launching Thursday, October 2 at 7 p.m. at your favourite library.

The previous library history (Nelson’s Library, 1895 – 1985), written by author and historian Frances Welwood, begins in the rough-and-tumble days of Nelson’s early years and works its way through various locations and not a few controversies.

Nelson’s citizens supported their library: they sold books and staged plays; they held fundraising concerts, balls, and banquets (the library has always loved a good party). The Nelson Daily Miner rather graphically described the food at the Grand Ball in 1899, including “the somewhat hideous-looking but delicious lobster salad” and jellies that “kept up an agitated movement as the dancer glided over the floor.”

Frances’ lively history leaves us with a library that has outgrown its relatively inaccessible location at the Civic Centre, and a little agitation brewing among the movers and shakers of the day.

Which is where Nelson Library board member and writer Eileen Holland picked up the torch — and picked it up beautifully. The Story of the Nelson Public Library indeed offers mystery and intrigue (will there ever be a new library?) and edge-of-your-seat-moments (will the electorate give the nod to expanded library services?).

There is risk (will thousands of volunteer hours pay off?) and almost-bloodshed (in the form of some particularly cutting letters-to-the-editor). Romance? Well, that’s rooted in the love and loyalty of library patrons, staff, and volunteers from the opening pages until the heartfelt acknowledgements.

Eileen’s history book takes readers through six chief librarians, three referenda and a move, and follows operations from analog systems into the digital age. It’s colourful and readable, with sidebars and photos from the Nelson Leafs hockey team reading with kids to chief librarian Trish Miller belting out the tunes with the band No Excuse (adding sports and music to the narrative).

I got to help out with the creation of this engaging little book, ferreting out photos and filling in the sidebars. It was fun, and a privilege to work with Eileen, who gets the prize for hard work and dedication. In her afterword, she describes her recruitment to the job:

“In early 2012, over coffee at the Dominion Café, chief librarian June Stockdale and library board chair Dianne Harke asked me to write the sequel to Frances Welwood’s Nelson Library 1895 – 1985. I was unaware that the task of researching and writing the history would be similar to strapping myself to the blade of a turbine at the Nelson Hydro power plant for the next two years.” Luckily, the story unfolded without undue violence or dismemberment, turbines notwithstanding.

Eileen will be the honoured guest at the launch, all limbs intact. Frances Welwood will be on hand as Mrs. A.J. McCulloch, secretary of the Nelson Library Association in 1899. Notorious Nelson comedian Lisel Forst is working a comedy sketch for the launch; I think she’s threatening to be “librarians through the ages” or some such thing. And we’ll have library notables past and present, of course.  And food! But I draw the line at jellied salads, no matter how good their rhythm.

Join us, and be a part of the still-to-be-written History of the Nelson Public Library, Part III.

— Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to www.nelsonlibrary.ca.

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