By Anne DeGrace
It’s always been about the books.
As a child it was The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by DuBose Heyward, which told me I could be anything I wanted if I embraced courage and compassion.
In my teens I devoured The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and learned that social status and integrity are not mutually exclusive, and that kindness is possible anywhere.
I’ve read Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger a dozen times. Franny’s existential crisis, the quiet concern of her eccentric family, and those big questions and elusive answers all pointed to a foundational trust in humanity.
Books I have loved — and there have been so many — have made me laugh, cry, and think. They have been my mirror and my window.
I have often thought it so appropriate that bibliophiles and the subjects of their enthusiasm would have the same word at their core. It’s our spines, after all, that keep us upright physically and honest metaphorically.
As a young fledgling, libraries and bookstores were my haunts. Wherever books were at home, so was I. So when I arrived in Nelson in challenging personal circumstances, becoming a used-book seller was a way to keep the wolf from the door while drawing books around me like a blanket.
Imagine my joy when, at age 27, I was hired for an on-call position at the Nelson Public Library. I felt I had landed among friends, in all their various spines. I have been privileged to be among exceptional colleagues and kindred booklovers.
It’s been a remarkable journey these 32 years, with changes in technology, scope, and even culture — and in me as well.
In 1987, librarians were primarily keepers of books and story-time leaders; now, we are ambassadors of lifelong learning, culture, and community.
Then, computers were processing machines, printers were dot matrix, and our first public computer freaked at least a few of us out: what were those kids playing? Now, our public computers are nearly always full, our Wi-Fi is available to all, we help the technologically-baffled find their way, and we’re poised to offer a digital makerspace this spring.
Throughout it all we have been a place that brings people together, fosters friendships, and builds community. That hasn’t changed; it’s just become moreso.
Today is my last day. I’m retiring after 32 years at the Nelson Public Library. Naturally, it’s making me reflective. So here’s what I’ve come to know:
Yes, it’s been about the books — and with that, language and literacy and lifelong learning — but more than that, it’s been about the people. It’s been every face that has come to the library with a smile and a purpose.
You might have come in excited to read the new Louise Penny mystery; you might have been a traveller, anxious to connect with people back home; perhaps you brought your wee one to storytime or came with your friends to celebrate the launch of a new book by a local author. Maybe you had your question answered, leaving with new knowledge tucked under your arm or in your head.
Every time someone would leave the library a little happier — a problem solved, a wish fulfilled, a friendly conversation enjoyed, a book in hand — it made me happier, too. That’s quite a gift.
So thank you for being that gift. We would not have books without the people who read them, and we would not have community without the people who make it so, and that’s you: with your courage and compassion, your integrity, your kindness, and your trust in yourselves and in one another.
You’ve been my mirror and my window, and for that I am hugely grateful.
Anne DeGrace has been the adult services co-ordinator at the Nelson Public Library. This is her last column, and her 219th for the Star. Check This Out will continue every other week with library columnist Avi Silberstein.