Columnist Anne DeGrace created this cartoon depicting her early experiences at the Nelson library.

COLUMN: The endless evolution of a public space

Check this Out with Anne DeGrace

When I began working at the Nelson Library, I arrived via a steep flight of concrete stairs—the only access. The book drop sometimes contained popcorn with the books. Occasionally an explosion could be heard through the walls into which a hopeful librarian might say: “shhhh.”

The year was 1987, I was 27 years old (I’ll let you do the math), and the library was in a second-floor space in the Nelson Civic Centre. Built in the Depression era, Nelson’s community centre—especially the library—was not built for the mobility-challenged, mothers with strollers, or anyone with asthma or a heart condition. Sometimes on an evening shift, I’d be the only one there. Just me and the ghosts.

The explosions? That would be the Civic Theatre’s Friday night action flick. At least once a month a movie-goer would have the highly original idea to dump their leftover popcorn in the convenient book deposit slot.

That year, then-Chief Librarian Bonnie Sullivan wrote in the annual report that the Library was “open to the able-bodied Monday to Saturday.” Incoming Chief Deb Thomas appeared in a photo in the Nelson Daily News in June 1988, throwing a line to a senior citizen trying to attend the library’s open house.

I was also working at the Express at that time, and I drafted a cartoon highlighting the lack of space, accessibility, and general dinginess for its editorial page—without permission from the Library. If the reprimand I received had been any more emphatic, I might not be writing this today. That cartoon ran, 25 years later, in Eileen Holland’s history book The Story of the Nelson Public Library, 1986 – 2013.

My, how things have changed! In 1990 a referendum was held with hopes for a new regional library, and while it didn’t pan out, we did get new digs in our present location. The whole collection was on one floor, but we were happy campers by comparison. Access for all. No more popcorn in the book drop.

Another referendum in 2010 expanded our service area to include Areas F and South H. We expanded our floorspace to include the lower floor thanks to some generous donors. We refreshed the collection; circulation and foot traffic went up, and our public computers were busy all the time. The library had become a people place, with nary a “shhhh” to be heard.

We’re still a people place. It’s been decades since libraries were warehouses full of books—now, it’s about connecting people to information and each other. But here’s the thing: we’re never actually done. The dust, if you can find any, won’t be settling any time soon.

Folks will have noticed some new changes recently, all aimed at making the library brighter, airier, and even more people-centric. The audio-visual shelves have been removed; daylight now illuminates the farthest corners of the nonfiction section. Three shelves mounted on pillars display new books and staff picks. There’s a comfy seating area in the lounge, and two tables under the art exhibition wall now allow folks with laptops to plug in.

If you’re looking for DVDs, audiobooks on CD, Playaways, or French Language books, watch for signs, or just ask—any one of the friendly non-shushing librarians will point you in the right direction. Along the way you’ll find people browsing, reading, working, chatting, and generally enjoying a bright, engaging space—your space.

We’re always happy to hear from you. Let us know how the space is working (we’re still fine-tuning), what programs you’d like to see us offer and what materials you’d like to find on our shelves. Your library is a community work-in-progress: responsive and forward-thinking, undusty but occasionally still explosive—with enthusiasm. And that’s a happy thing.

Anne DeGrace is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week.


Anne DeGrace

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