The Ottawa Public Library provides service to the entirety of Ottawa. As such, our customers are diverse and eclectic. Each brings to OPL unique experiences that in turn inform how they use, think and feel about the Library. In this series, the Ottawa Public Library is asking customers to reflect on their relationship to the library – what they come to OPL for, why the library is meaningful or important to them and their communities, and how they envision the Library changing. Read the previous entry here. This time, Julie answers the question: What’s your OPL Experience?
Ask any one of my friends where I spend my free time each week and the first thing out of their mouth will be “the library!” Truth be told, it’s a weekly ritual of mine: I visit the library, check out some books, and spend my Saturday morning drinking coffee on a patio, devouring whatever new novel I’ve gotten my hands on.
Thinking back, the library has held a place of importance in my life ever since I was a young child. Looking back in my memories, I can picture my parents taking my sister and I to visit the “world of books.” I never realized how much it shaped my life until I was struck by a remark made by one of my friends. “What, people really go to the library? I’ve never been before!”
You can imagine how intense and emotional my reaction was. In fact, it saddened me deeply! Never having visited the library, he missed out on a feast of knowledge about the human condition. He has never dined on the art of perspective, never drank from the deep well of characters and their psyches, never indulged in discussion of existential questions at an intellectual meal!
My apologies, I’m carrying on a bit. If this metaphor is too intense or dramatic for your tastes, permit me to change course slightly. To me, the library always seemed somewhat of a magical place, one that gave me tools to access countless sources of reliable scientific information and one that helped me develop my passion for reading novels, especially detective/mystery and adventure novels.
Every book I read, though fictional, is a journey into another universe, where I can compare someone else’s viewpoint to my own life. Every novel teaches me even more about the human condition, especially when the characters aren’t stock Hollywood figures, but real, fleshed-out individuals, with believable strengths and flaws.
At the same time, these parallel fictional words portray communities that are different, yet familiar. Even in science-fiction novels that depict out-of-this-world planets, the challenges the characters face and the moral dilemmas that rend their souls could often have been pulled straight from our own reality.
I’ve already talked about how, for me, the library is a place where you can learn about others by immersing yourself in a writer’s vision. However, it’s also a meeting place for sharing with others. That means the library is not just a space for individual exploration or philosophical introspection, but also for encountering new people.
For example, not long ago I had the privilege of working in a team to facilitate a conversation group for adults who wanted to learn French. Each week, we met at the library to explore vocabulary related to a weekly theme and to speak in French about our opinions, preferences and lived experiences. It was a joy to laugh, chat, explain wordplay, explore the beauty of language, and connect with each other!
I’ll finish my reflections on the importance of libraries by giving you some recommendations for your next reads. I’m doing so quite mindfully, as it not only lets us connect and share, but also helps me deepen my understanding of the worlds these authors depict and the visions they put forward.
With that in mind, for your next read, might I suggest Katarina Bivald’s latest novel, Check in at the Pine Away Motel. Some might consider it a bit long, at over 550 pages, but the characters are so imperfect and real that they immediately reminded me of people I know. The other thing that really intrigued me about this book is that the story is told from beyond the grave, the narrator having died tragically. Now, none of us can be certain what happens after we die, but the narrator’s words, actions, and concerns say a great deal about love and the importance of friends.
As a mystery-lover, I can also recommend Denis Thériault’s latest novel, called Manucure (available in French only). Approximately 250 pages long, the plot moves fairly quickly. Laetitia/Emma, the novel’s main character, is oh so human, with some strange habits to boot! It’s likely you won’t catch on to who’s guilty or what their motive is until the final pages! This is a great whodunit with almost poetic description and a story that really grabs the reader’s attention.
I hope that you not only read these books, but also come away from them inspired to reflect on the human condition and discuss them with a friend or loved one. Take the time to explore the world of fiction (maybe in a library) with an open mind, joy, and a love of learning!