Patricia McCowan

Writer, reader, walker.

Month: June 2014

Libraries I Have Known and (Sometimes) Loved, circa 1970s

My first part-time job as a high school student was at Winnipeg’s Centennial Library. It’s now much expanded and called The Millennium Library. I’m really hoping it becomes The Sesquicentennial Library when Manitoba celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2020, just because it’s fun to say “sesquicentennial.” Try it. See?

Anyway, I had applied to be a page, one of those people who wheel book-laden carts through the stacks to put all the Danielle Steel books back where they belong. I had the whole Dewey Decimal system down cold, and I was always happy amidst books, so I thought the job would be a perfect fit for me.

I got hired, but not to shelve books. I was assigned to the audio-visual department. In the late ’70s, audio-visual – or AV, to be properly nerdy – meant books-on-tape, VHS videos, and vinyl record albums. Vinyl record albums in their square, skinny covers, tightly packed together on row after row of shelves. Instead of sliding novels, biographies, and weight-loss tomes back onto their ample perches, I was wrecking my cuticles wedging albums back into their little slivers of shelf space.

Then there was the wear and tear that happened to those album covers, what with all the jimmying out of or shoving back into the shelves. (Not to mention whatever mistreatment they were subjected to in the various record-borrowers’ backpacks or basement bedrooms!) When the records were at risk of slipping right out of the bottom of their damaged covers, I’d get stuck in the AV section’s tiny office, taping album covers back together with the guy who was super fond of talking about Chick Corea. Some albums were more popular than others, getting borrowed and returned on a weekly basis. These required more taping. I taped up a lot of Hall & Oates in my time at the Centennial. And Fleetwood Mac. Also Queen. Those covers are imprinted on my mind. So. Much. Hair.

When I wasn’t re-shelving or repairing, I was re-winding. Re-winding is now a lost skill, like butter-churning or repairing things. But books-on-tape and videos had to be re-wound, and because pretty much everyone ignored the “Please Rewind” notes affixed to those tapes and videos, it fell to the diligent pages of the AV section to do the rewinding. You’re welcome, people from the ’70s who couldn’t be bothered.

So, as with every good high school job, I learned a lot about human nature working in the AV section of the Winnipeg Centennial Library. We’re tough on the things we love. When we’re finished with something, there is no rewinding. And even if we don’t get exactly the job we want, we can still learn about Chick Corea.

HONEYCOMB has landed!

My baby arrived!

My baby arrived today!

All of those months of thinking, plotting, drafting, writing, scratching out, rewriting, editing, worrying, re-editing and proofing come down to this. An actual book I can hold in my hands. It’s an old process, book publishing, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it now.

Libraries I Have Known and Loved, circa 1960s

It’s a Winnipeg summer day in the late ’60s and I’ve set off on a walk with my big sister to get my first library card. A card with my name on it. A card that I will be expected to keep un-lost in my bedroom instead of in my mom’s purse. A card that means I’m old enough to pick out any books I want, as long as they’re from the children’s shelves. I’m cool with that.

My sister and I leave sunshine behind and head down the darkened stairs in the strip-mall where our local library branch is located. At the bottom of those stairs, the library is on the left. A bowling alley is on the right. A library and a bowling alley, side-by-side, just the way nature intended, right? Suburban life was like that in the ’60s. Sort of like the way every basement in every bungalow in our neighbourhood came with not only a laundry room, but a bar. (Not that libraries are as boring as laundry rooms!)

Anyway, my sister and I turn left. And once the library door sighs shut behind us, the sound of falling pins is muffled and we are wrapped in the calm hush of the library. Libraries were still hush-hush places back then. No computers. No one yakking on a cell phone. Just the swishing of card catalogue drawers being opened and closed, the squeak of the book-cart wheels announcing the slow but sure restocking of shelves. I stand on the threshold of a life-long friendship. An unforgettable moment.

Except I forget what books I took out. I know, that should be the point. I should remember running my fingers across all those plastic-covered book spines until I came to Anne of Green Gables or Black Beauty or some Trixie Belden mystery. Cue angel chorus! Nope. Instead, I remember the lady librarian’s pencil. It had a little stamp thingy attached to it, so that after she took the card out of the pocket that was glued onto the front page of the book, wrote my name down on that card and filed it away, she could stamp the due-date on the slip of paper that was glued to the pocket that was glued to the front page of the book. (Signing out a book was like a manufacturing process in those days.) The stamp thingy was the best part.

Actually, walking home with my sister, holding those books (whichever ones they were) against my chest so everyone could see I had been to the library was the best part. Until we got home. Then I’m sure the best, best part was sitting on a blanket under our backyard weeping-willow tree and reading those books. Those books I picked out myself. For free. Lots of things have changed since that day, but the power of a library card still thrills me.


And so it begins.

Welcome to my blog! I’ll be writing about my novel, Honeycomb, arriving in Fall 2014. I’ll be writing about libraries, because I’ve loved them my whole life. I’ll be writing about walking, because I find walking to be a vital part of my writing process – and my living process. And I’ll be writing about anything related to all of the above. I’m happy to have you along with me.

© 2019 Patricia McCowan

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