Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

A love letter to the library

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A few weeks ago, Nadine White got an email from a faithful patron of the Whistler Public Library (WPL). He told the public services librarian how, living in one of the wealthiest resorts in North America, he sometimes found himself "disgruntled by all these big mansions in Whistler and the life that you're never going to live." But sitting in the WPL's spacious "living room" last winter, watching a dusting of snow gently fall to the ground, he had an epiphany: "This is what it would be like to sit in one of those houses, and I get to experience it and everyone here gets to experience it," White recalls him saying.

In his influential 1989 book,The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg stressed the importance of "the third place" to a society. After the home and workplace, we, being the social creatures we are, yearn for another environment where we can connect with each other and create community. Oldenburg argues that the third place is essential to a thriving society, promoting democracy, civic engagement and a sense of place.

In the endless merry-go-round of a bustling ski town, that sense of connection can be hard to find. Friends come and go with the seasons, family is often miles away, and the typical stresses of resort life can leave one feeling isolated, even alienated from their surroundings.

I could certainly relate to those feelings when I first arrived in Whistler, some seven years ago. As I've written in this space before, I didn't, and still don't quite fit the stereotypical mould of the average outdoorsy Whistlerite, eschewing bikes and boards for books and theatre. (I am not very cool.)

I spent the first year or so here in a sort of self-pitying fog, blaming Whistler for my gnawing loneliness instead of my unwillingness to take advantage of the many wonderful things and people this community has to offer.

But within that isolation, I found a refuge at the library. I still remember the awe I felt the first time I walked through the sliding doors of 4329 Main St., surprised that a sports town not exactly known for its thriving arts scene would be home to such a large and welcoming library. I spent hours there scribbling in my notebook, perusing the shelves, and taking in an event here and there. Over time, it started to feel like home in a town where I didn't have one. I don't think I truly understood this at the time, but looking back, I realize it was through the sense of place I had developed at the library that I was inspired to find that same feeling elsewhere in the community.

It's sometimes easy to forget that Whistler isn't a haven for everyone who lands here. We constantly hear about the positive aspects of Whistler life, the epic pow days, the breathtaking scenery, the thriving nightlife. We're less likely to hear from those who don't quite fit into this unique place. After all, nobody wants to rain on paradise.

That's what makes a place like WPL so valuable. I already had a deep appreciation for the library before writing this week's cover feature ("Turning the page," Pique, Aug. 30), but after speaking with the lovely and thoughtful staff at WPL for my story, it really hit home just how fortunate we are to have a third place like this here. WPL is, in many ways, at the forefront of what public libraries are doing in this country. It was one of the first libraries in Canada to end late fines, has fully embraced emerging technologies in the plans for its upcoming Wonder Lab, and regularly puts on events that get at the heart of what this community is about. (Here is where I shout out the force of nature that is Jeanette Bruce, who has almost singlehandedly transformed WPL's programming to reflect the many divergent elements of this community. I mean, it takes a certain kind of genius to come up with the idea of hosting after-hours laser tag amidst the library shelves. Pew, pew!)

I hope this week's feature reiterated WPL's importance to the resort. Try as I may in these column inches, I could never fully describe its importance to me. Long live the library!