Whistler’s door to the imagination The Whistler Public Library is sought out by people from all walks of life By Stephen Vogler Libraries are a door into another world. Sure, ours is small and dwarfed by the hotels and restaurants that tower around it. The door is just a metal frame with a pane of glass in the middle; no granite steps with mighty oak portals here. But no matter. It is still a door, a passageway into another world — into the world of the imagination. 1. Author > Bowering, George > Press Enter A couple of weeks ago I passed through that door into 18th century British Columbia. That is, I withdrew George Bowering’s Burning Water, a fictional rendering of George Vancouver’s exploration of the Pacific Northwest. About halfway through the novel, after Vancouver has explored endless inlets in search of the Northwest Passage, his ship, the Discovery, suddenly lifts into the air. Powered by the sheer hope and imagination of its captain and crew it sails high over the mountains and prairies and finally lands in Hudson’s Bay. At that point I put down the book and suddenly remembered a reading George Bowering had done at the Whistler Public Library in the late ’80s. While discussing Burning Water, he’d mused that some critics and historians had found certain details in the book to be historically inaccurate. While these disciples of fact had scrutinized his novel for accuracy, not one of them took exception to the passage where the 99 foot sloop took flight over a large portion of North America. What’s funny about all of this is that the critics and historians had completely forgotten that they were dealing with a work of fiction. They’d been pulled so completely into the world of the imagination that they’d forgotten to leave their measuring sticks at home. But who can blame them? I arrived at the library this morning with every intention of writing a factual, journalistic account of the place, and already I’ve been drawn into that imaginative world. Instead of sticking to the world of facts — of library history and politics and grants and future plans — I’ve wandered off on a 200 word aside that winds its way through fictions and memories and lands me write back at the front door of the article — or rather, the library. And this, I see now, is where I must begin, with my feet firmly planted at the door, being ever vigilant not to be sucked in like a fly in the path of a vacuum cleaner. 2. Subject > Library Patrons > Press Enter I perch my coffee cup, tape recorder and camera on the railing next to the front door and wait for unsuspecting library patrons. "Hi, what brings you to the library this morning?" I ask one of the first visitors of the day. "I just like to have something to read at night," says Nicole, a young woman from Australia. "Usually fiction, or if I want to know about specific places and stuff like that. It’s more the books than the computers." "I have this notion that the doorway is a kind of gateway into the world of the imagination," I say. "Do you ever feel like you can get lost in that other world when you enter the library?" "Yeah, you do. You get so absorbed in what you’re doing and what you’re looking for," she says and then disappears inside. Ross has come looking for books on photography to prepare him for his winter job with Coast Mountain Photography. "Definitely so," he says to my notion about the doorway. "Just the other day I was walking in there and it was really cold and rainy outside, and you walk in there and it’s nice and warm and it was really busy. I’ve always had a fascination for books. "I’ve travelled a lot too, and there’s so much more out there than just Whistler. I mean Whistler’s great, but there’s so much more too, and I think — with my itchy travelling feet — you can kind of get a bit of that out of your system just in there. "There’s too much TV going on here anyway. I’m from South Africa and there’s far too many channels here so you end up watching too much TV. I’ve just started up at the library and it’s good to get into some books." As Ross disappears through the door, Christine emerges from the library. "I just ran in," she says, "I needed a picture of a leopard because I’m designing a tattoo for someone. I like to go to spend some alone time in there sometimes. Either a coffee shop or there — good places to be." "Tattooing sounds like an interesting occupation," I say. "I don’t do the tattoo art — just design them," Christine tells me. "I don’t like to inflict that much pain." Michel came to Whistler from Quebec two years ago. He started coming to the library his second week in town, mostly for the books and magazines. "Books on travel and fiction," he says. "Fantasy, like Isaac Asimov or Anne McCaffrey. I do a lot of drawings so I come here for ideas. I read a lot of the science magazines to get ideas for new drawings." Asked whether he feels Whistler should have a larger library, Michel says, "Yeah, that would be nice — more choice of books. A small conference room would be nice. A place where you could actually talk and have discussion groups." Jeanine Maloney, who used to volunteer at the library, agrees. "As Whistler is growing there’s no doubt that it needs to be a little larger. They are cramped in here and some days it’s very busy," she says, but adds that it’s an excellent library for the size. "It really is. I’m impressed by the number of books they have — the topics and subjects." She’s here today to pick up an Elizabeth George mystery that she has reserved. "It’s nice, you know, you put your name in for a new book and then they call you when it’s ready. It’s nice that you can get non-fiction books — gardening books, art books, things like that." She also takes advantage of the program which allows you to reserve a book from any library in B.C. A young woman by the name of Caroline arrives at the steps with her dog OVE (that’s French for UFO). "I just need a quiet place to write my friends a letter," she says. Presented with my esoteric theory on library doors, she says, "All libraries are like that. Even in Vancouver, you just go there and read and write about stuff that you like." She doesn’t have a library card because she doesn’t have a permanent address yet. "I came out to do my resume a week ago," she says. "It’s very useful, and they have internet access, too." When she steps through the door, OVE and I look at each other. He doesn’t respond to any of my questions and I can see that, without his interpreter, the language barrier will be a problem. I have a feeling he’s thinking about the door. With nobody arriving, I decide that it’s finally time to pass through to the other side. 3. Keywords > Joan Richoz > Press Enter I walk in and stand next to the desk where a few people are withdrawing books. Once the line dwindles, Joan Richoz, Whistler’s head librarian, quickly ushers me into the back room. We walk down its length, deep into the recesses of the library’s right brain. Books are stacked, boxed and shelved everywhere. This is where they’re sorted, catalogued, weeded and replaced; it’s the central nervous system of the collection. It’s also the staff room. Joan is Whistler’s library matriarch. Having started the facility in 1986 at its former location, in the basement of municipal hall, she still brims with excitement in talking about it. I get the feeling she is a competent captain of this ship of the imagination. "Yeah, it’s a nice way of putting it," she says about my fascination with the door. "And one thing that I love about the library is that when people come here they have a chance not only to learn, but also to interact with other people in Whistler. A lot of people feel that this is where the real people of Whistler are — although we do get tourists — it’s a real part of Whistler that’s right in the centre of town. "But it really serves a bit as a community centre as well. It’s great for new people who come into town because they can get all the information that they need here, and even meet new people." Joan says that at this time of year, as in the spring, a lot of people come in to type their resumes on the computers. That brings them in initially, but then they discover what the library has to offer. A lot of them think a small town library will be a reading room with a bunch of dusty paperbacks, she says, but once they come in they say, "Oh, it’s a real library." Library patrons come from all segments of Whistler society. "We get all ages," Joan says. "We do have a lot of 20 to 30 year olds, I think because so many people that come to Whistler for a season are taking a year off from university. Very often the second day they’re here in Whistler they come to join the library, and I find that really wonderful." She also sees the large print books going out more now, which may be a sign that the average age in the community is going up. "I would say the people who don’t use it (the library) a lot are maybe business owners just because of the nature of their work. They’re really busy." Teenagers are also noticeably absent, and the library is in the early stages of creating a program where teens could have the library for their own use at specific times. From surveys they’ve conducted, Joan says about 75 per cent of the people walking through the door are coming in for books. The internet is also being used a lot these days. "Videos are really popular too," Joan says, "because the collection started out being complimentary to the video stores and it’s always growing." Now it’s starting to focus on award-winning films and foreign films. The CDs and Talking Books are often used by people for their drives to Vancouver. The children’s section is really well used by pre-schoolers, Joan says, but also by older kids. "The really keen readers always come here with their parents on weekends or after school; they come to the summer reading clubs as well. And you see them progressing and becoming better and better readers, and just totally absorbed by books. There’s wonderful children’s books out there and great Canadian children’s books too, which I feel really strongly about. I think it’s really important that our children read Canadian children’s books that reflect Canadian life and communities rather than just American ones." The amount of books crammed around us is testament to the fact that the library has outgrown its current space. "We’re getting to the point where we don’t have a lot of room on the shelves, so we’re weeding the collection a lot. That’s why we’re having a lot of book sales lately," says Joan. But having to weed the collection isn’t an entirely bad thing. "It’s really good to weed your collection of the books that are damaged or shabby looking, or out of date or aren’t being read. There are certain books that don’t get read all the time but you keep them anyway, because they’re classics and they’re great literature, but it’s important that the collection be really alive and up to date." A new library and museum facility is planned for Lot 1, between the brew pub and the medical centre, but realistically the opening date is about four years off, says Joan. In the meantime they’re hoping to add on to the current building. "We’ve just started some talks with the municipality, because there is some space out here and it just depends on who it belongs to, and whether we can get another trailer. We can’t stay in this space for another four years. It’s packed and there’s no room for people to sit. We need three or four times the number of seats that we have. People sit in the aisles and in the picture book area, which isn’t great, because it should be just for parents and children." Things have been moving in the right direction, however. On January 1st, 1999, the current public library association will become a municipal library. This means that instead of depending on a grant-in-aid, which varies in amount with the generosity of the council of the day, the library will be solidly funded in relation to the tax base. The library board will still be the employer, but that board will now be appointed by council. "This is very good," Joan says. "It secures our funding and also shows a lot of confidence in us as a library. It’s really setting the foundations for a new facility. We’ve been working really closely with municipal staff, and they’ve been great. They’re really supportive, and they’re bending over backwards to help us." 1. Author > MacDonald, Anne-Marie > Press Enter After saying good-bye to Joan, I decide to take a quick trip to Cape Breton Island — early part of the century. I find Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees, and check it out at the front desk. As I walk to the door, I find myself imagining the new library on Lot 1. I picture a West Coast style building with cedar siding. They’ve left many of the trees on the lot and it’s just a short walk through the forest to the cultural centre. I picture the new library door, perhaps made from two huge pieces of fir and carved to look like an open book. I walk through it, into the Whistler afternoon air, holding the novel tightly in my hand.