Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

More than a library

I’ve always taken refuge in libraries.

I’ve always taken refuge in libraries. As a kid growing up in Toronto, where it was hot enough in the summer months to fry eggs on the sidewalk (my dad actually did this once, showing off for the neighbours), the library was the only air-conditioned building in my neighbourhood.

We got shushed a lot, but for my friends and I it was a far better option than lazing around all day in pools of our own sweat. There was a resident guinea pig there to get into staring contests with, filing cabinets full of short educational reels to watch in private rooms, a whole section of comics and cartoon compilations, and, when we got around to it, an impressive collection of books to read.

We mostly hung out in the kids’ section, but occasionally popped over to the adult area, where it was so quiet you could hear a pin drop, to look through National Geographic magazines. Boys will be boys.

I’ve always been a reader, but when you practically live at your local public library you tend to devour books. If I didn’t have such an excellent library just two blocks from my house, or maybe lived just a little bit closer to the public pool, I would probably be a very different person than I am today.

The library was one of the reasons I chose the University of King’s College in Halifax over other post-secondary schools. It’s a small but beautiful building, financed heavily by well-to-do alumni, and just happens to house one of the most impressive collections of old books anywhere in Canada.

The downstairs was always cool, quiet and dark, with glass cases along the back wall filled with museum-quality artifacts and displays. I used to go there at crunch time when I had a report I had to finish by yesterday.

Too far from home, I also used to go there to nap and to sleep off hangovers between classes, laying my head down on my bookbag in a private study carol and snoozing until my watch alarm went off.

I took a year off University and spent a winter in Banff learning to snowboard and generally goofing off. When I arrived in town, long before I found a job or made any new friends, I sought out the library. It was small and located in the basement of a quiet corner building just off Banff Ave., but it had one of the most amazing collections of books and magazines I’d seen anywhere. I didn’t feel settled until my library card finally came in the mail.

A few years after graduating from King’s College, I came to Whistler. I spent a few weeks sleeping on a friend’s floor and putting together a resume and spec stories for Pique Newsmagazine, which means I spent a lot of time in the library.

Needless to say I was disappointed to find the Whistler Library crammed into a couple of trailers with a relatively small collection of books – all they had space for I was told by the librarian. There were water stains on the ceiling, stains on the carpet and only a few old reading tables and chairs. There were no music rooms, no film rooms, no guinea pigs, no display cases, and only a few busy study carols. There was nowhere to nap.

I wondered how a town as wealthy and as obviously proud of itself as Whistler could be so smug while its library collecting sat moldering in a glorified bookmobile.

I was baffled by the town’s priorities – three golf courses, half a dozen well-groomed parks, an awesome sports centre, nice schools, five star hotels, properties selling for millions, and a well-built infrastructure to service everything – and a library that most second-world countries would be ashamed of.

Whistler is a young town, and I understand it takes awhile to build these things. The library near where I grew up turned 50 a few years ago, as did the Banff library. The King’s College Library was one of the oldest in Canada, and was recently rebuilt with a massive amount of alumni money and sponsorship.

But now, at last, after years of fundraising, wheeling and dealing, the library will finally get its due. The official groundbreaking ceremony for the new and improved Whistler Library is this Saturday (June 18) at 3 p.m.

It’s a controversial building to say the least. At $8.1 million, the 14,500 square foot library is unbelievably expensive for a town of 10,000 permanent residents.

Part of the cost comes from using green building standards, which I support, and from the addition of much needed community space to the structure.

Part of the cost also has to do with the skyrocketing expense of construction materials and labour, which goes to show that the library really should have been built a long time ago – hindsight being 20-20.

And let’s face it – for a town like Whistler the library has just got to look good, and good looking libraries cost more than false-fronted cinderblock buildings like they have in Squamish and practically everywhere else.

The Whistler Museum and Archives were not included in the final building design, which I personally believe was a mistake, however valid the reasons given for separating the two facilities. The glass cases at King’s College showed me that a good facility can be both a library and a museum, and I’m sure the new library building could have easily housed Whistler’s history in one room with a few large display cases running over into the library area. Both the library and museum have overlapping purposes in the community, educating and archiving, and should be kept together.

That’s all water under the bridge now. The important thing is Whistler is finally getting a new library and it’s going to be great. Not perfect, not cheap, but great.

After almost six years here, at last it’s starting to feel like home.