Fall 2004 - Volume 7 Number 4
Book Guy: A Librarian in the Peace
Victoria: TouchWood Editions, 2001
It must have been about 1955 when a small storefront that once housed a failed appliance repair service became the home of the Highland Creek Public Library, and brought books to the small rural community where I was growing up. Half a century later, I have only vague recollections of the (to me) old women who tended a collection of a few thousand volumes, certainly fewer than I have in my home today.
Whatever prompted their dedication and their labour surely was not the financial reward. Nor was it any rarefied, teleological belief in the quest for universal enlightenment. My guess is that these womenthey were always womenwere people of middling intelligence, limited imagination and unending cheerfulness and good will. Providing useful information or spinning a good yarn were, by their lights, what books were for. Howard Overend would have been delighted.
Book Guy is a memoir by a pioneer of the printed word in the Peace River district of northern British Columbia who brought instruction and entertainment and (who knows?) maybe even enlightenment to the denizens of a remote part of Canada.
The challenges are those of nature and budgets. Obstacles are overcome when possible and endured when not. Hardy and humble, the characters in this unassuming tale of innocent experience triumph (when they do) through perseverance not ideology and conflict, for it never occurs to them that even a small reordering of provincial government priorities would totally transform their lives.
There are other reasons why these are not the sort of librarians (nor the sort of people) we encounter today. Howard Overend's rise to a senior post seems as casual (and inevitable) as befits the modesty of his role. His memoir is one of gentle nostalgia. There is no digital delirium here, nor dreams of distance learning, merely the problem of driving a heaterless bookmobile over unpaved roads in winter.
Everything that made me want to leave Highland Creek in the mid-sixties is here in abundancethe careful avoidance of talk about social justice, the reduction of social reality to anecdotes and gossip and the isolation from the sophistication of the larger world. Evident as well are people not yet entangled in information technology and mediated by machines. I can no longer imagine living among them, but it was good to pay a visit to them and their time, and to be grateful for the books they lent me as a means to leave.
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