Recovery and Renovation

My old library (it’s 113 years old!) is struggling this week. Over the two years I’ve worked there we’ve always had random issues with leaks in the ceilings, especially coming through the rusty sprinkler heads. The source is mysterious, and now we realize there are multiple channels.

It was obvious that when the grease trap in the kitchen upstairs was being cleaned, that the leaks were grease! It was also obvious that when the dishwasher overflowed into a cesspool of stagnant water, eventually finding its way through our ceiling, that this was the source. But now that it’s started raining, and resulted in five or more random leaks with bubbles and cracks forming in the ceiling, it is evident that the pressure is building! May I remind the reader that books and water don’t mix.

We actually had to close once for 5 hours last week as the maintenance worker cut some ceiling holes, and then a full day on the weekend out of fear that if the ceiling collapsed, we would be liable. One day closure doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when it’s pouring outside in the Downtown eastside our space is crucial. Plus, we claim to be open 365 days a year so it’s a bit embarrassing. We debated just closing the north room, and having the check-out counter open. But, the reality is that almost 70% of our circulation is DVDs, which were trapped in the leaky zone.

I think it’s going to be a hectic week, but trying to chill out and enjoy some Yo-Yo Ma on the cello. I’m also remembering some real sweet moments with patrons over the month that make me smile. Just simple things like giving a dude a big hug on the street who was shouting for joy at Main & Hastings that he was 90 days clean of heroin! Or having lunch with “Jimmy” and “Harold” – essentially two brothers from different mothers.

Jimmy was all excited about turning 60 because he was going to get 40 pieces of Kentucky Fried Chicken and share them out with all his friends! He was especially pleased at being sober for so long, and just started praising God in the middle of the cafeteria. Harold was sitting with me, and joins in on the fun. He also remembered that it was because of God that he was able to kick smoking. The two of them just go wild with happiness, explaining how they prayed and how God put a bubble of protection around them to keep them safe. I was almost cracking up, they were so elated.

I wasn’t laughing because I thought they were foolish in their praise, but rather just how awesome these old timers were. They had absolutely no boundaries or sense that their proclamations might not be “politically correct” or appropriate for lunch time banter. They truly couldn’t care less, and were just having a blast discovering their shared sense of jubilation. All glory to God.

It was also a great reminder that people do recover. Both men will most likely always live in “poverty” due to physical ailments and age, but they had this incredible zest for life. They epitomized Psalm 103 without even knowing it… their youth was renewed like eagles. I know that Harold loves photography, and has learned to make a blog, and goes on these day trip adventures with his bus pass around the Lower Mainland. He’s really cool, and always seems to have this great energy and rocks hilarious t-shirts that he either picks up at the Richmond airport thrift shop, or gets custom made. He makes my day.

In terms of the library, I hope the carpenters can restore the place in good time. The Maintenance Director and I felt badly that for the residents in the neighbourhood dilapidated buildings were the norm – most patrons were oblivious, just reading away as buckets filled up with water around them. At least the new branch at Hastings & Heatley will be state-of-the-art. That’s how it should be. The community who needs the resources the most, should have the best. Carnegie still has its place, but I’ll be grateful for the new library to relieve some of our pressures.

And yet, I think I secretly enjoy being the underdog. I revel in the awesome statistics we have for foot traffic and the growth in our circulation. I battle for better staffing hours to improve customer service, reduce the line-ups, and support my team. When a person (from a different department) has the nerve to say that, “Carnegie doesn’t deserve nice shelves,” it fuels me to defy him. It’s almost more exciting to work with limitations and stereotypes, and be the best we can be. Bring it on.

Here’s an article we were featured in last month from the City of Vancouver, stating that “City’s smallest library makes a big impact.” You bet it does.




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