Powell River beckons

Today was a fantastic day to be a librarian. I went to the monthly Leadership Team meeting and felt a strange confidence in sharing thoughts around vigilance in keeping our patrons alert in light of overdose (there is a dilemma whether Librarians should actually administer Naloxone vs. the implications on the City if things go wrong), and then thoughts on gathering public feedback on a funding initiative, in particular those who are serving the marginalized to reduce the digital divide. I emphasized the value in connecting with those non-profit groups who depend on volunteers, grants and sketchy funding to do the grunt work in community.

At the end of the meeting the City Librarian acknowledged the news that I was leaving VPL, and heading to Powell River to become their new Assistant Chief Librarian! It was so affirming to be supported by my colleagues, and I felt blown away / high as a kite with all the positive words. There are some truly lovely people working at the Library.

I was offered the position at Powell River’s brand new library with a new Chief Librarian, who seems really wonderful (plus I believe she rides a motorcycle). I had applied back in October and only just heard the results mid-January after two phone interviews and one face-to-face interview that lasted almost two hours.powell-river-public-library-grand-opening-0

I think the tipping point was the fact that my Manager reached out to the Chief to offer an unsolicited reference. She joked that she “shouldn’t be doing this!” but thought it might help my cause, which it did. I had a really good feeling after meeting some of the staff, one of whom explained that there was a “four dog per household” minimum in town! Plus, the library is gorgeous. There are stunning Indigenous carvings, light, space and a great design.

I’ve been really drawn to the idea of leaving Vancouver and seeking out a community that is close to nature, lakes, forests and hiking trails… not to forget cool logging roads to explore on the motorcycle. Scott and I had visited Powell River on a few occasions. I had been through on my way to visit a friend’s cottage on Savary Island, and then the two of us cruised through a few years back when we enjoyed the lovely Farmer’s Markets and felt so welcomed when an old timer gave us a huge wave on the side of the road.

Powell River also seems like a creative and progressive community. They have the Sunshine Coast Trail with its free hut-to-hut hiking that I believe was built by former loggers (Scott has explored a few huts and was very impressed), and the Powell Forest Canoe Circuit where I could imagine exploring with my dad, who has built two cedar strip canoes. The town seems to embrace the process of Truth & Reconciliation as there was a collaboration with the local First Nations to carve Reconciliation canoes, including one initiated by youth. Even the initiative to acknowledge the Tla’amin name of the district, which is KA’thet (which means “people working together”) is awesome!

When I got back to Carnegie after my morning meetings, the first patron I helped happened to be an Indigenous woman from Powell River. She rhapsodized about the community and seemed to really wish she was back at home. Her story includes quite a few family deaths that sent her towards a difficult path, but she seemed to be very positive and was sorting out her grief and response to that grief.

We had such a great chat, and she gave me some solid community contacts of people she trusted to get subsidized housing. The coolest part was that her mother had been teaching the Tla’amin language and cedar hat weaving at the public library before she passed. I gave this woman my phone number and encouraged her to track me down when she decides to come home.

Meanwhile, I have begun the slow process of sharing with my regular Carnegie patrons that in a month I’ll be moving to Powell River. I really dreaded these conversations, fearing disappointment or even anger because the times I have had a holiday or even acted at another branch triggered a variety of emotions from patrons. It was never my intention to establish dependency, but I suspect that after four years there are individuals who have simply gotten used to a kind of rhythm where they pop in for a chat, grab a crossword or newspaper, and they find comfort in that.

And yet, everyone I have shared with has been absolutely gracious. I’ve received hugs and well-wishes, sadness but encouragement as people laugh about imagining me riding my motorcycle around, and having a dog to take on long hikes. I am simultaneously heart-broken to say goodbye and thrilled to have a new adventure – it’s an emotional roller coaster. I will miss my staff and all the wonderful people I have met, who have welcomed me unconditionally. The plan is to have a going-away party on my last day (Saturday March 10th) in the Carnegie Theatre.

After twenty years the City of Vancouver no longer feels like my dream city.  There are certainly the perks, like all the amazing restaurants but every day just riding my bicycle to and from work feels like a fight for survival. I am constantly floored by the foolishness and arrogance of people driving, forcing themselves through intersections on red lights, pushing pedestrians off corners with their flashy cars and jacked-up trucks, and blasting down quiet suburban streets to get nowhere fast. It puts me on edge, and it will only get more congested. It’s not that Vancouver is spitting me out, it’s more that Powell River seems to be embracing me.

So many strange things have lined up. When I went for the interview, our friends Sean and Randi (Randi was the one who did the electric blue custom seat on my XR600 with her company Aro Upholstery!) hosted us at their amazing home for the night, as they had moved a few years back and are loving it! Sean had the inside scoop on all the cool backroads for motorbikes and lakes to swim in.

I discovered that one of my Carnegie co-workers just retired and bought a house there, and she offered to help arrange a temporary rental if I needed it. I was then informed by another co-worker that a friend had inherited a house on the ocean just south of Powell River and is looking for a “caretaker” until he retires! I’ll be meeting him this weekend to sort it out. Combined with affordable long-term housing, the opportunity was just too exciting to ignore.

The Carnegie library will always be my dream job – the most fulfilling, intense, and rewarding occupation / location in Canada. And yet I am also open to change, and perhaps another librarian needs to experience the Carnegie and have their worldview completely flipped upside down. Even today my heart was hurting as there was a woman completely deranged in the lobby without pants or shoes, screaming insults. The Security Team were managing, and had help on the way, but it was a pretty jarring scene. Inside the library we maintained the peace. I really pray that the next Carnegie Branch Head will be intentional in wanting to serve the community with compassion, dedication and joy. This chapter of my life is almost complete but I will never forget it.

Finally, my work day concluded in the most delightful way. A Carnegie regular had acquired an adorable Australian Shepherd named “Blue” with sweet sky-blue eyes and fuzzy little bum. I was just leaving the Centre when he saw me admiring the dog and invited me over. Blue just burrowed right in, leaning up against me, licking my bicycle! I gave him a good rub, and the dog even tried to bounce along beside me as I rode away. Apparently Blue loves riding in bicycle baskets and the owner is trying to get status for him as an official comfort dog. The interaction was so lovely, and everyone seemed to be smiling on the street corner.



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