I’m moving. This was supposed to be published after I left Ottawa for Toronto but before I left the province. Instead my computer decided to develop problems over Easter weekend and never recovered for the rest of April.
I’ve been living in Ottawa for three years and am now leaving to move back to BC now that I’m done my undergraduate. When I first moved here I thought I’d never get used to the snow, the semi-inefficient public transit, the bitter winds blowing off the Ottawa river, the casualness in which people take living in the Capital and the centre of Canadian government for granted, the soul-sucking nature of post-secondary institutions, the class and racial divides between different sections of the city. But now that it’s almost over I’m trying to cram in as much as I can before it’s all over. I already miss it even before I’m gone.
But I want to take a moment to acknowledge, thank and say goodbye to the Ottawa Public Library (OPL).
I grew up in a household with a lot of books on the shelves but I’m primarily a child of libraries, both public and school. I don’t ever remember not having a library card or owing some kind of fine because I’d forgotten to return my books on time. And the OPL is one of my favourite libraries that I’ve had the pleasure of borrowing books from.
Serving Canada’s fourth largest city with a population that falls just short of a million people spread out over more than 2000 km², the OPL is killing it with is programs and the content its making available to it’s users. In the three years I’ve lived here I’ve never actually lived closer than a 20 minute bus ride to the nearest branch, often needing to transfer buses in order to get there. But the first week after moving I was able to get a library card at the bookmobile stop down the road from my house. And even after moving halfway across the city I’m still able to access the bookmobile and can also have my holds dropped off at a locker at the community centre down the road. Ottawa is a pretty big city, but the OPL is pretty determined to reach everyone every way they can.
But I need to acknowledge the books. Growing up in a small city in the BC interior we had a pretty good library because it was part of a larger regional library with over 30 branches. It was a great library but didn’t always have the most diverse books available. I remember memorizing the dewey decimal number for sexuality and systematically going through the shelves, reading every book I could find about queerness. I knew the title of every queer and trans YA book and when I worked at the library in college as a page, I made it a priority to display books that featured people of colour, Indigenous people, queer people, trans people and women. This was all before I really knew about the movement for diversity in literature. But I’m from a very white town, a small christian town. And although that’s slowly changing I didn’t want other teens and kids to be hiding in the non-fiction like I was.
So when I moved to Ottawa and got a library card, I figured the increase of diverse books was due to the increase in population. It probably is in many ways, but I need to thank the staff at OPL for the work they do, the books they stock and the programs they run. I went into the main branch this past month and there was a display featuring trans and non-binary authors with posters explaining gender identity and pronouns. There’s an incredible SFF collection, featuring a lot of mainstream books but also experimental books about queer erotica in space that was funded by kickstarter and so many other lesser known books. OPL buys just about every diverse book I request them to.
One of the main reasons I wanted to start this blog, besides loving books, was because I felt that often there’s a huge emphasis on buying books in the book community online. And I’ve noticed this across multiple platforms. But I don’t have money to buy every book I want to read. A lot of people don’t. And in a time where we’re still fighting the perception that diverse books aren’t necessary, that it’s totally fine to walk into a library or bookstore and not see a single book on the shelf that reflects your life because the author’s gender, sexuality, race, nationality, ethnicity doesn’t matter so the same books keep getting stocked. In a time like this it warms me and it breaks me to log into my library account and request a f/f fantasy novel, a disability sci-fi anthology, and experimental fantasy about racial oppression. It makes me whole.
So thank you, OPL and other public libraries, from a 20-something who used to be an awkward, queer teen who hid in the stacks, looking for books to help me make sense of myself. I’m so glad you’re here.