Listening to a Library Card

As I reflect upon this residency and what it has meant to be the Researcher-in-Resident at Concordia’s Library, I want to share with you my very first library card. It was issued by the New Westminster Public Library. The expiry date of February 1985 means that I would have received it in February 1984 – at the young age of 2…

I still remember the name of the librarian who issued me this card – Ellen Heaney – and it is no surprise that, upon doing a quick search, I learn that she went on to lead a celebrated career as a librarian, and I’m thankful to her for teaching me the wonders of the library at a very early age.

The New Westminster Public Library was the first public library in the province of BC. It is no longer at its first location (where it was established in 1865) but its location on 6th Avenue, the one that I remember, is where the library has been since 1958.

I remember the library basement where I attended what was probably my first literary event. (It was a reading by Kathy Stinson, reading from the children’s classic Big or Little? which, in fact, remains quite relevant with its micro and macro perspectives of adult life too.) That library was where I first saw a set of small wooden drawers that I still visualize whenever I see the words “card catalogue.” The water fountain, winding its way around the building, was where I would imagine elaborate stories while my mama and I waited for the bus home, all the way back to Queensborough…

After digging out this first library card, I thought I’d take a look at the latest news from the New Westminster Public Library, and I see that in 2013 they opened a Queensborough branch. I am floored. What a difference that would have made – to not have had to take the bus across the bridge and into New Westminster whenever going to the library…

We took that bus weekly to the library, with the entire trip taking close to an hour each way. I cherish so many of our memories on that bus, but the bus ride that meant my mama had to carry the stroller (and books) up and down the bus stairs, with me and then with me and my brother. We did it, but for most of my classmates, at what was then Queen Elizabeth Elementary School, “the library” meant the small school library. The public library had hardly any presence in the community at that time.

Queensborough has changed so much since then and, while I grew up there with a skepticism of new developments – largely due to their disregard for agricultural lands, lack of trees, and ties to forestry companies – this is one change that I do wish had happened sooner. Yet, I am thrilled for Queensborough that a library branch is there now.

At my desk here in Montreal, this New Westminster Public Library card becomes an object to listen to. The story of a library card is one telling of a life story. That story continues.


Dr. Katherine McLeod is Concordia Library’s Researcher-in-Residence 2020-2021. Her project Listening to the Library is an exploration of the library as sound. She is writing a book that is a feminist listening to recordings of women poets on CBC radio. She has co-edited the collection CanLit Across Media: Unarchiving the Literary Event (with Jason Camlot, McGill-Queen’s UP, 2019), and her most recent publication is a chapter in the book Moving Archives (Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2020). She produces the monthly series ShortCuts for The SpokenWeb Podcast.

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