Checking out a legacy

One of my earliest memories is waiting for the bookmobile to roll into town.

I’m not sure how often the library on wheels stopped in Westbank but my mom, my brother and I regularly stood in the Anglican Church parking lot to wait our turn to climb aboard the van and search for something to read.

We didn’t go into Kelowna that often, especially not during the day when dad was at work with the family car, so the bookmobile was an outlet to the outside world.

In 1974, Okanagan Regional Library opened a branch with four walls, a roof and far more books than could ever be stuffed inside a van.

I still remember being handed my very own library card (it was paper in those days) and the number printed on it — 130.

That branch and its subsequent location as the community grew, became a second home for me. I would spend hours discovering what was new on the shelves.

It’s a good thing my house was only a few minutes away because riding a bicycle was challenging with a stack of books taller than my head. During the Summer Reading Club, a competitive streak was revealed and the goal was to leave the other kids in the dust and win a prize.

Eventually, both my mom and I learned how to drive, and that provided access to treasures in the much larger Kelowna branch.

Fresh out of journalism school, I moved to Vernon in April 1990 and after finding a place to rent in the BX and setting up a bank account, the next stop likely was the library.

One of my greatest joys as a father is when my daughters ask me to take them to the library. It brings back all of the good feelings I had as a kid, and it’s a common bond that we share. My youngest and I spent night after night with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH while it’s not uncommon, even now, for my oldest and I to giggle over the antics of Asterix the Gaul.

But not all of the magic is found between two covers.

Many summers for my girls were filled with activities at the library. Bead jewelry proved challenging for tiny fingers, but librarian Monica encouraged them to try. There were drawings and stories, and who can forget the puppet shows put on by librarian Judy.

My interest in libraries evolved into an obsession when I learned about Carol Williams touring all of ORL’s 29 branches as board chairperson. It was such an intriguing idea that I decided to hit the road.

Over the years, family get-aways have been shaped around my quest. A romantic weekend had my wife and I in the Oliver branch, while a spring break excursion with the kids found us in Oliver and Kaleden, where the big hit was the librarian’s dog. Camping in the Shuswap was interrupted by book hunts in Sorrento and Scotch Creek, and coming back the long way through Sicamous.

One day, my oldest and I didn’t have anything pressing to do, so we hopped in the truck and headed out to Cherryville. A week off found me in Falkland and Silver Creek.

Of the 29, there are only four left — Golden, Keremeos, Hedley and Princeton. They are at the far-flung reaches of the ORL territory but I am already looking at ways to get there.

They may not have considered their actions  significant, but ORL’s founders in 1936 were true visionaries.

The Depression had made dollars tight and even the largest Okanagan cities were small and rural, but these politicians understood the desire of residents to embrace words and ideas.

It’s a legacy that has inspired countless generations and for that, we should be eternally grateful.