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In the stacks

Andy Barker
Andy Barker

Being second choice might depress some, but not me.
In 2002, I was second choice for a seasonal (Sept – April) part-time library technician position at the College of the North Atlantic, where I've just begun my seventeenth year. A serendipitous job that has been absolutely lovely!

My present position is light years away from my 26 years as a teacher/librarian in five different schools as now I have neither teaching duties and all that entails, nor library management responsibilities. Plus, I keep learning and students learn from me. Last week I solved a printing problem for a student and as I passed her the work I said, “See, old dogs can learn new tricks.” She was happy.

Some say I am taking away a job from a younger person. I say a younger one refused the opportunity; didn't take it. C'est la vie! Luckily, legislation now bans age discrimination – workers forced out due to age. I recently met an 80-year-old working 30 hours a week at a St John`s McDonald's. Unlike him, I work only17.5 hours per week with any work beyond those hours, paid time. It's a dream job. You will have to pry me out of it with a crowbar. Actually, that's a joke, as my work clock is winding down.

My father was an illiterate man, but his work ethic and ingenuity at the mill had him in a league of his own compared to other workers who could read circles around him.

My reading skills were poor in the primary grades at Notre Dame Academy. However, by Grade 6, the Sister's pace in history class was too slow for me, so often I was in my own world, reading the back sections I knew she would never have time to cover.

We had no library at Notre Dame Academy and a very small library at St Michael's High School. I remember being in it only once. High school back then was all to do with the Council of Higher Education (CHE) exams. The school exams didn't matter; it was do or die with the June CHE exams.

As for our town library – the Daily Mail – on Carmelite Road, I never set foot inside its doors. Pity, as I would like to have memories of its insides, as I remember its outside well. I don't remember being ever encouraged by our teachers or anyone to go there.

In elementary school I had little time for fiction; thus, I barely stomached reading through one of the Hardy Boys books. In high school I became engrossed with non-fiction, particularly a book my brother Jim had at home – “Bataan: The March of Death” by Stanley L Falk, 1962. The cruel treatment of American prisoners of war by the Japanese was the beginning of the books I would later read about World War One, World War Two and the Vietnam War.

However, my life with and in libraries totally changed beginning with my first year at St. Francis Xavier University in September 1964. Three of my courses were tied to research papers, thus the library.

In year one, our St FX library was a primitive structure. But in year two the new Angus L. Macdonald Library opened and that was it for me; hours and hours there, for research and studying. Often, I was there for the joy of reading – books in the stacks and most particularly, being in the periodical room where many newspapers, magazines and journals were first-time encounters.

At the University of Toronto College of Education Library, on Bloor St W, it was more of the same with occasional visits to other U of T Libraries such as St. Michael's College.

At Memorial University in1973-74, I spent untold hours at the education library (QEII Library opened 1982). The master of education courses were time consuming, thus there was little time for leisure reading. Interestingly, by completing my M. Ed at MUN my thesis, my name, can be searched in its library catalogue as well as the National Library's in Ottawa.

Astonishingly, in 1980, in field testing my thesis in St John's I met Reverend Mother Redempta who helped me with my reading in kindergarten. Neither of us saw that day coming!

In my year at the Glovertown High School in 1974-75 the English teacher told me he could foresee the day books in the library would be replaced by microfiche. What a dreadful thought! However, he was partly right, but his technology prediction was wrong as computers, not microfiche, rule the day. And thankfully print in all its forms is not dead by a long shot. He also said he could imagine me being in my glee in the stacks in some library. Was he really a high school teacher or a soothsayer who could foresee my present job?

In the primary school libraries, it was such a delight to read the brilliant beautiful books published for children. I once had a former student, now a teacher, tell me she secured a job at the MUN library based on the library skills (K-8) I taught them. And just recently two former students remarked to me about learning to put books back on the shelves properly and the Dewey Decimal System.

At St. FX we knew there was a mainframe computer on campus, but we never saw it. At MUN we did some work with computer punch cards, but never saw the mainframe. Amazingly, it's microcomputer technology – desktops, laptops, smartphones and the like – that have revolutionized the way libraries are now used and how materials are stored. A world of information is at our fingertips. The once unimaginable is now an extraordinary blessed gift.

This year now marks my fiftieth year being associated with libraries. It has been, and continues to be, a joy ride.

Andy Barker at abdp9@hotmail.com

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