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Stacked with stories

Library about people as much as pages

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Laina Hughes at the downtown Millennium Library.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Laina Hughes at the downtown Millennium Library. Photo Store

The Millennium Library is home to thousands of stories. The stories on the bookshelves, yes, but the stories of the people that peruse them, too.

To some, the library is a source of research -- students plunked down at tables for hours, surrounded by empty drink containers and messy binders, the products of steadfast instructors who insist secondary research include more than just online sources.

To others, the library is a place to connect, to go online and communicate with someone far away. Or a place to learn more of your past -- to dig up rolls of microfilm and spend an afternoon quietly whirring through roll after roll, hoping to fill in the blanks of a longstanding family mystery.

In the seven years I worked there, I met families, couples, and individuals -- people new to Winnipeg or Canada altogether. To them, the library is a first step to a new life. They left the building with bundles of books on learning a new language, and some found familiarity on the second floor, where rows of non-English books stood next to music, movies and magazines.

While the library is a place to find warmth and comfort to some, others see it as a dump or an eyesore -- an incarnation of Winnipeg's troubles, plagued by unsavoury characters and increasingly obsolete technology. A waste of tax dollars, maybe.

Of course, our best places are seldom without conflict. Not all of the library's stories were happy ones. But bearing witness to these conflicts gives us a greater understanding of the community, and the city as a whole.

While my life went through the regular tumults of early adulthood, the library remained my constant. In those seven years, I moved a handful of times. I started school, finished school and then started school again. Relationships came and went. Even though it, too, was constantly changing and no two days were the same, I knew I could rely on the library to always welcome me back.

It was a comfort. I made friends there -- not only my co-workers, but our regulars. I never got tired of climbing those stairs to the fourth floor, taking in the view of sunshine spilling out over the park and the city beyond. My heart pounded with exertion when I got to the top, and I recognized mine was only one of many stories the library would hold that day.

The Millennium Library is many things. It's a place to learn -- about ourselves, our city and our place in it. It's not one thing to any one person. I'm grateful for the small part I got to play in its story.

 

Laina Hughes writes a monthly column about Winnipeg in the Uniter. Her book, Wolseley Stories, is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers and your local library.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2014 A8

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