Title: Edmonton Public Library’s First 100 Years, 1913 to 2013
Author: Todd Babiak
Date(s) read: October 5 – 9, 2013
Source: EPL (Free ebook)
“The contribution made by the Edmonton libraries to the sanity and support of the citizens cannot be estimated. No Annual Report can gauge things of this sort.”
–Annual Report of the Edmonton Public Library, 1931
The Edmonton Public Library turns 100 in 2013! Novelist, journalist, and Edmontonian Todd Babiak tells the story of EPL’s birth and coming of age within the bustling narrative of the growth of city and province. Rich with anecdotes and historical photos, records of personal conversations, and tales of expeditions to branch libraries, Just Getting Started immerses readers in a personal journey to the heart of culture in one of Canada’s biggest cities. Babiak’s history is one-of-a-kind; it reads like a novel, mirroring the institution it commemorates. Edmontonians, librarians, politicians, and historians may glimpse themselves within these pages; all will see how vital a successful public library is to reflecting the needs and aims of a diverse population.
Here’s something you probably already know about me: I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. I’m not sure what it is about non-fiction, but I think a lot of this stems from reading text books in university. I remember opening my psychology textbook and within a page and a half I’d feel sleepy. When I think of non-fiction, I think of text books, a book that is there for information purposes, not so much to really connect with a reader.
This book was offered up for free by the library in our capital city, Edmonton, Alberta. Earlier this year, they celebrated their centennial (where I actually got to perform at, at one of the branches!) and this book was written to document those first 100 years of the library’s existence. Since it offered as a free ebook from the library, I knew I had to get a copy of it because a) who doesn’t like free?, and b) it was written by local author Todd Babiak.
I had just gone to Todd’s book launch for his book Come Barbarians the same week I picked up this book, so I felt like it was fate that this book would be offered up. I also liked that it was non-fiction, something that I could read on the side of other books I had on the go. It wasn’t something I’d want to read more than one chapter of at a time, I thought, being non-fiction and all, so I would just take my time with it.
However, Todd’s writing of the story of the EPL was just as gripping as any fiction novel I’ve read. Right off the bat, I was enamoured with the story of his grandparents going to the original Carnegie Library in the city. I wanted myself to be able to visit this now-demolished library. It was hard to believe that something so beautiful was once in our city.
But the city is a city of progress. This was well-documented in the book and something I found that irritated me to no end. I’ve always loved old things, especially old buildings. These days, we try to mark certain buildings as being part of our heritage and therefore untouchable, so it’s sad to see such beauty torn down in the past. I understand progress, but it saddens me to know that in order to progress, we have to constantly rip down and rebuild.
And speaking of building, this story isn’t just about building libraries in the city. EPL has about 17 branches throughout the city, with more scheduled to open in the future. Through pictures and story, we hear the history of how these branches came to be about, but we also learn how reading started in Edmonton. We get a history of the written word and how it was perceived in the past, how it evolved over the years, and how we’ve come to build this city of readers now in the present.
I’ve been to a few EPL branches in the city, but I live on the outskirts of town and have other libraries as my home libraries. However, in the last year I’ve been noticing more and more of EPL and what kind of an impact it has on the city. The library is constantly evolving and changing to accomodate the future. These days, a library isn’t just about books (even though that’s one thing I love about it). Now, it seems, everywhere I go in the city, I’m seeing EPL branches, or lawn signs, or an event that EPL is putting on. They’ve done so much for the city and it really shows.
I didn’t expect to love this book, but by the end I was sad to see it was finished. I can only hope that another 100 years will mean another book about this great library. Todd Babiak’s writing is extremely accessible and I loved how I’d take in many chapters at a time, gripped by the story. This isn’t just a history book — really, if you love reading and you love Edmonton, this is a non-fiction book you have to read. I guarantee it’ll have you hooked by page one and really have you appreciating the library and what it has to offer.