The following story was inspired by the threatened closure of a much loved community monument…the local library. During that tormented time a community united, diversity merged and neighbours became friends rallying to save their beloved meeting place and learning centre. Many found the community library to be a binding force that tied together the hearts and minds of generations of Cathedral inhabitants and fought valiantly to save it. Here is my fictionalised version of the events that rocked a community…and eventually an entire city!
(All of the names or representations of persons are purely fictionalised. Any similarities are a coincidence.)
Roberta was greeted by the cool freshness of the morning air as she stepped out of her door. She pulled the door shut behind her, breathed deeply, and savored the bouquet of early morning sensations. The late evening rain had brought a renewed freshness to everything around her. As Roberta descended the front steps of her modest home, a gentle breeze tickled her skin. The breeze carried a litany of sensory delights. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, savoring the peacefulness of the morning. The sweetness of the morning glories wound its way through the moist air and nestled itself within her. Roberta could smell the rose gardens that had begun to awaken and release their aroma. She could see the flowers in her mind and she smiled, opened her eyes, and made her way down the front walk and up the street ahead. As she neared the end of the block, a crowd of lilac bushes in full bloom greeted her. The intoxicating scent wafted towards her. Dozens of pansies, petunias and daisies waved good morning to her as they danced with the early morning breeze. Sparrows fluttered in and around the branches of the stoic elms; their song graced her early morning walk. The elms that lined the street provided a barrier between the quaint sleeping houses and the coming liveliness of the well-traveled avenue as the sun had begun to peak above the rooftops and caress the crowns of these ancient kings. The day’s first rays slipped past the seeming impenetrable barrier of leaves and sprinkled Roberta with warmth as she slowly passed beneath the comfort of their overhanging boughs. She smiled as she took in the beauty around her and accepted the promise of a new day.
Roberta enjoyed the sights and sounds of the neighbourhood in the early morning. This is her home. The day’s frenzy of activity had not yet begun to take its hold. The solitude and beauty welcomed her with an assuring embrace that, at any other time of day, would be unappreciatively consumed by the many residents as they went about their day. It was as though Cathedral shared its own breath with her and enabled her to look towards the riches that would soon be found within the coming day.
As she strode through Cathedral Village her attention was drawn to the eclectic mix of restaurants and coffeehouses that had taken up residence over the years. She admired how the old-style three-story homes were an embodiment of those who lived and worked within them. The outer walls had been decorated with unique works of art and murals that depicted their creator’s visions, hopes, and dreams. This colorful montage that represented the heart of the community gave life to the ridged architecture. Roberta smiled, she could not remember a time where she felt more at peace, more at home, and more satisfied with her surroundings, her life, and her self.
The early morning beauty took Roberta back to days long since gone but not forgotten. She remembered that despite her youthful eagerness to leave, she had somehow always known that Cathedral was where she belonged. With each step Roberta remembered her desire to see and experience the vast world that lay beyond what she had known. She could recall the elation she felt when she had been accepted to that distant academic institution, the anticipation of what lay ahead mingled with the enthusiasm for leaving her home to embark on a new stage in her life. The result was a sensation of new beginnings. Yet, as time passed, Roberta felt the luster of her excitement fade and her visits home became more frequent. In her final year of studies she came to realize that her journey would bring her home. Everything she had longed and searched for was right where she had left it.
Roberta recalled what it was like growing up in Cathedral. She had been regaled with tales of glorious triumphs, hopes and promises. Many family members and friends had been a part of the neighbourhood from early on and even played a role in bringing it to life. Her roots were firmly planted here. She remembered how she would listen intently to friends of the family discuss and compare stories about the construction of the many buildings that can still be found within the neighbourhood. She was particularly fond of the construction and influence of the Connaught Public Library that poised itself on the corner of Elphinstone and 13th Avenue. Conversations and stories were melded together in her memory as a whirly swash of watercolour upon a canvass. Roberta found something special within those walls, something that was built on knowledge, fostered with love, combined with imagination, and has provided endless inspiration for countless numbers of children, youth, and adults alike.
Roberta had always felt an intimate connection with the building itself from the time she was very young. She recalled spending the greater part of her childhood surrounded by the comfort of the crumbling plaster and cracked panes. She enjoyed being carried off to distant places and learning the words and wisdom of the numerous works of ancient wordsmiths that lined the wooden shelves contained within the two main rooms of the library. As she looked back, she remembered friends and acquaintances that she had met over the years – many of whom still lived within the community and still visit what she now considers her library.
Not much has changed since the time of her youth. Not much has changed, she thought, since the time of the library’s youth. Roberta had a few more lines around her eyes, but the eagerness to learn and to excite others to learn remained. The aged plaster still crumbled to the floor of the library, several panes still possessed venous splintering cracks, and the concrete of the walkways still suffered the effects of the passing seasons. Roberta smiled thinking that the signs of age they both bore have become a testament to the perseverance and vibrancy both her and the building exude. Times manipulative hand of progress had been kept at bay, she thought, as she slowly strode up the front walk of the library. She sighed softly with the warmth she felt from being an integral part of this monument, of its history, and, most importantly its future.
Roberta stood in front of the squareish brick building and fumbled through her bag for the key that would unlock the heavy-set glass security doors. The sun pierced through the boughs of the guarding elms and forced her to squint as she searched within her bag. Roberta found the keys and climbed the walk before her. As she extended her arm to slide the key into the lock, a bulky chain and padlock greeted her. The dull corroded steel glared back at her, its heartless presence pierced her very soul. The blemished obstruction wound its tentacles around her heart. The gateway that had so often permitted her into that cherished world of inspiration and knowledge now stood shackled.
As the profoundness of the situation increased its grip, she was penetrated by a sharp wrenching attack as her eyes consumed the thick, bold, red lettering “CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”
Roberta’s morning had become blanketed by darkness. Bludgeoned with incessant waves of uncertainty, fear and panic Roberta felt her knees weaken. The word “CLOSED” echoed repeatedly in her mind. Her hand instinctively reached for the cold, hard, brick face of the library. Its rough weathered surface offered support to her weakening body. She turned and placed her back against the doors and slowly slid to the ground. Like a knife, she felt the lock dig into her as she fell deeper into her own emotions. She could not imagine the thought of not being able to open the door and enter the inner sanctuary of her beloved building. Her disappointment was compounded by thoughts of a future without the library. The future that she had come to trust. The sign seemed to devour that very future and lock it behind the manacles that now kept her from it. The beauty began to fade. The litany of delights dissipated. The solitude now imprisoned her within her thoughts. The warm sun slowly disappeared behind the incoming clouds and, with it, so did the promise of the new day.
Roberta breathed slowly and deeply in an attempt to gather herself. She momentarily entertained notions of locating something to cut the chains but quickly laid them to rest. Why now? Why today? She lowered her head in defeat with the realization that she was powerless and unable to satisfy her own needs and desires. She would no longer be a part of satisfying the coming desires for the knowledge that now lay chained behind the doors.
Roberta rested her face in her palms and began to sob. Her tears pooled within her cupped palms. A light rain gently descended from the heavens. The fond memories that only moments before had provided her with comfort were now open wounds that stung in the open air. Her sorrow was soon replaced by panic brought on by the thought of the imminent questioning patrons that would soon join her in being locked out of their favoured meeting place. She felt her sense of belonging wane, replaced with loss and emptiness as horror and agony joined the panic within her.
Roberta shivered as a cool breeze wrapped itself around her. Her entire life seemed to unravel as the reality of the closure began to cement itself within her. The sign glared at her and exclaimed that she would no longer be a conduit that channeled knowledge and creative nourishment to the community. Her eyes returned to the menacing chains that hung mockingly behind her. They deepened the sorrow that was beginning to encompass her. Her thoughts and memories amplified regret and sadness within her. For almost seventy-five years the small, bricked building welcomed the community, enhanced their lives, and provided each one with the opportunity to explore all their wants, desires and dreams. Roberta knew this was the end, the end to the source for knowledge, the end of encouraging the lust of young imaginations, and the end of her.
The gentle rain had begun to drop with an increased ferocity. Roberta could not decide what to do next. As she glared at the shackled doorway before her, her eyes widened and filled with tears. “I can’t go in, but I can’t leave, either,” she whispered.
Roberta slowly raised her eyes to the street in front of her. It was beginning to come alive with the bustle of school children scurrying to class. Shoppers hurried through doorways and past storefronts in an effort to avoid the cool spring rain. Cars and trucks sped by at a determined pace. A number of their drivers slightly annoyed at the inconvenience of stopping for the changing lights. They went about their business as if the world was right and nothing was different. They did not take notice of the lone, broken woman sitting before the shackled building. The building that would no longer be able to offer them excitement of reading about the riches of far off lands, the joys of learning something new, nor the comfort of coming together with old friends and meeting new ones. Time slowed, encompassed by her thoughts as she watched the community awaken, Roberta viewed the activity of the day as if through the fogged windows of a car. The world around her had become surreal. “How could they just go about their business as if nothing had happened?” she wondered aloud.
Out of the corner of her eye Roberta noticed a flurry of activity in the direction of the school. Numerous children filed out of the front entrance and began to make their way toward her. Quickly, Roberta wiped her eyes and smoothed her hair. She stood up, straitened her clothes and moved toward the excited group. “The day trip!” she gasped. She was uncertain how to address the students and tell them their trip has been cancelled. She drew upon the little strength she had left and forced a smile. Roberta reached inside her purse, retrieved her glasses and placed them upon her nose. Roberta greeted Mrs. Brown with her feeble attempt at happiness.
“My goodness, Miss Roberta, what on earth are you doing outside in this rain? You will catch your death if you don…” Mrs. Brown paused as she saw the regret in Roberta’s eyes. She turned her attention to the library where the starkness of the steel and the red lettered sign boldly exclaimed its presence. “Oh my…” she softly whispered. She turned to face Roberta.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Brown,” Roberta’s voice trembled and her eyes welled with tears. She swallowed hard. “I’m afraid the…the… children will have to come back another time for their visit. I’m not sure what…what is happening.” Mrs. Brown watched as Roberta struggled to maintain her composure.
“It’s ok my dear.” Mrs. Brown spoke softly as she turned to her class. “Alright everyone, our visit to the library has been cancelled for today. Please line up single file so we can begin making our way back to class.” Mrs. Brown hurried the children into line. She looked into Roberta’s eyes and offered a warm smile laden with comfort. Mrs. Brown turned and led her class back to school.
Roberta could hear the excitement of the children disappear. Their disappointment was like a knife cutting deeper into the open wounds that still stung in the early morning rain. Roberta could not hold back any longer. She turned, buried her face in her hands and ran back to the front step of the library. The welling tears burst the dam of her resolve and she began to cry. Roberta’s heart and soul continued to crumble as she watched the children cross the street and file back into the school.
Roberta sat upon the stoop to the library, her hands over her face, and sobbed. She was startled when a hand gently placed itself upon her shoulder. She looked up to see old Mrs. Kurtz from down the street standing in front of her. Mrs. Kurtz had been a regular patron of the Connaught Public Library for almost fifty years. Her daily visits provided Roberta with a chance to catch up on the neighborhood excitement and to keep abreast of the mundane but interesting aspects of daily life in the neighbourhood. Her presence added to Roberta’s sorrow. All she could do was reflect on the time spent talking to Mrs. Kurtz that would now be lost forever. Roberta began to cry once more.
Mrs. Kurtz gently put her arm around Roberta. “What’s wrong, my dear? Why are you out here in the rain? You’re going to catch pneumonia!” With reluctance, Roberta pointed to the shackled building. Mrs. Kurtz turned to see the horrid red sign and repugnant steel lock that was the source of Roberta’s pain. “Oh no my dear, I’m so sorry!” Mrs. Kurtz gently squeezed Roberta’s shoulder as she spoke. Roberta could only nod her agreement amidst her sobs. They both sat motionless in the rain absorbing the reality of the situation.
As the morning wore on, Roberta was both comforted and confronted by many concerned members of the community and curious passersby. For the first time in many years Roberta felt ashamed. All of the questions that were directed toward her, that she should have known the answers to but did not. She tried to explain that she had not been privy to any advanced warning and that no one had called to warn her of the closure. All of whom she spoke with had neither answers nor solutions to offer her. Everyone seemed to gather around and join in on the speculations and discussion. The only thing she was certain of was that the majority of the people wanted to know why the cornerstone of their community was taken from them.
The growing group in front of her raised their voices with mounting concern. Although Roberta was no longer alone in front of the library, she still felt overwhelmed by hopelessness. The heated discussion before her faded in and out of her awareness as she tried to make sense of the morning’s events. Every so often a snippet of their conversation would catch her interest and grab her attention. She would momentarily commiserate with a neighbour about the impending loss but it did not take long for her stare to return to the sign and the steel that kept everyone outside in the rain instead of inside the comfort of the building.
Roberta scanned the crowd before her. The front lawn was completely filled with bodies. She recognized some of them but noticed some that she did not. Word of the closure did not take long to spread at all. There were children, patrons, and long time residents of the neighbourhood. Mothers and babies, shop owners, area workers and numerous others she could not exactly pinpoint soon joined the gathering. She could hear their determined objections rise above the murmurs of conversation. Roberta began to feel hope creeping up inside her. Why didn’t I see it before? Everyone has rallied together on the closure of the library. They wanted answers. They wanted explanations. They wanted reasons. They wanted to get into the library. Roberta wanted those things as well and found a new purpose build with the growing crowd. All that the library needed was support from the community…and it stood on the lawn in front of her!
Roberta’s excitement grew as she tried to think of whom she could call to get some answers. But the more she thought of whom to call the more she was convinced that she was the one to begin the solution. Roberta stood up in front of the doorway and began to wave her hands above her head. Slowly the crowd took notice. When the amassing congregation had turned to give her their attention she spoke the words that rang true in her heart…
“Dear friends, neighbors, and fellow community members. I, just as you, arrived here today to find the library shackled and closed.” The growing crowd gestured their acknowledgment as she continued. “As a member of the community and of this wonderful pillar of inspiration I want to enlist your aid in finding some answers. Why are we barred from our library?” Roberta turned slightly and motioned to the doorway, “Where did the chains come from? Who hung the sign? How do we remove them?” Roberta paused momentarily and asked, “I was not consulted, were you consulted?”
“No!” the crowd unanimously replied.
“By shackling the doors, the bringers of this action are keeping us all from enjoying the benefits this library offers and dismissing its rich history as an integral part of this community at the very same time!” Roberta continued as thunder echoed in the distance and the rain began to subside. “For years now this library has brought to you professional resources, the joys of literacy, service and friendship beyond reproach. I believe we have a need for these services to be right here in side that doorway!” The crowd nodded in agreement and became more vocal. “We must fight this together. We can save this library. If we work together we can remove the chains that keep us from our beloved teacher, mentor, and friend…our library.” With those last few words, the crowd began to applaud Roberta. They cheered with agreement and support that echoed throughout the neighbourhood. Roberta stood statutory upon her stoop and felt the spark of life begin to grow stronger and drive out the darkness that had gripped her so firmly.
Roberta surveyed the crowd for familiar faces. She saw Mr. Tisdale leaning against an elm with his cane hooked over his arm. He was a tall man with a gruff and powerful voice. His freshly shaven face had only just begun to show signs of age. He lived only a few short blocks from the Connaught branch. He was no longer able to drive and could easily visit every day. He came to the library at least twice a week to converse about the new books and periodicals on gardening. Without the Connaught branch, Mr. Tisdale would have to stop his regular visits. Roberta felt the anger well within her as she realized that he could not travel to the Central Library on his own and she would no longer be able to enjoy his company and conversation regularly. Roberta watched intently as she thought she saw a tear gently fall from his cheek. She turned towards the crowd as the murmurs turned to a rumble. How many more people in this crowd, she wondered, would suffer the loss as Mr. Tisdale will?
Roberta heard Mrs. Brown, with a raised voice, announce, “I can get my class to begin to write down how they feel about this and what loss it will bring to them.”
“Yes, yes,” another shouted in agreement. “And I can get on the phone and call around to city hall and the other library branches and see if I can find out some reasons for this closure.” Another burst of loud clapping was offered up at this notion.
“I will talk to George the owner of the print shop here in Cathedral and see if he will assist us in printing up some flyers and posters to let everyone know what is going on.”
“I have a friend who works at the leader post I will talk to about running a story on our fight.”
“Yeah, and I will let my scout group know so that we can petition the whole city and raise money to help our cause!”
The ideas began to jump out and all who were present had begun to congeal on the notion of saving the library. Roberta was amazed. She always knew the community had valued the library as an integral component to their daily lives but until this moment it had not been fully realized. She sat down on the front step of the library and gently leaned back against the cool bricked surface.
The crowd began to disperse and go about their newly found tasks. Roberta felt drained and remained upon the stoop. She once again enjoyed the solitude and beauty of her surroundings. The steel chains and red paint of the sign above no longer frightened her but gave her a goal that she was determined to reach.
Roberta slowly closed her eyes and sighed deeply. She resolved that the doors would not remain closed. Roberta focused her attention upon the sounds of the birds perched within the comforting boughs above her. She let the rustling of the leaves in the breeze sooth her. She once again breathed deeply and welcomed the symphony of sensory delights around her. She let the warmth of the returning sun blanket her. She relished the laughter of the children in the schoolyard and let the sweet smells of spring engulf her. She was comforted by the rejuvenation that the rain had left behind. Roberta felt a renewed sense of purpose and comfort in the returning promise of the days ahead. She leaned back against the library and continued to think about the days ahead and formulate a plan to save the library.
Roberta opened her eyes quickly. She could hardly allow herself to believe the sight before her. She stood on the front door step of the newly monumented library, and remembered the arduous months that had preceded this moment. She noticed a pair of huge plastic scissors leaning against the sign on the front lawn that were to cut the red ribbon, which signified an end to the struggle to save the library and the beginning of a continued and unhindered heritage of the Connaught Public Library.
How quickly the community had rallied together, she thought. More astonishingly she remembered how other communities showed interest and joined in the crusade to keep the doors of this library, and other small branches around the city, open. As the many events rolled through her mind a select few seemed to stand out: Mrs. Brown’s letter writing campaign with over 8000 signatures in favour of keeping the library open; the tremendous financial support gained through anonymous donations from all over the city; and the effectiveness of inundating City Hall with petitions and phone calls in support of keeping this library alive and well within the community. She realized that it was not only her love of this place that would keep it alive. It was her love for the community. The community’s love for her and the combined love of everyone for the library that had become an integral part of the campaign, her life and the continued life of the small, squareish, brick building poised on the corner of Elphinstone and 13th.