Librarians Without Borders’ SLAIS Student Chapter (LWB@UBC) was doing a book drive for the Carnegie library in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side this past month. We collected tubs and tubs of books and today went down to the library to give them away. The idea is that the library sets up a table outside on Fridays at 2:30 and gives books away. The library is on East Hastings street, with an alley that’s full of crazy drug happenings and such, so the idea of giving books to people is something I can get behind.
I got to chat with a couple of guys who picked up some books. One was there telling me about the books he’d bought at other places and how he was a great harmonica player who knows all the old Englebert Humperdinck songs “and not everyone can sing those! Spanish Eyes? It’s really hard!” He had a moderate Indian accent, and spoke with the same intensity my step-father does about politics or science, which was a neat bit of cognitive dissonance.
The other guy was complaining about the security cameras the police have up at that corner that can see all the way up to Cambie (which I’m not sure is possible because of the bend in Hastings; he might have meant Carrall) at such resolution that two blocks away they can read your watch. He was also worried about the chips they’re putting in babies now, and how Big Brother was coming to watch us all and lock us away if we’re crooks. “Good thing I’ll be dead before it all happens,” he said, and I managed not to talk about life-extension technologies.
There was also a guy who came up yelling “This is a stickup!” but he was just trying to be funny. I got told off for not buying a guy pizza. I said “Sorry dude” and he said “Yeah, well god bless ya anyway.” But as he walked away he got more angry and said “Maybe Satan should bless you instead.” He didn’t actually swear at me, which was pretty good.
Before hitting the street we got a tour of the community centre from the acting branch head. The Carnegie branch is a weird little branch serving a very specific community, which affects their policies in many ways. There’s a special Carnegie Library card you can get, which doesn’t require any ID. The fines are fairly flexible and while they only have three full-time staff, the part-timers who work there tend to work there a lot, because you need to develop rapport with the people, and not everyone is all over that.
Also, if I heard correctly, all of the books are non-catalogued (ie they don’t have specific representations in the VPL system and are listed basically as BOOK with a barcode). They do this because their loss-rate is so high, they’d constantly be recataloguing things as missing. This way it’s easier to reprocess books, but means they can’t search the computer to see if a book is actually there. It was interesting stuff.
Also in the building is an education centre, a very popular cafeteria, a gym, a theatre, a seniors’ centre and lots of space for people to hang out and play 象棋, Chinese chess. Because this library is also right in Chinatown. So it serves an interesting community. Really, when Holly comes to Vancouver I kind of want to live around there because it’s interesting. Probably a little less safe than where I live now. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a bit more wary of the people on that block than I am out here in Mount Pleasant, but I think it’d be a good place to be.
There are also certain barriers to access. At each of the doors there were signs saying that people must behave in a civil and proper manner inside. Randy also explained that meant they couldn’t be intoxicated or on other drugs. These are rules that come from the building being a community centre, and there’s a lot of interesting interplay between the community centre and the library aspects of the place.
I’m really glad I got the chance to go see this, and get the tour and stuff instead of just showing up one day to look around. Good job, library school.