Again With The Library Paste

My father liked to say, “You can fix anything with library paste,” but I never saw him prove it, so maybe he was just high on the stuff. It did smell great, I must admit. From 1952 until 1970, which is to say for my entire childhood, my father ran the Manitoba country library service from a central repository located within the university, in Winnipeg. All of this library’s borrowers were in remote areas (as far north as the shores of Hudson’s Bay!) not served by libraries of their own, and thus there was no walk-in custom. Everything was by mail which went by rail, road and river (yes, in canoes).

In “Daddy’s Library” were my father, about forty thousand books, and seven or eight female staff who, from memory, actually did look like the caricature librarians you’d see on TV and in movies or comic books, complete with severe hairstyles and pointy glasses. But, perhaps relaxed by the ever-present fumes of library paste, they were always very pleasant to me, and of course in this library there was no rule of silence. One of the ladies was known as Pat, but the other ladies all had the same name, which was Miss, and to the three year old me this made perfect sense.

In 1955/56 I attended the university’s nursery school, conveniently located one floor down in the same building as the library, so every weekday afternoon my father would come to take me upstairs till his working day finished, and I would have the run of the place. The Misses would set me to little jobs, often employing library paste, and I think I learned to read by osmosis a while before I started school. Until I grasped that there was a world outside the library and our home, I was inclined to greet any new little playmate with the question: “What library does your daddy work in?”

I grew up to spend a life in the world of books in Canada but mostly in New Zealand, and mostly selling rather than lending. My own child similarly grew up in a world of books, pottering around and learning in “Daddy’s Bookshop”. And if anything went wrong or was broken, I would assure her that, “You can fix anything with library paste.” She never asked me to prove it, and perhaps we’ll never know if it’s true.

​[ Here is another little Winnipegland librarian story: ]

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