Friday, May 6, 2011

Thank you speech at Northern Lit Awards ceremony

This is the speech I gave at the Northern Lit Awards ceremony in Sudbury on May 4, 2011:

I am honoured and thrilled to receive this award and want to take a moment to praise librarians and libraries, not only for their support to Canadian culture, but also for their contribution to clients' happiness and good mental health.

Growing up in Northeastern Ontario in the 1950s and '60s, I felt a distinct lack of books and library resources. When I was a young child, relatives gave me little books from the five and ten cent store, but as I became an older and better reader, it was a struggle to find new material. At the time, there were no book stores anywhere near. In any case, we were not a well-off family and the basics like food, clothing and shelter took priority.

My mother, who taught elementary school, was my main early source of encouragement in reading and writing. Our school didn't have much money, though, so the "library" consisted of two bookcases in each classroom. I soon read the books available and also went rapidly through my aunt's collection of Ladies Home Journals and Readers' Digest Condensed Books.

When I complained to my mother about having nothing to read, she remembered that the Women's Institute had a cupboard in the cloakroom of the community hall, where they kept a collection of books, mostly by minor Victorian writers, under lock and key. My mother, who was an Institute member, asked the local president if she would unlock the cupboard and let me look at the books.

The president was frankly puzzled, and said, "What does Ruth want the books for?"

In that day and age, children, especially girls, were often told to "Get your nose out of that book and do something useful."

The nearest town was about thirteen miles from where we lived and it had a public library, one room in a municipal building, so when I started high school I inquired about borrowing from it. As a non-resident I paid a fee, but it was worth it to have access to a wider choice of books. One book I read at that time, which I thought of on election night, was George Bernard Shaw's "The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism."

Now, that town has a new self-contained library on one of the two main streets, staffed professionally and associated with a regional library system through which borrowers can order pretty much anything they need.

I remain a persistent, curious and addicted reader, and frequently use the libraries in Ottawa, where I live now. Today, libraries are almost like community centres in offering all manner of activities and services including author events and readings.

When I was growing up in Northeastern Ontario there was just one writer in the community and he was regarded as an eccentric, so it's a pleasure to be in an environment where writers are numerous, commonplace and treated by librarians as associates in the encouragement of reading.

I'm glad that younger generations growing up in Northern Ontario are receiving nourishment for their minds and imaginations through well -organized public library systems and qualified librarians. My nieces, who grew up in Northeastern Ontario as I did, had this advantage. Both girls graduated from Laurentian University and when we attended the younger girl's graduation, I was struck by her class motto, which was: "Dream it, live it, be it."

To be able to dream of what you can be and imagine what constitutes a good life, you need people and facilities to support and encourage your imagination and curiosity, and that's what librarians and libraries do.

Thank you so much.

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