Meet Alexandra, a public librarian and runner who’s originally from Montreal. Alex shares her experiences and thoughts on being a librarian in Ottawa on her blog, Only Connect.
Okay. I’m Alexandra, and I’m a Public Librarian. I grew up in and around Montreal. My parents are actually both priests in the Anglican Church, so we moved around a couple of times to different communities around the Greater Montreal Area when I was young; we did four or five major moves. Finally, I went to McGill and settled in downtown Montreal. I moved to Ottawa four years ago, and I’ve been working for the Ottawa Public Library since then. Before that, I was working for libraries in Montreal. My first degree was in English Lit, though, so I have a love of books that you would hope would be essential in a librarian!
I read a lot. Not just for work – I think I read something like 50 or 60 novels a year. I also run, which is something I picked up from my husband. I was never athletic as a kid – I was always picked last for every team. I love it, though. It’s something that I can just get up and do without any special equipment or an appointment with a trainer or anything – you can just do it. It’s also been a great way to get to know the city. I’ve run up and down the canal, by the rivers, over to the Quebec side. Often when I’m talking to community partners or friends, someone will mention a place and I can usually say, “Oh, I think I ran by that once!” It’s really helped me get to know the city.
What brought you to Ottawa?
My job. After doing my Masters in Library Studies, I had a couple of part-time library jobs: one in a public library, one in an academic library, and one in a school. I was toying around with what I wanted to do. I eventually decided I did want to work in public libraries – I ended up stringing together a series of mat-leave positions. That gets hard. After I had done the second mat-leave position, I thought, well, I can’t keep this up. I had some other concerns, too – public libraries in Quebec are very different from public libraries in Ontario. Because the Catholic Church had such control over culture in general – but especially over books and reading – until the 1960s in Quebec, public libraries aren’t as established there as they are in Ontario. In Ontario, the Public Library Act, I think, was established in the 1890s, whereas Quebec didn’t have one until the 1950s. So Quebec is really just catching up in a lot of ways. I felt like I was really pushing against a wall, and wasn’t able to do a lot of the things I wanted to do. It will take time for the public library structure to be fully established, there..
What made you decide to go into Library Science?
I grew up in a household that had a lot of books. Also, though, as I finished my English Lit degree, I was doing an honours thesis about cross-cultural connections. It was about E.M. Forster, and connections between different genders and class structure in England, so I was starting to think about how education is kind of an equalizer for people. The Public Library, in particular – I mean, the tag line for the public library is “The People’s University,” and I felt that very strongly. I really wanted to work in an environment that really could be The People’s University. Anyone can come in and ask a question, pursue a research topic, or, you know, do some leisure reading, pick up a hobby, learn about a new world or different culture, and make some kind of connection.
Now that you’re here in Ottawa, do you see yourself staying here?
I think so. It’s a nice city with a lot to offer. Like I said, it’s a city in transition, so I’m looking forward to seeing how things turn out. There’s a really nice mixture of urban and rural. It’s easy to get away from the city – you know, to get to Gatineau, or even just along the canal. There are great options for people starting families. I think I’ll stay. I’m still homesick for Montreal, though. When I left, I was sitting on my kitchen floor crying as I was packing. It was really hard for me.
We did you photos at the Minto Bridges near old city hall. Why is that an important place for you?
It’s one of my favourite places in the city. It was one of the first runs I took when I moved here. I went to the Rideau Falls and crossed over the Minto bridges, and it was one of the first times I thought, “I could live here, I guess it’s okay!” It’s kind of a special corner for me.