Home Commentary “A clean, well-lighted place”: One Brossard library’s next pandemic chapter

“A clean, well-lighted place”: One Brossard library’s next pandemic chapter

by Aminah Hannan November 10, 2020
“A clean, well-lighted place”: One Brossard library’s next pandemic chapter

Covid-19 hasn’t dissuaded the strong community behind this library.

Sept. 30, midnight: the deadly hour. Libraries across Greater Montreal were set to shut down at this time, courtesy of a fresh wave of COVID-19 sweeping the province. But the curious hum that greeted me as I entered the Georgette-Lepage Library of Brossard on the eve of closing day, after a six month self-imposed exile, both surprised and elated me.

You’d be forgiven for believing that libraries have been living on borrowed time, especially during a global health crisis. Spaces to read, eat, study and unwind — the virus does not discriminate; it upends every communal meeting ground where rest and imagination usually converge.

The future of this Brossard library, however, might not be so dim after all.

The woman on sanitization duty, a kindly, middle-aged brunette whose name I didn’t catch, showed me the gel dispenser. Books can still be loaned, she said, but I should be wary about touching the spines and pages unnecessarily.

I nodded and she let me pass. Behind me, no less than five giggling schoolchildren queued up to enter with their parents.

I took a moment to look around. Everything was bright and luminous, and, barring the closure of the butterfly display near the glass doors, all seemed to be nearly as it was.

Further right were the same tall bookshelves and children’s playing area that had always been there. The colourful, life-sized cushions shaped like classic literary tomes were not occupied, but I saw heads bobbing between the aisles.

I noticed, with grim relief, that the elderly librarians I used to know were not present to service the front desk.

A hushed electricity pulsated through the air: it was the last day to collect books, and those who were most apt to having their noses inside a page would not pass up the opportunity.

Upstairs, the spaced-out study area was packed. I spotted an older man dozing on a desk. The next chair over, someone watched a film on Netflix, while the girl across scribbled on a print-out sheet, languid.

I walked around in a daze for the next half hour, rediscovering my favourite reading nooks. I knew that the next day, they would be snatched from me again, for at least another month.

That evening as I exited the building, an Ernest Hemingway short story came to mind. I pondered how, in that “Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” everyone seemed at ease. Troubles melted under that wash of light.

Hemingway had been right: all that people needed was a space to escape that familiar, hollow feeling of “nothing.” The library’s tidy quietness provided refuge for “all those who do not want to go to bed, […] all those who need a light for the night.”

Even in isolation, there was a community.

Once the worst has passed, I am certain of finding it again.


 Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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