Delta Libraries operations manager Balvir Bahi was hired as a page at the George Mackie Library in 1979.

Borrowed time: A library’s anniversary

The George Mackie Library celebrates 30 years in its present home on Oct. 26.

Balvir Bahia is like a book that the George Mackie Library borrowed and hasn’t returned in nearly 35 years.

And like any book, it started on Page 1 – specifically when she was hired as a page, way back in 1979.

Bahia has a story to tell – at a time when North Delta’s library is celebrating 30 years at its present location (it had opened in 1972 a few blocks to the east at the building now shared by Watershed Artworks and the North Delta Potters Guild).

Bahia has been around long enough to recall chatting with Betty, the then-elderly widow of the Delta alderman and library namesake who, through fundraising, paved the way for the library before he passed away in 1971.

“I called her Mrs. Mackie,” says Bahia, now the operations manager for Delta Libraries. “I wasn’t so presumptuous.”

Bahia “discovered” the public library when she was a student at Richardson Elementary.

Having caught the book bug in Grade 5, she found a never-ending smorgasbord of reading material to savor.

“For me it was a big deal. It was my entertainment,” she says.

The atmosphere was also intimidating at times for an 11- or 12-year-old with seemingly more enthusiasm for books than those in charge.

She describes the tut-tutting, eagle-eyed “old” librarians who made sure she kept her hands off some books (such as holds or ones recently returned).

Her curiosity only increased.

One day, at the age of 15, she noticed some girls her age touching some of the hands-off books. They were sorting them. And being paid for it.

In went an application, and soon after came an interview.

To Bahia’s relief, it was not with one of the intimidating book nannies at the front counter, but kindly Lolly Heath, North Delta’s first librarian.

“Why do you want to be a page?” she was asked.

“I really love books” was the simple answer.

Bahia has seen the enormous changes throughout the years.

LPs, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, CDs, DVDs, eBooks and other media have been part of the library’s technological evolution over the decades.

Library manager Gillian McLeod says the branch has been both at the front of and (intentionally) slightly behind the technology – allowing, for example, people today to borrow DVDs at a time when video stores are largely gone.

Regardless of the technological changes, McLeod believes books are here to say for a long while, noting there’s a 1.9-million floating book collection shared with 25 other Fraser Valley Regional Library branches.

The George Mackie Library today is more than its collections, however.

There’s an array of equipment, services and programs, including computers, eBooks, reading clubs, crafts, poetry nights in Punjabi and Urdu, digital magazines, digital audio books, ESL conversation circles, writers’ series, teen pizza and games nights, Babytimes, Parent Child Mother Goose, and more.

And there are plans in the works for the future: Media streaming (akin to Netflix, once DVDs become truly obsolete), lounge areas for telecommuters, possibly even video and/or sound editing studios for digital-world artists.

Still, the books beckon.

Today, responsible for the library’s circulation, Bahia can’t walk through an aisle without straightening a shelf or spotting a spine out of place.

“It’s ingrained,” she says. “When you do shelving for four hours a day, you learn.”

The George Mackie Library (8440 112 St.) is holding its 30th anniversary party on Saturday (Oct. 26) from 3-4:30 p.m. The library is also holding a one-day amnesty for all overdue borrowed materials on Oct. 26. For more information, visit www.fvrl.bc.ca or call 604-594-8155.

bjoseph@surreyleader.com

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