The Saint John Free Public Library - the emphasis is on "free" because it is Canada's first free public library - is a golden opportunity to expand your horizons right at your very fingertips. I don't intend this to be about the history of the library, but the hows, whys, whens and wheres are just too interesting to omit.
The idea first germinated in 1874, but was put on hold because of the Great Fire of 1877 - it's tradition to bow your head at the mention of this reverent event - so it didn't reach fruition until 1883 when it occupied a room at the City Market. From there it went to the Masonic Hall on Germain Street and in 1904 it finally had its own splendid building - thanks to a donation from Andrew Carnegie, no less - on Hazen Avenue.
Increasing circulation is a challenge for all libraries and, apparently, the powers that be were enamored with the success of their idea to open the Maritime's first library branch in a mall on the west side of the city in 1967, so in 1983 the main branch was moved from this treasured bit of architecture to Market Square - a glistening modern atmosphere so perfectly suited that it seems it may possess the same interior as it did then. As I said, they must have loved that mall idea because the east branch is in a mall too.
Now that our history lesson is over, let's get back to why it's in your interest to make use of the borrowing resources contained within the cement walls of your library.
First, it's important to note that the Saint John library is just a cog in the vast New Brunswick Public Library system. This means you can borrow from any library in the province. Now for a wonderful annotation to this fact: until recently CDs and DVDs were not transferable within regions - I know, that made no sense whatsoever - and there were often two copies of the same album in one region, but none in any other region, let alone your own. But now that restriction has been lifted, so rejoice!
Next, while the library system doesn't have the extensive inventory available in most of the modern world, you can take solace knowing that if there is something that you want, there won't likely be much of a wait - it doesn't seem as though anyone actually borrows from libraries in Saint John. Before moving here, I used to make good use of my privileges at my branch of the Halifax Public Library where I would put items on hold, sometimes having to wait weeks for one of their scores of copies to become available, then having to find my name alphabetically amongst walls of shelved material that others had put on hold. There's none of that here - my first trip to a branch in Saint John saw me asking the librarian to do all the work, having to find my name in the little shelf of requested items while all I had to do was wait and watch.
As an aside, I have The Essential Bruce Springsteen serenading me as I write this article, proving there is some fantastic material to be found. This is relevant because in other library systems borrowing CDs or DVDs is often futile, having to hope the item isn't too scratched up to actually play - especially on the old, run-down equipment I employ. Springsteen's vocals, put on this CD in 2003, come clear and unscratched - well, as clear and unscratched as a Springsteen vocal can sound - looking as though the item was just purchased yesterday.
The hours may seem a little odd for a city library, some may even think they would contribute to the lack of circulation, but they do have a drop box with padding at the bottom to try and keep the contents of that special CD together, even if you forget the rubber band it came wrapped in.
Finally, I'd like to let you in on my secret on how I do a little extra to support my local library. It used to bother me if, when I was in Halifax where their financial pockets seemed a veritable bottomless pit of wealth, I managed to rack up a fine. Here they will actually extend the due date by a few days, so don't fret if the due date seems too soon, but should I not be able to make it on time, I just view that as my little donation to an important community resource (even more important if it was actually utilized by the community) and know that the item will be waiting on the shelf for me the next time I'm in the mood for The Boss.