This is the weekly Amplify newsletter, where you can be inspired and challenged by the voices, opinions and insights of women at The Globe and Mail.
Jessica Robinson is the content manager at Globe Content Studio, the content marketing division of The Globe and Mail.
In every new city, I start at the library. Sure, I’ve likely already found the closest coffee shop and the grocery store, but when I move somewhere new, my first step toward living like a local is signing up for a library card. And in the last year, I’ve moved a lot.
At Halifax Central Library last summer, the helpful front desk clerk gave me a list of East Coast writers to brush up on. When I’d zip down to Atwater Library on Montreal’s metro after work in the winter, I’d fill my tote bag with books by authors from the city prominently placed on the shelves. At the Kensington Branch in Vancouver this spring, I pulled a reading list of Indigenous literature from the tables out front. And in the meeting rooms of Memorial Park Library – Calgary’s oldest, the plaque out front will tell you – I sat down to first draft this piece, at the last meeting of the writer’s circle I joined at the start of the summer.
Every city’s library was a place to start: somewhere I could ask questions, connect with like-minded people and gather a season’s worth of reading materials inspired by – and often written in – that very province. It’s a similar feeling to when you figure out a movie was shot in your town; you start calling out landmarks you’re familiar with, and suddenly you feel ownership of the art you’re consuming, like it’s somehow your own.
With every book I checked out, I developed a clearer picture of my new home. But I learned just as much about the community from frequenting the library itself – the exceedingly helpful staff, the summer reading challenges that made me nostalgic for the ones I participated in as a kid. Even spending just a couple hours there each week, I would see students studying, members advocating passionately for new books to be added to the buying list and young kids falling in love with reading, and with libraries.
As a woman – travelling with her partner but often exploring alone – I’ve discovered that library etiquette makes these spaces safe havens from unwanted advances or attention. Maybe that’s why BookNet Canada’s “On Loan: Library Use in Canada 2021″ report found that of the roughly one in five Canadians who borrowed a book from a public library that year, 60 per cent identified as women.
In the last year, I’ve been approached by men while reading alone in parks, cafés, bars and the farmers’ market – but after hours of turning pages at the library, only the librarian has come over to say hi. And when I do forge connections with new people at the library, it’s at a writer’s group or a similar meet-up, where common interests and activities form the basis of our friendship.
When people hear that I’ve lived in four new cities in just more than a year – not including pitstops in my hometown, Toronto – they inevitably ask: Which is your favourite? Where would you put roots down? Which was the hardest to leave?
It’s a question that prompts comparison. Did I like Vancouver’s ice cream better than Halifax’s, or did I just eat more of it? Would I rather be scrambling up the mountain face of the Rockies, or rocketing down the icy surface of Mt. Tremblant? Where were the people friendlier, the meals tastier, the memories sweeter?
On my way to having completed a cross-country Canadian adventure, I choose not to choose – a quintessentially Canadian deflection.
Instead, I talk about similarities – how, in every city, the restaurant wait staff were consistently, canonically kind, going out of their way to share recommendations when they learned we were new in town. How you become trained to look for striking street art on the sides of buildings in each neighbourhood. How every time we hit the road to drive from one town to the next, we found ourselves staring at a landscape through the windshield that was just as beautiful as the last.
And I talk about the libraries – my best tip for newcomers in every city, or even tourists staying more than a couple of days who want a glimpse at local life and a thriving community.
The next time you go somewhere new, stop by the library.
Book recommendations inspired by my travels:
Halifax: Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Montreal: When We Lost Our Heads by Heather O’Neill
Vancouver: Greenwood by Michael Christie
Calgary: Bad Cree by Jessica Johns
What else we’re thinking about:
If you’ve been feeling the need for an offline brain break, allow me to recommend a low-stakes distraction that also lets you tap into your creative side: analog collaging. Head to your local drugstore and pick up an assortment of magazines – or better yet, a second-hand shop where you can buy cheap old issues – and clip to your heart’s content. Create vision boards, poetry, cool art to hang on your walls, or simply fill a sketchbook with your crafty cut-outs. I personally like to collage at home while binge-watching TV reruns, but if you’re seeking something more social, try artist Katia Engell’s virtual workshops (she also sells DIY collage packs), or if you’re in Toronto, you can check out the magazine shop Issues and its in-person collaging events.
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