After 20 years, librarian Karen Corrin retired in March from the Waldman Library. (photo by Olga Livshin)
Karen Corrin retired from her position as a librarian at the Isaac Waldman Jewish Public Library on March 30, after exactly 20 years with the library. She has been with the Waldman from the very beginning.
“There was always a small library at the old JCC,” she remembered. “I took my children there when they were young. The new library opened on the second floor of the new building in 1994. I was studying for my master’s at the library school at UBC then. My program was for two years, from 1993 to 1995, so I didn’t apply to work there, but I was at the opening. I remember Amos Oz speaking. He talked about the importance of words.”
With the new library space came new funding, so the Waldman could hire a librarian and a library technician. Corrin wasn’t among the new hires but when, a few months later, the position of the librarian opened again, her friends urged her to apply.
“I was still at school. I wanted to be a cataloguer when I graduated, but a job was a job, so I applied and got it.” She started working for the Waldman in April of 1995.
Her previous experience, both personal and professional, prepared her for this position. “I have always loved libraries,” she said with a smile. “I would go with my kids to a local library, and we would bring library books home for everyone.” Before she started her program at the University of British Columbia, she worked as a volunteer coordinator and in fundraising. She also had management skills and knew computers. All of this combined made her a perfect fit for her new duties as the Waldman librarian.
“Waldman is almost unique. There are so few JCC libraries in North America,” she lamented. “Most city libraries are funded by the governments, but Waldman is a community library. The funds come from fundraising. That’s why, from the beginning, it was run by volunteers.”
According to Corrin, there are about 30 regular volunteers at the Waldman, and she considers them the best PR people the library could have. “They care about the library, about books and about the community. They have time to chat to the patrons, to explain things, to help everyone find what they are looking for. The value of the library volunteers is great, it can’t be overrated. They are our gems.”
Corrin herself also worked as a volunteer, although not for the Waldman. “About my history with libraries,” she said, “I always volunteered at my children’s elementary schools in their school libraries. First for my son in Richmond and then for my daughter at [Vancouver] Talmud Torah.”
She emphasized that the volunteers who run the front desk of the Waldman liberate the librarians to do their main jobs – fundraising, acquisitions and event planning.
“There are several kinds of events,” she explained. “People would come in and ask us, why don’t we have a book club? So we would start a book club. We saw what events the community centre was running, and if there was something missing, something a library could supply. Another kind of event comes with the Canada Council grant. We would apply for a grant to pay a writer. If we got it, we could invite a writer for an event or a reading. We had a few children’s writers speaking at the library through this grant. We also had some book launches of local authors and sometimes poetry readings – those were often funded by Yosef Wosk. It all comes from what the community wants.”
Recently, the most profound community-inspired change at the Waldman was the introduction of ebooks. Before that, but also during Corrin’s term at the Waldman, it was computerizing the catalogue. “When I started, we still used cards,” she recalled. “Libraries are always reinventing themselves, but I think that the most important purpose of a library is to be a community hub, a meeting place. That’s why we ran educational courses and children’s events at the Waldman. There is always something going on. You’re never bored at the library.”
Surprisingly, the profession of a librarian wasn’t Corrin’s first choice. When she was young, she wanted to be a teacher. “I always thought a teacher has to be perfect. He is the one molding children’s minds. I was afraid I wasn’t perfect enough,” she recalled of her youthful dreams. But the library job gave her a lot of satisfaction, and now she has plans to be a teacher, too. She and her husband plan to travel to Spain as volunteer English teachers. They have already done this in Hong Kong, with high school students, and loved it.
“I have lots of other things I’d like to do now that I have more free time: walking, learning how to play piano, swimming outside at Kits pool. I might come back to the Waldman as a volunteer,” she mused.
Olga Livshin is a Vancouver freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].