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Edmonton
November 15, 2019

#YEG: Close to Paradise

A campus library provides a little glimpse of heaven.

Illustration Jason Lin

The first building I ever entered as a student at the University of Alberta was the Rutherford Library. I spent more time in that building than any other on campus. To be more specific, I spent most of my time in the north wing of the Rutherford library rather than the south wing – because Rutherford North is where all the books are. 

Like the brain, the Rutherford Library is conveniently divided into two hemispheres: Rutherford North is where right-brained students could go to listen to music (second floor music library) or read Borges and Calvino (fifth floor). 

I rarely entered Rutherford South. It was for left-brained people who cared about their grades and their futures. This is how I imagined universities in England looked like. Dozens of students sharing long desks, while furiously writing or typing or reading in an environment that wasn’t pleasantly silent like perhaps the fourth floor (conveniently named the Quiet Floor) of Rutherford North, but ominously silent like the unforgiving vacuum of deep space. It wasn’t for me. As a first year arts major, I wanted to read for the sheer pleasure, not because it was homework.

My days at the University of Alberta were some of the best in my life. They were so good because of Rutherford North and all those glorious books! Racks upon racks. Stacks upon stacks. It sounds like a clich, but in my university days, my best friends were books. 

That first week, while students queued up for hours at the University Bookstores to buy their course materials for classes like Sociology 102 and Statistics 101, I was on the fifth floor of Rutherford North. PSYCH 104 could wait. William Faulkner could not. Classes were something I went to in between chapters. The fifth floor of Rutherford North was (and maybe still is) the only place in Edmonton that felt like it was just for me. I felt like I belonged. I loved everything about that place except the elevator, because it couldn’t get me to the fifth floor fast enough.

It’s been 10 years since I first entered the Rutherford Library, and today I find myself inside a different library. As the EPL’s writer-in-residence, I am fortunate enough to have my own office inside the main branch. Each day my job is to connect people to literature. It’s the closest thing to a dream job I’ve ever had. Borges said that he thought Heaven would be like a library. In Edmonton, we don’t realize how close we are to paradise. 

Jason Lee Norman is the author of three or four hilarious tweets. His first book of short fiction, Americas, was published in 2012. He is also the editor/publisher of 40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology. A second volume of 40 Below will be published in 2015.

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