Book in hand, with the illustrations facing five pairs of wide eyes, the librarian captures the children’s fleeting interest, even if it is just for one more page.
Beth Diamond has worked in the children’s department at the Prince Rupert Public Library for 35 years and counting. She reads to toddlers and preschoolers and gives them activities based around a central theme. Last week it was cars.
“Those moments when you connect a child or adult with just the right book that makes me happiest,” Diamond said.
Born in Prince Rupert, she grew up in a home on Overlook Street and was the oldest of three kids. Her mother didn’t drive and at six-years-old she would take the bus downtown to the swimming pool in the building where Shutter Shack is now. The city was different then.
“Just like anybody’s childhood from the 60s, there were a lot of kids out on the street playing and building forts and all of that neat stuff that doesn’t necessarily happen anymore for kids,” Diamond said.
In those days, the library was across from the building with the indoor swimming pool until a fire claimed it in the late 1960s. The community was left without a library until the new one was built in 1971 in the same place it stands today.
When Diamond was in elementary school she remembers coming to the library for an after-school program when there were still 16mm films.
“We were actually using old film strips with felt pens and then rolling it off on the reels in the old film room that we used to have here,” she said.
After high school, she had dreams of being an elementary school teacher. She moved to Victoria for university but after two years her savings ran dry and she had to return to Prince Rupert to find a job.
There were two favourable job openings that Diamond applied to. One was at the school district, and the other was at the library. For six months she worked at the school district until she received a call from the library. The position she was looking at earlier was vacant once again, and the library wanted her to take the gig.
She was told that she would be working with three to five-year-olds. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, they seem so little’. But then you get used to working with those kids,” Then the library wanted a program for two-year-olds. “I was like, ‘Twos? They’re babies!’ But then you start working with them and it’s such a neat age.”
The shift from 24 to 36 months old still amazes Diamond after all these years. She loves to watch them grow from toddlers to pre-school ready.
She tried to continue her post-secondary education through correspondence but she said it wasn’t the same as before, and she thought that if she left her current job at the library she would probably lose it forever.
“I feel that I was very fortunate. I was in the right place at the right time and it’s just been great. I think it’s the best job in the place. It’s so much fun,” she said.
She stuck with the job, knowing that she had hit the jackpot as far as careers go.
She decided to plant roots in her hometown, and started to raise her own family as well.
A friend introduced her to Duncan, who came from the Lytton and only planned on staying on the North Coast for a few years. Life happened — she married Duncan, he stayed in town. The couple had two kids, a now 22-year-old son and an 18-year-old daughter who still live in the city, and she also has a 32-year-old stepdaughter in Kamloops with two of her own kids.
With the full-time career at the library, Diamond’s children were in home daycare and then preschool. They weren’t able to come to her daily reading programs.
“It’s kind of funny how you get to read to everybody else’s kids that way but of course it just didn’t work for my own kids to come,” she said.
Each year, a new batch of children join her reading program as the older group heads off to kindergarten. It’s an ongoing cycle, one that shocks Diamond when she recognizes some of the parents as those who once took her program when they were preschoolers.
The library has always been a core part of the community in Diamond’s mind, and she is still reeling from the City of Prince Rupert’s announcement that $66,000 is being cut from the institution’s funding.
“I think it kind of felt like the library was in the cross hairs,” she said, stating that the enhancement grant suggests that the library is only an enhancement to the community and not part of its core.
“It’s the only place that I feel in the entire community that is a safe, dry, warm place to come to whether it’s in the evenings or on the weekends.”
Diamond isn’t sure what this is going to mean for her position, or for the library.
For now, she will continue to immerse herself in the community, such as participating in the Children’s Festival, and helping little minds develop a fascination with the written word.