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15 September 2009
In today’s Vancouver Sun newspaper, Farris’ Library Manager Wilma Macfarlane and Library Technician Kathy Barry (both pictured below) appeared in the Vancouver Sun newspaper.
by Shelley Fralic
It’s a given, especially in these tight times, that most libraries count on government grants and private donations to survive. Which is why it’s odd to hear of one Vancouver library that’s giving green away, in the name of literacy.
Wilma Macfarlane has been the in-house librarian at the Vancouver law firm of Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP for 21 years, so there’s not much she doesn’t know about the 50,000-volume law library spread over the firm’s four floors in the TD Bank Tower. From textbooks and court reports to historical legislation and all those cases of precedent, her world is one of somber judicial literature.
Just step into the firm’s two-storey foyer, with its spiral staircase and stately wooden bookcases full of leather-bound volumes and you’ll think you’ve been transported back to the time of smoking jackets and illuminating parlour conversation. Or, as Macfarlane so succinctly puts it: “As you know, this is a pretty serious library.” Which is why she decided to start Fiction Friday three years ago, whereby she encouraged the firm’s staff of 200-plus to rummage around their homes and haul into the office all their dog-eared novels, for the singular purpose of recycling them for charity.
“We assist the Farris lawyers and students with their legal research on a daily basis. Asking them to lighten up and bring us all their ‘once-read’ titles was a bit of a departure from the norm,” says Macfarlane. The books started coming in, several thousand to be exact, and Macfarlane scrambled to find a home for her experimental venture, and it turned out to be a space outside the former office of The Sun’s long-time media lawyer, the late Barry Gibson, Q.C., who she says “indulged us.” That’s because Gibson was a quiet, concentrated fellow, not given to distraction, and every Friday afternoon, staffers would start showing up outside his office, lured by Macfarlane’s offering of coffee and a pastry or two, for a little socializing and novel shopping, handing over a toonie for each book they coveted, or says Macfarlane, a proud Scot, “three books for $5.”
That first year, the firm donated the money raised to the United Way, but then decided that Raise-a-Reader—with its built-in literacy goal and its connection to the firm—would be the beneficiary of Fiction Friday. The $1,000 most recently raised by Macfarlane, and her library sidekick Kathy Barry, will be rolled into the firm’s annual donation to Raise-a-Reader this year. “We had such a lot of fun. In the process, we served up a lot of candies and cookies to bring the readers to the library for a few moments of non-billable time each Friday,” says Macfarlane. “We even managed to send four boxes of books to the Union Gospel Mission for their bookstore.”
And, yes, she plans an all-new Fiction Friday soon, especially given the staff has been asking her to expand the selection beyond novels to cookbooks, travel books and, natch, children’s books.
“Lawyers,” says Macfarlane, in something of an understatement, “are quite bookish.”
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