Not surprisingly, this former chief librarian is a prodigious reader

By Judith van Berkom – 

Barbara Clubb, former chief librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, retired in 2010 after 17 years in her senior position – the first five years before amalgamation in 2000 – and the following 12 years leading the massive changes required in the process. She describes library work as a “field of opportunity.” The work has many facets, appealing to varied talents. Heavily reliant on technology, library work continues to change and evolve.

“I have some [e-books] on my devices but don’t usually read them that way. I have macular degeneration – diagnosed three years ago – and do audio books, which I like a lot, and large print, which is more comfortable for my eyes, says Barbara. “I may have vision for the rest of my life with the injections I’m taking every two months and was delighted that there was a treatment and that it was covered by OHIP.”

Barbara Clubb, former chief librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, with some of the books on her summer reading list. Photo by Judith van Berkom
Barbara Clubb, former chief librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, with some of the books on her summer reading list. Photo by Judith van Berkom

First on Barbara’s list is History’s People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret McMillan published in 2015 by House of Anansi Press.

“I’ve always loved her both as an author and a commentator on TV. We had her once as a guest at our annual literary dinner,” says Barbara. “I choose her also because our book club is doing the book in the fall. I’ve been a member of the same book club with essentially the same people for the last 21 years. I’m the keeper of the list of books we’ve read on a spreadsheet.”

“She [Margaret McMillan] breaks the book down to a type of historical personage. She finds a way to organize information so it’s digestible in pieces. Paris 1919, which dealt with the negotiation of post- World War I treaties, was divided into countries.  She’s a really good writer, a good commentator, and she’s Canadian. Whenever she comes out with a new book, I make a point to read it.”

Her second choice is a current Chinese writer, Yan Lianke, whose books have been ‘suppressed’ in China; only some have been translated and are not widely available.

“I just got back from [a trip] there. I went to the wedding of the son of someone who had gone through the Cultural Revolution in China. The Four Books: a Novel, published by Mingpao Publishing Co. in 2010, translated from Chinese by Grove Press in 2015, is all about the Cultural Revolution. I’ve read many socio-political books but no new [Chinese] novels. This is a way of getting into that genre.”

The Vegetarian: a Novel, was published in Korean in 2007 by Han Kang, translated in 2015 and won the Man Booker Prize in 2016.  “I’ve no idea what it’s about, but this was the winner. I’ve never read anything by a Korean writer.”

Barbara recently completed The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch. It’s about a man who discovers he has Asperger’s disease.

“He and his wife set on a journey to learn how to moderate his behaviour so he can become happier, have a relationship with his children, and save his marriage,” says Barbara.  “The book is funny – it’s written in the first person and describes his behaviour. He never suspected [he had Asperger’s] but just knew he was unhappy. His wife chanced on a magazine with a list of questions [about Asperger’s]; he scored 100% while his wife barely scored.” It describes some of the techniques he used to learn how to communicate, how to be empathetic, and how to play with his own children. A 220-pager, Barbara arrived at the end, wishing for more.

This post is part of our KT summer reads issue. Read all of our other profiles right here.

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