‘Invaluable Places in Our Communities’: Frank O’Keeffe’s Library Story

Frank O’Keeffe has lived all over the world, but no matter where he travels one thing never changes — how close he stays to his local library.

“I’ve always gone to the library wherever I’ve lived. They are invaluable places in our communities, and have always brought such joy to my family,” he says. “We went to live in Australia for a year when our daughter was two, we even had a library card there as well.”

Frank signed up for his first Calgary Public Library card about 50 years ago. Born in Dublin, Ireland, Frank immigrated to Canada when he was 19 years old. Memorial Park Library provided him with a place to visit during the day on his way to and from work.

When Frank began university, the library became a place to find free resources on the Canadian history he was studying. He eventually became a teacher, passing on the love of learning libraries instilled in him to students and his own family.

“My daughter got her first Library card when she was just a little girl. She was always wanting us to take her to Memorial Park Library and read books — new books, more books,” he says. “And it was so convenient, because you could borrow as many books as you liked.”

An Accomplished Author

Frank is more than just a lover of libraries, though; he’s also an author with books on library shelves, including eight young adult novels. His ninth book is Woodbine, an adult historical fiction novel that follows a young girl and her father as they travel from Paris across Africa in the 1890s, eventually visiting Ireland as the First World War breaks out.

Frank says this most recent novel, published in August 2018, could not have crossed the finish line without the help of staff at Shawnessy Library.

“Three of the ladies at Shawnessy Library — Olga Tanailova, Kirsten Pedersen, and Nelli Boutchev — were instrumental in that last book being published. Those three read my last manuscript as I was writing it. They helped me research it. I even acknowledged them in the book. It couldn’t have happened without their help.”

As a retired teacher and avid history buff, Frank says he enjoys the opportunity writing gives him to inject a bit of realistic humour into everyday life, “because the world can always use more of that.” His next book, The Grand Getaway, set to be published this spring, focuses heavily on that aspect.

“It starts with an old folks’ home, and a homeless man. One of the patients at the home is living with dementia, and she wants to go see the Grand Canyon one last time, because she went there when she was young on the back of a motorcycle. And so, this homeless man is accidentally let into the home one day and ends up sort of hiding out there, and the two of them form a sort of unlikely friendship that leads to adventure.”

‘Chitchat and Good Company’

The characters explore themes that hit particularly close to home for Frank. His wife Patricia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 10 years ago. As the couple has grown older and their family’s needs have changed, how they use the Library has changed too.

“I certainly used to read a lot, but I don’t have as much time for it now. I try to keep as active as I can, but my life involves a lot of worrying about my wife these days. Helping care for her is the most important thing,” Frank says.

The Library has become a part of Patricia and Frank’s weekly routine. On Fridays, Frank takes Patricia out from the care facility where she lives and the pair go to the ESL Coffee and Conversation program at Shawnessy Library, for some “chitchat and good company.” Once a newcomer to Canada himself, Frank empathizes with the people who attend the program.

“Many of the folks I meet at the Library are immigrants, just like me,” he says. “As an older patron, what I get out of the Library now is companionship. I’m still pretty active, and I don’t have any health problems, but it can be hard to meet new people. The Library is an important means of communication for me.”

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