Peter Bailey Q&A
What's your favourite book?
"This is a difficult question for a librarian, so I'll mention one favourite, Nick Hornby's novel High Fidelity. In it a thirtysomething record-shop owner is constantly making lists of his current obsessions, like Top Five Elvis Costello Songs. I'm like that. But if I narrow it down to books I've read more than once I think Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis would be right up there. One of the funniest books you will read, including the epic hangover scene."
What's your favourite movie?
"It's A Wonderful Life. C'mon, it's about a small-town guy named Bailey who tries to do the right thing. In a couple scenes you can see the name of George Bailey's late father on one of the office doors: Peter Bailey. I always laugh in the scene where it shows what would happen to Mary Bailey if she hadn't married George: she becomes a spinster LIBRARIAN!"
What's your favourite album?
"London Calling by the Clash. Melody, power, politics, emotion – this is the real deal, the album that has always been there for me."
When you were still a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I canoed a lot when I was young, and loved the whole history of the fur trade, including the voyageurs. Je suis un homme du nord! I wanted to be an explorer like David Thompson, Simon Fraser or Alexander Mackenzie. Later this morphed into being a historian."
What do you want to see on your tombstone?
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
"My wonderful kids, of course! Career-wise, I'm pleased to have been part of making St. Albert Public Library one of the best libraries of its size in Canada."
Do you have any superstitions?
"Not a superstition, more a fact: any political candidate I help will lose. I am the political kiss of death. Just ask Tim Osborne."
If you could change anything, what would it be?
"I'd go back in time and start sooner on the things in my life I love. Life's too short to hesitate. Carpe diem."
"Weeding. I hate having to remove books from the library collection. But as the library is at full capacity every new book means something else has to be removed. Heartbreaking for a book man.
Idling. Nothing drives me crazier than cars or trucks idling. I'm so glad St. Albert did something about it."
Rolling Stones or Beatles?
"Beatles. With a touch of jangly guitar from the Byrds and sweet harmonies from the Beach Boys. One of my highest accompliments for an album is “Beatle-esque.” My favourite music is power pop – Beatle-esque melodies, crunchy guitars, harmonies. Sloan, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Nick Lowe, The Shins, The Jayhawks, Said the Whale, Library Voices, Fountains of Wayne, New Pornographers ..."
Leave it to a librarian to use the word 'preponderance' in casual conversation. No matter how hard Peter Bailey tries, there are many calling cards of a bibliophile that don't have anything to do with the wearing or not wearing of tweed.
"In high school I was a total book nerd," the director of the St. Albert Public Library admitted. "Books are a big, big part of my life."
"All the other guys were passing around Ball Four, the first baseball book to go behind the scenes. It was a really popular book, especially for teen boys back in the day. So they all passed it from one to the other in grade 10 to do their book reports. They all did the same book. I did Gulag Archipelago."
"I've always liked to go against the grain, reading Russian novels in high school. There was no way to be cool but I liked that kind of thing."
There's no escaping the fact that Bailey loves libraries and books so much that he's been surrounded by them all of his life. Take one step into his office, however, and there are only two books to be found in amongst all of the piles of paper and reports and folders.
It's only because he has all of the books he wants on the other side of the wall.
Peel back the layers, get past the dust jacket if you will, and you'll find a regular guy who digs sports, music and beer.
"He definitely does not fit the stereotypical image of a librarian," stated Phil Harries, a friend of Bailey's for about 30 years.
"I like being a man in a woman's profession. I like upsetting people's stereotypes of what a librarian is: being a beer expert, liking loud rock and roll, and longboarding fast on St. Albert's wonderful trails wearing beige Dockers."
Regardless of his clean cut appearance, his black hair slightly peppered with notes of grey, his mauve shirt or that he tangentially calls himself an aging hipster, he's still the beer columnist for Edmonton's The Tomato, formerly known as City Palate. That's a pretty cool gig. Okay, so maybe the book nerd in him loves beer so much that he has to write about it, all under the Beer Guy moniker, naturally.
Bailey was born in 1964 in Kingston, Ont., but has bounced around the country, even around different parts of Alberta, until finally finding his home here.
"I'm a pan-Canadian. I feel uncomfortable anywhere," he mused drily, adding that he has friends and relatives from the Maritimes through the East, through Manitoba and out to the West Coast. "I'm happy everywhere."
In his youth on the shores of Lake Huron, his dad was a chemical engineer who worked at the local nuclear power plant. Not seeing a future in that sector of the energy industry, his dad took a job in Alberta and the family moved west. It was an easy shift for the family that had already fallen in love with the Rockies.
"I don't think he realized how far Edmonton was from the mountains," Bailey recalled, with a laugh.
Still, he would keep the books close as he always had even from a young age.
"Going to the library was something we did all the time. Eventually we outgrew it and we'd drive half an hour to the next biggest town … just to go to their library."
In an amazing quirk of fate, that first library was founded by his wife's relatives, long before they ever knew each other.
He remembered his astounding first dinner with Anne and her parents in Calgary. As a transplanted Albertan, he had grown accustomed to hearing people recognize his childhood hometown of Port Elgin and try to correct them, thinking that they must have meant Port Credit or Port Erie.
"Or some other port. No one's ever heard of it. Her dad insisted. 'No, actually my family is from there.' It was just mind-blowing, this connection across the country. And then later on, becoming a librarian and having that connection to my childhood library, Carnegie Library. It's really strange."
Apart from having worked in libraries and bookstores, and knowing that he had a brain for details – "I had a mind for trivia and information and obscure factoids … I was the reigning champion of Trivial Pursuit against anyone, any comer" – Bailey still loves the active life, far from the imaginary staid confines of an oak-mounted library that smells of pipe smoke.
In his life, he and Anne have had to move many times, paring down their book and record collection so much that each new acquisition means it has to replace something else.
When he doesn't have his head in a book, he's probably cooking Asian food. Of course, there is hockey and beer too.
Harries says that the two play ball hockey together and share a love of music too. The last concert they went to was Paul McCartney, before that the Folk Fest, but that doesn't mean that they have roots or classic rock always on the brain.
"You name it. As far as our tastes go, we're very eclectic."
As for playing hockey against him, Harries said that Bailey is no goon who would crush opponents into the boards.
"He enjoys fair play and just the spirit of the game."
Just don't ask Bailey about the veracity of Alexander Keith's India Pale Ale. You might face the full brunt of the intellectual powerhouse whose Twitter handle is 'Libarbarian.'