100 Libraries

"A library is also a place where love begins." – Rudolfo Anaya

009 Parliament Street Library

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IMG_6325The Parliament Street Library is an important community centre for people in the Cabbagetown area. This Branch offers a lot of programming options, including business classes on financial management and debt reduction. There are also the usual non-holding loans that we have come to expect from neighbourhood branches such as entertainment packages and pedometers. The Library has also captured the musical spirit of the neighbourhood by offering a piano practice room. This makes sense, as Cabbagetown has been the home of Avril Lavigne and Amy Millan.

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Cabbagetown is undergoing rapid gentrification, as the previous residents are being priced out of the area by young professionals. This is seen in the newer materials being acquired by the Library, including a healthy selection of the latest magazines, increased study spaces and a local history collection. Still the multilingual collection persists and the Branch has an impressive array of multilingual children’s materials as well.

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008 Bloor/Gladstone Library

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The Bloor Gladstone Library (previously Dovercourt Library) is one of those conspicuous heritage giants in the City, straddled by a show-y modern extension. The day that I arrived at Bloor Gladstone was not a particularly sunny day (note the rain drops on my Library Passport), yet the grandeur and bookish excitement of the building is not lost to the weather. The architects did a good job of preserving the heritage elements and character when planning the light and open addition. The Library was closed for a whopping three years for these much-needed revitalization, though from the results, it seems like it was well worth the wait.

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Upon entrance, you will be presented with the wide open entry leading up to the Principal Reference and Information Desks. The atrium has wide ceilings and thankfully the heritage features were preserved in the 2006 renovation. There is also a Learning Centre to the right of the entrance which contains study spaces and computers. It was certainly packed on a Sunday afternoon.

IMG_6383The Dovercourt Branch was opened in 1913, making it the first Toronto Public Library branch that was wholly funded by the City of Toronto. The Bloor West area was not always the affluent community that we have come to know. For much of its history, Bloor Gladstone catered to itinerant and high needs users. There is a local history collection with resources specifically for the area immediately surrounding the Library. With the price of housing sky rocketing in the city centre, the main users of the Branch are now young professionals and their families. Thus the Children’s Collection is perhaps one of the bigger collections I have seen in a neighbourhood branch. The community is also home to Hollywood and entertainment luminaries, including a certain Canadian singer-songwriter. There are also many students in the area, who often congregate in one of the many study rooms available in the Library.

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The Library received its heritage designation from the City in 1993 and underwent a massive transformation in 2006, adding an entire extension with the Toronto Public Library’s first green roof. The design of the addition compliments the aesthetic of the older building, and it won an architecture award from the Chicago Athenaeum.

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Though the building is often praised as a hallmark of the neighbourhood landscape, the holdings inside the Library are very on point for the needs of the gentrifying neighbourhood. One of the most interesting displays to me at the Bloor Gladstone Library was of large print art books. They were conveniently placed next to a reading room between the old and new wings of the building with a lot of charming heritage touches. The reading room is also home to the Branch’s periodical collection, available for browsing. There is also a large culinary section, with Nigella Lawson’s newest cookbook in pride of place.

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Overall this is a charming heritage library with a lot to offer and see. Come for the building, stay for the books.

007 St. Lawrence Library

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St. Lawrence Library is maybe one of the most interesting neighbourhood libraries I have encountered yet. The Branch opened in 1982 on the rented premises. It has been in operation here ever since, with a short closure for renovations in 2002.

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The Library is not particularly remarkable on street level. In fact, there is no entrance where you would expect, on Front Street. Instead, you have to enter a residential courtyard to get to the main entrance. This was because when the Library was opened there was almost no pedestrian traffic on Front Street. The Children’s Collection and programming space allows for unobstructed views of the street, perfect for a quiet read or people watching.
The history of the surrounding area is just as strange and delightful as this quirky Library. The St. Lawrence community was IMG_6357planned, as previously there was only industrial and transportation infrastructure in the area. This changed in the 1970’s, when City Council decided to redevelop the area into a mixed use neighbourhood. The City envisioned an area of “true diversity”, an area where residents interacted regardless of socio-economic status.

Due to this decision, integration is very even, thus making it difficult to find a defining feature of the Library’s collection. There is a small Local History selection, which is worth a look. I believe that the unremarkable-ness of the collection reflects the reality of the success of this mixed use development.

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Up to the point of this writing (January 2016), St. Lawrence remains a neighbourhood library. However, there have been plans since 2010 to redistribute library resources in the area. With the on-again off-again talks of First Parliament Place, St. Lawrence may be closed or relocated in favour of a larger district library in the new site. Although infamous for its sluggish decisions and development rates, if you want to see this fascinating little library, I would recommend you go visit sooner rather than later.

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Special thanks to Dulce Gomes for the tour of the library and an incredible explanation of the community!

006 Queen / Saulter Library

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From the outside, one would assume that from the age of the building, the Queen/Saulter Library was one of the original library buildings in Toronto. In fact, this library location was only opened in 1980, occupying an older postal station. You may recognize the architecture as the handiwork of one E.J. Lennox, who was also responsible for Old City Hall and Casa Loma, among other iconic buildings in Toronto.

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IMG_6342As mentioned, this Library was once Postal Station G, and that fact is commemorated with a hand painted plaque outside of the building. This neo-classical space is not solely inhabited by the Queen / Saulter Library, it also houses a community centre and day care. In fact, you will find a window above the Children’s Collection in the back that looks directly into the day care. I know this because I accidentally made eye contact with one of the Early Childhood Educators on staff there.

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The interiors of the Postal Station have been painstakingly kept and remodelled to fit the needs and functions of a public library. The Reference Desk preserves the original marble counter tops of the Post Office counter. The Library also allows local artists to display their work in various gallery and display areas.

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The community that the Library serves is largely young professionals with families and their Story Time offerings are very popular. There is a dedicated children’s programming area in the back of the Library, which is both elevated and separated from the rest of the library.

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Special thanks to Judy Leung for showing me around the Queen / Saulter Library!

10 Fascinating Items from the Special Collections of the Toronto Public Library

There’s a general perception that libraries only contain books, but libraries have been branching out to electronic acquisitions and digital media. But collecting non-book holdings is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the Toronto Public Library has a number of Special Collections spread out across the city with some surprising items that you may not have expected. Therefore, I present ten items that I find fascinating that you may not have known were at the library.

10. The (One-Time) World’s Smallest Book – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

This book was printed by a Japanese publisher in celebration of their anniversary and features images of the Chinese Zodiac with Japanese and Chinese letters representing their sign. It was certified the smallest book by the Guinness Book of Records but has since been replaced by subsequent smaller books. Still a sight to behold though, and the Osborne Collection has a 20x magnified version displayed next to it.

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Courtesy of Tokyo Times

9. German Pop-Up Valentine Card – Private Press and Fine Printing, Marilyn & Charles Baillie Centre for Special Collections, Toronto Reference Library

This Pop-Up Valentine Card is part of a collection of Fine Art Ephemera at the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections on the Fifth Floor of the Toronto Reference Library. There is a aristocratic man courting an aristocratic woman, and they are surrounded by an idyllic scene of lush flowers and a small folly made in the gothic style. Puts our modern attempts of romance to shame, right?

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

8. Toronto City Hall Competition Invitation – Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Toronto Reference Library

The City of Toronto decided to build a new City Hall to establish itself as a global city (which it is arguably still trying to do) in 1957. To find the design, it launched a global competition for architects to supply their visions to such an important structure. The result was the Toronto City Hall we all know and love (which coincidentally contains a branch of the Toronto Public Library). Take a gander at the flashy introduction written by then mayor Nathan Phillips. Can you imagine an introduction written in this century that uses the word “undulating” so liberally?

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Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

If you want to learn more about the design competition of City Hall, the Toronto Public Library has a great Virtual Exhibition that you can check out here.

7. A 17th Century Horn Book – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

Horn Books were tools for children to learn how to properly form their letters. The translucent screen above the letters was made out of horn, thus the name horn book. The back was also replaceable with a set for upper case and lower case letters, as well as numbers. Children were expected to trace their letters and numbers in order to prepare for school.

This is a horn book from the 16th century. The clear part is made out of horn so children could trace their letters and learn to write.

6. Pop-Up Theatre Book – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

Another pop-up item, but one that was meant to delight children as a mini-theatre. This item features an ornamental façade with major and minor characters and has interchangeable scenery in the background for various settings.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

5. Sherlock Holmes Card Game – Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Toronto Reference Library

This may appeal to the board game or Sherlock enthusiasts out there. Parker Brothers released a Sherlock Holmes Card Game where it appears that you try to collect as many Robber cards and Sherlock Holmes cards as possible. The game promises “never a dull moment” and the Victorian women appear to be having a great time, so maybe Parker Brothers should capitalize and reprint the game?

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

4. Aesop’s Fables from the 14th Century – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

Arguably the oldest item in the Osborne Collection and potentially even the entire Special Collections. These are a handwritten recount of Aesop’s Fables in Latin, with small illustrations to accompany the text. The fables are written on vellum which is parchment made of dried animal skins and is therefore very durable and has been preserved to us today.

The oldest item in the collection, a vellum Aesop's Fables from the 14th Century.

3. Royal Genealogy Board Game – Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, North York Central Library

Some people in the 18th Century must have loved all things Royal Family. The instructions are far too complicated for this passive observer, but it’s a good reminder that everything can be a game if you try hard enough.

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Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

2. Land and State Books (Slavery Ledgers) – Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, North York Central Library

Land and State Books were used by men in Upper Canada to keep track of their property and land holdings. Since slaves were considered property, these books are very useful resources to discover attitudes towards slavery, what the life of a slave was like and to estimate how many slaves lived in Canada within a given time frame. The Toronto Public Library curated an excellent virtual exhibition of Early Black History in Freedom City.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

1. John J. Audobon’s Birds of America – Marilyn and Charles Baillie Centre for Special Collections, Toronto Reference Library

Without a doubt one of the biggest collection of ornithological prints in the City, the images were originally printed in four volumes. Throughout the late 1980’s, it was decided that the volumes were suffering too much wear and tear and so the images were removed from their bindings and put in special boxes. For those of us who are uninitiated in the handling of fine prints or just don’t have time to make it to the TD Gallery, you can see the items here.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

Have you seen something at your local library that you think deserves a place on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

The eh List!: André Alexis

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The first instalment of the eh List! author series at the Toronto Reference Library featured Giller Award winning writer of Fifteen Dogs, André Alexis. The eh List features authors Canadian authors who have significant contributions to the Canadian literary world. Alexis was featured in conversation with Deborah Dundas, a reviewer and editor at the Toronto Star. Throughout the hour long program, Alexis did a reading of a passage from Fifteen Dogs, chatted with Dundas about the influences of his book series, answered questions from the audience and finished up with a signing.

IMG_6399Fifteen Dogs is the second in a series of books written by Alexis that take the theme of divinity in different contexts. The first book in the series was Pastoral, which was published in 2014 and the next instalment of the series is to be expected in 2017. Alexis tells the audience that the next book will be continue with the contextual divinity theme, with ghost stories and a take on Treasure Island. To me, the most interesting discussion between Alexis and Dundas revolved around the concept of the divine. Fifteen Dogs is an apologue and thus starts with two dramatis personae, Apollo and Hermes, who are drinking in a Toronto bar. It is in this book that divinity makes an actual appearance, rather than in an abstract or deux ex machina role. The inclusion and direct intervention of the gods is the catalyst of the events of the book, which is what drew me to the read in the beginning.

As a reader who is interested in classically inspired texts, this book offered much as a new twist on the apologue style of narrative. However, for others, I would still recommend the book, as Alexis has a fanciful way of mythologizing Toronto which is at once foreign and incredibly familiar. Other themes that Alexis explores in his book are that of language, consciousness, love and death. With the theme of love, Alexis explains that he wanted to explore the relationship between what he sees as two contradictory elements: love and power. He also discusses whether language makes us conscious or not. In the book, one of the dogs writes dog poetry that is quite ingenious through Alexis’ explanation (I will not ruin the surprise).

This was my first TPL event, and I must say it was well facilitated for an audience of obviously hungry readers. For more information on The eh List!, including future events, please follow this link.

 

005 Riverdale Library

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Riverdale Library was one of the Carnegie Libraries gifted to Toronto by Andrew Carnegie. It opened its doors officially on October 10, 1910. It is one of the oldest libraries in the Toronto Public Library system and was also home to one of its first children’s collections and multilingual collections.

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The Library first opened the doors to the Boys and Girls addition in 1927, and was one of the first of its kind to have holdings specifically designated for children. Today the Children’s Collection for the Library still occupies the space, and though little has changed in terms of the physical features of the building (with one very major exception, see the Children’s Collection Entrance below), a few whimsical design elements, including a small tree and a sailboat, are sure to delight.

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Both the physical structure and the community have undergone significant changes, which is reflected in the collections and the role of the Library over time. In 1973, in response to an influx of immigrants from Hong Kong and Vietnam, a Chinese and Vietnamese Language collection was added to Riverdale Library. This was the one of the first multilingual collections in the Toronto Public Library at the time. However, over time, the real estate in the area has increase in value and older Chinese immigrants have moved away from Riverdale. The community has since been replaced by young professionals and their families, shifting focus back to the Children’s Collection. There are still a number of users of the Chinese Collection, notably recent immigrants and students from China, though the Collection has seen a change from Traditional Chinese to Simplified Chinese materials.

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The building has been expanded twice (1928; Boys and Girls Addition, 2010; modernization expansion) and renovated three times (1937; Kenneth S. Gillies, 1969; after a fire, 2010; modernization). Riverdale Library has been designated a heritage property since 1977 and was awarded a Toronto Historical plaque in recognition of its history in 2006.

With the gradual gentrification of the surrounding community, Riverdale Library will continue to transition into its new role in Children’s Holdings and collections catering to young professionals.

Special thanks to Niki Lawrence for taking the time to show me around the Library and teach me about the history of the community!

Why Libraries?

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A question I have often gotten as a library enthusiast and information professional is why libraries? Aren’t these buildings full of books a quaint but antiquated relic of the pre-internet world? Do we need librarians? Can’t we get a robot to shelve books? What’s the Dewey Decimal System anyway? I promise that I won’t bore you with an explanation of the Dewey system, but I do want to discuss the role of the library in modern society. I suppose if I were to TL;DR this blog post, I would say that at the centre of every library’s raison d’être are the needs of the community and the user’s right to information.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will see some themes that emerge. I constantly discuss the community, the collection, the building and the features of any given Toronto Public Library branch. This is because libraries are a product of the community that they are in. Neighbourhoods that have a history of vibrant arts and music will have music rooms in their libraries, such as the Parliament Street Library. Areas with a high concentration of students will have increased study spaces and Special Collections for research, like the Toronto Reference Library or Lillian H. Smith Library. The non-circulating holdings (books you can’t check out) and non-collection holdings (not books) are influenced by the needs of the users of any particular library, in the context of the larger library system. So, you will find local history collections in neighbourhood libraries that have a high concentration of users interested in family and civic history. On a system level, you will find initiatives like eBook infrastructure, pedometer lending, digital innovation hubs and new initiatives like the portable internet hot spots.

Libraries are not simply rooms full of books that sit quietly waiting for someone to read them. Collections are not static. In fact, there is always great movement in and out of libraries, with new book acquisitions coming in and outdated texts being weeded out. Collections development focuses on reflecting the community that they serve. Thus, in neighbourhoods where there is a heavy concentration of Chinese and Portuguese speaking users, there will be a similarly large Chinese and Portuguese language collection (e.g. Sanderson Library). Communities that cater to underprivileged or newly immigrant populations will have adult literacy collections, multilingual collections, business collections and any other collections that the community needs. In my journey around the Toronto Public Library alone I have seen  Multilingual Collections (including the only Nepali library collection in the City), LGBT Collections, Children’s Collections, Multilingual Children’s Collections, Local History Collections, Periodical Collections, Adult Literacy Collections, Business Collections, Special Collections, Canadiana Collections and Best of Collections. I should mention that this list is neither exhaustive nor does it include what you would expect from library collections like fiction and non-fiction sections.

There is a lot of care and concern put into every library planning, to ensure maximum usage and visibility for the library. Have you ever been to a library and thought “well this is a weird floor plan.” I certainly have. Take St. Lawrence Library for instance. It has an entire wall that faces high traffic on Front Street, yet its main entrance is tucked away in a residential neighbourhood. This is because when St. Lawrence was being built, the community was still emerging and Front Street was not a pedestrian friendly area like it is now. The opening of the Esplanade nearby eventually brought heavy foot traffic to the street, but when the Library was established, users mostly walked through these pedestrian courtyards.The needs of the users are so ingrained as a focus for libraries that it appears to make up the very fabric of the structures.

But of course, libraries are not simply places where you can only borrow books. They also offer many programming options like Yoga, Themed Book Clubs, Pod-clubs (Podcast Clubs), Business English Classes, English as a Second Language Classes, Financial Management Classes, Music Classes, Arts and Crafts Times, Story Times, Summer/Winter Camps, etc. Libraries are an indispensable source of programs for people of all walks of life.

Perhaps it’s professional bias, but it’s so clear to me that we need libraries now as much if not more than ever. In a world where people believe information provided to them in Facebook images (such as this one), libraries are a haven of dependable information and skills to evaluate the reliability of information is taught. Libraries have long been a champion for the individual’s right to information. Libraries were one of the first spaces to desegregate during the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. Library associations across the globe continue to discuss censorship, privacy and library ethics.

Now that we’ve discussed the nuanced and complex role that libraries have in the community, there’s another elephant in the room: librarians. Let’s define what a librarian does – they are responsible for evaluating the needs of the community, developing the collection plan, creating programming schedules, balancing budgets, providing reference services, discussing the practical applications of library ethics and information literacy and keep the library moving forward. The brave souls who make up the front line service, run the programming, occasionally shelve books, provide reference, check books in and out, catalogue books as well as generally keep the library running are library technicians.

So there’s my answer to “why libraries?” Because they are an indispensable part of any community and enrich the lives and infrastructure of everyone around them. Are you still with me? Anyone? Bueller?

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004 St. James Town Library

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The St. James Town Library is a medium sized library next to the Wellesley Community Centre. It offers both programming in collaboration with the Wellesley CC and its own programming like children’s services and book clubs (more on that later).

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IMG_6308It serves the most densely populated community in Toronto, as the area that it is in offers many high rise lodgings. As such, although it is a smaller library, its collections reflect the enormous diversity of its population. It has an immense array of multilingual materials including what appears to be the only Nepali public library material available in the Toronto Public Library system. It also offers resources in French, Chinese, Russian, Urdu, Korean and Spanish.

This compliments the programming services offered by the library, including a full children’s collection and a story time. St. James Town also collaborates with the Wellesley Community Centre programs such as summer camps, after school programs and day cares. During the day time, you will see a number of users from all walks of life gathered around the various multilingual resources, using the offered technologies or participating in events.

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The Children’s Collection and Programming Space

Perhaps what is most unique about this library branch is its initiative to bridge digital and physical spaces. Their latest foray in this manner is Pod-Club for the online series Serial. Branch Head Michael Warner tells me that the Pod-Club is trying to connect library users using digital media. This combination is a new concept but one that I hope picks up steam and is soon offered at more TPL locations. The Library does also offer traditional Book Club programming, including a pride themed book club called “Proud Readers Book Club” (due to its proximity to Church Street).

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Special thanks to Michael Warner for his introduction to the St. James Town Library.

 

Toronto Library Passport in the News

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Congratulations to Noah Ortman, creator of the Toronto Library Passport, for all of his success. According to this news segment, the first edition of his Library Passport has all but sold out. He is going to be printing more, so make sure to pre-order yours as soon as possible! I can’t tell you how much joy this little book has already brought me this year!