100 Year-Old Riverdale Library (1910)

IMG_4481Like the pigeon above, I have always found Riverdale Library’s red-brick solidity a restful place to perch.

On my first visit, I appreciated the heavy wooden doors that opened to the spaciousness of the lobby, inviting patrons to breathe freely. A soaring white ceiling, skylight, columns, and wide aisles all worked together to create a sense of freedom and possibility.

I felt my spirits revive when I gazed at the skylight of this Georgian Revival edifice, prompting me to send a silent message of thanks skyward to Andrew Carnegie. As recorded in A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983, Carnegie provided the initial funding for this library and three others in 1903 (Penman, 16). Ultimately, he would finance ten TPL branches.

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IMG_4538My instinctive window-seat antennae led me to the northeast side of the library, where I found a wide curving bench. This lovely piece of reading furniture was an integral part of the children’s area, which also boasted a double-sided hearth and a Children’s Program Room with a matching window seat on the west wall.

When I went inside the program room, I found a puppet theatre and a leafless tree with a sign that read “Riverdale Tree: Do Not Move.” Five years later, someone must have disobeyed the note, for the tree had been moved to the opposite side of the wing. Not only had it travelled, but it was now gussied up with leaves, a salamander, and bedazzled fruit.

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IMG_4555IMG_4521 IMG_4515 Back in the main section of the children’s wing, I noticed a substantial pirate ship on top of a central shelf and a Paddington Bear high overhead. Paddington was secured to a chair swing with a massive quantity of packing tape. Were staff concerned that the bear would fall onto the hapless heads of readers below? Lawsuits have sprouted over less.

The central section of Riverdale contained a corner reserved for teens to flop on some pink and yellow cushions, a computer bay, and magazine racks. Along the curved west wall, rows of tall shelves fanned out in a radial pattern.

Following the curve to the southwest corner, I saw a sign which said “Quiet Community Room.” I opened the door and discovered that it wasn’t quiet at all in there. About ten women were sitting at various tables with big thermoses and some snacks. When a couple of them gave me the half-smile of “Do we know you? What are you doing here?”, I realized that I was disturbing their morning study break. I apologized to the teacher and retreated from what appeared to be an ESL class, judging from the English vocabulary words written on the flip-chart.

To support the class and other learners, a strong ESL collection was only a few strides away from the classroom. There was also a small Vietnamese holding and a much larger one that offered Chinese fiction, non-fiction, DVD’s, and more. On my 2015 visit, I enjoyed the lobby display in honour of Chinese New Year, especially the colourful card, book covers, and flowers.IMG_4577 IMG_4613IMG_4596From the multilingual bookcases against the south wall, I moved further into the interior and sat down between two high shelves. With my head resting just below a wooden windowsill, I surveyed the materials available in my temporary domain: French dictionaries, self-help books, SAT preparation texts, mathematics books, and fashion guides. I inhabited my bookish retreat for several minutes, leafing through some sale magazines and pausing to admire how vast the overhead space appeared from floor-level.

After getting to my feet, I returned to the window seat to experience it in more depth. I took off my shoes, nestled against the wall where it formed a right angle with the seat, and rested my left arm on the upper ledge. It was the perfect place to write in my journal.IMG_4542I felt very fortunate to inhabit a quiet corner of this beautiful old library, enjoying the trees outside as well as the rumble of passing streetcars on Broadview Avenue. I also felt connected to the lucky Torontonians of the early 20th century who welcomed Riverdale Library into their city and their hearts.

Visionary Scarborough Civic Centre (2015)

IMG_4907IMG_4771The opening of Toronto Public Library‘s 100th branch is reason enough for excitement, but Scarborough Civic Centre raises the pitch even higher with its visionary beauty, innovation, and attention to detail.

IMG_4767IMG_4775From the basil leaves embedded in playful towers to the homework loveseats, 3-D printer, and green roof, TPL’s newest library provides an outstanding community facility for the McCowan and Ellesmere neighbourhood. After only nine days in service, it already feels comfortably familiar; not a trace of plastic-on-the-best-sofa starchiness in sight.

IMG_4774Playing purposeful hookey, I took yesterday off to spend some time at Scarborough Civic Centre branch. After taking pictures for an hour and a half, I sat down at an epic table in the grand hall to better experience the character of the place. The sounds of happy kids in the KidsStop early literacy centre, keyboard tappings, and the voices of staff and patrons filled the audio space.

IMG_5049From where I was sitting, three sets of giant wooden hurdles met overhead. I liked the way the supporting beams tilted inward to support the overhead beam that joined them. With strength drawn from cooperative leaning, the structure’s airy openness conveyed sturdiness instead of fragility.

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IMG_5001The building’s simplicity combined with details such as visible bolts served to create a secure frame to shelter readers, dialogue, and engagement with the imagination.

IMG_5078IMG_4972IMG_4908IMG_4926The architects’ choice to use wooden instead of metal beams gave this viewer a warmer affirmation and connected me to the greenery of the reading garden, the maple leaves in the pink tower, and memories of  Camp Oakledge in Warsaw, Missouri.

IMG_4798IMG_4963IMG_4873The seeds, beans, and flowers embedded in the KidsStop towers glowed with poetry, and I predict that many wonder-struck naturalists will receive their first inspiration in the sunny southeast corner of Scarborough Civic Centre.

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Refreshing Morningside Library (2006)

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If you thirst for open space, artistic beauty, and sunlight on wooden beams, Morningside Library is the branch for you.

At first sight, its sun-filled interior resembled a rectangular barn turned art studio, and I felt calm and purposeful as I walked from the entrance into the thick of the shelves. Even though the entire library was limited to a single story, I found so many objects, images, and angles to photograph that I had to tell myself, “Catherine, how will a picture of a leaflet stand, a glass bowl full of blue and silver ornaments, or a fox in a mural push your narrative forward?”

Despite an internal call for more photo-restraint, I couldn’t help but rejoice in aesthetic details such as the snow in the skylight, the wee Christmas tree on the checkout desk, and the Victorian village made out of illustrated cardboard. As Rumi said, “There is ecstasy in paying attention.”

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Looking at the collection of ye olde churches, houses, hotels, and stores, I recalled the scene in A Mighty Wind when Eugene Levy is bowled over by a model train set and its attendant village: “I would love to see this town in the autumn.”

After reflecting on how Morningside’s mini-towne might look in the summer, I wandered over to a generously wide window seat to the right of the check out area. It seemed the ideal spot to “read, imagine, dream, (and) escape,” which the large mural on the west wall invited me to do.

IMG_8507 Completed in 2009, this vibrant wall painting was the result of a collaboration between Rob Matejka and seven youth artists. I liked how the knight was brandishing a brown book with TPL on the cover and proudly sporting TPL’s blue and white (as seen on signs and library cards).IMG_8502When I studied this champion of literacy, my thoughts turned to 2011 city politics: “Just let Rob Ford try to joust with this righteously besaddled advocate of tax dollars well-spent! Confronted by his upraised book, anti-library forces shall tremble in their cost-cutting boots.”IMG_8544

In addition to the stirring mural, Morningside branch boasted a wealth of framed artwork: photographs, watercolours, and oils. Two of my favourites were Adam Hussain’s tall bird and Evette Forde’s abstract piece.

Not only was Morningside art-friendly, but the ceiling, windows, and window seats were artistically pleasing. Even the long wooden table attached to the north wall was lovely in my sight. On the day of my first visit, every spot was taken — a row of laptops glinting in the sun.

IMG_8524At first I didn’t totally resonate with the giant wooden oval that hovered mid-ceiling. Likely it was designed to highlight the Children’s area below and its special carpet: stripes of brick red, green, blue, and an orange block.IMG_8550IMG_8552

Nevertheless, I am beholden to the wooden feature, for it led me to the colourful books shown below: trippy Tamil-speaking, tennis-playing kittens, an Urdu-English tale about a lucky grain, and a French story about a grandfather’s maple syrup operation. Outside the purview of the overhead doughnut, the Adult multilingual section had Tamil materials and Hindi DVD’s but nothing in French or Urdu.

All in all, Morningside Library was a delightful longhouse  of a building that contained many of my favourite things: books, paintings, window seats, and an open spirit. At a time when the city budget is being debated, attacked and defended, a library like Morningside exemplifies what truly matters: people over politics, books over tax-cuts, and beauty over cynicism.

Bayview Library (2003): A Restful Pool of Books in Bayview Village Mall

This bookmark celebrates the branch head of Bayview Library, Jerry Lomoro, who spoke with me on the phone before my visit in 2011. The bookmark’s muse kindly took me under his wing when I arrived on site; he offered me tea, gave me a visitor’s badge, and told me about Bayview’s impressive circulation numbers (372,036 in 2010).

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While he chatted with me, Jerry tidied up the remains of the Tea and Books event, which had just finished. It had actually been the debut of the group, and more than a dozen patrons, mostly seniors, had gathered in front of the library’s only windows to discuss Writing in the Age of Silence.

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IMG_0020The Tea and Books participants, mostly elderly, represented a traditional demographic in the library’s history. Jerry explained that nearby condominium construction in recent years had created more diversity: “It used to be pretty homogeneous, mainly seniors, Jewish or WASPy, but now we have more immigrant families. Last summer we had 80 kids in our reading program.”

The theme of 2010’s summer reading program was Destination Jungle, and one of the 80 children had illustrated this fun jungle scene with an alligator gliding down a waterfall. Almost a year later, intrepid yet patient giraffes were still awaiting their turn to go down the falls.

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I also enjoyed the bookmark contest display, which had yielded the portrait of Jerry above. One child was more inspired by jungle animals than branch head librarians and drew this cheerful (yet stationary) giraffe.

Bayview’s Children’s Section promoted playfulness and creativity, especially with its tinted translucent circles that demarcated the north side of the area. Jerry told me that kids often peer at each other through the circles and play games with them. Library decor as entertainment. A fantastic concept!

IMG_9914IMG_9921I loved how there was a deepening of the space as I walked towards the north wall. Carpeted steps brought me lower, as if the lobby and lounge comprised  the deck of a large pool and the steps took me down into the water.

IMG_9931IMG_9953There was even a handrail to help patrons transition into the pool of children’s books at the centre of the branch. And the multi-coloured steps turned the ordinary act of descending stairs into something extraordinary.

Around the corner from the kid’s area was a very pleasing nook. It was the kind of place that made me want to do some homework, any homework. Alas, I didn’t have any, so I had to make do with taking pictures of books. Even though Bayview is small, it has respectable Chinese, Korean, and French collections, so I had plenty of material to choose from.

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With book pictures duly displayed, let me close this post with a big thank you to Jerry and the other library staff (especially Norm) for making me feel so welcome at this bustling yet restful branch. All of you deserve a bookmark in your honour!

Cliffcrest Library: From Drab to Fab!

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The first time I visited Cliffcrest Library was back in 2007. When I showed up at Cliffcrest Plaza for a second visit in 2010, I was surprised to see that this 1972 storefront branch had scooted over from 2977 Kingston Road to 3017 Kingston Road. (Scarborough Irish dancers take note, for the new address is right next door to Gold and Shamrock Irish Gifts and Dance Supplies!)

I felt inclined to do a discreet happy dance when I saw the attractive new library with its open-facing shelving (earning it the title of TPL‘s first “browsing branch”). Alas, I had missed Cliffcrest’s opening celebration in April 2008. Nevertheless, it was worth the wait to witness the fairy-tale transformation of a formerly drab library into a fabulous one!

Sharing my enthusiasm for the renovation, the branch head mentioned that the dramatic improvements had drawn a lot more youth to the facility. Sure enough, the L-shaped banquette in the northeast corner was fully occupied by teens enjoying their portable screens.

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On the Friday morning of my 2010 visit, Cliffcrest was pleasingly full. Seniors, families, and youth were busy reading newspapers, browsing for books, and using the computers. For background music, one child kept crowing “cockle-doodle-doo!” and added monster growls for emphasis. Near the information desk, a patron suggested a few DVD titles for her kids’ weekend viewing: “Alice in Wonderland? Animal Adventures?

I liked the cheerful greens and blues as well as the sunniness that filled this one-room branch. According to an on-line article by Anne Bailey in Ontario Library Association Access, “The colour scheme . . . represents the lake, trees, and green areas in the community.” With only a parking lot to gaze upon, it was helpful to have decor that symbolized natural beauties (including a real cliff!) not far away.

IMG_3294The library was so home-like and comfortable that it was tempting to lounge there for a long time. In fact, I ended up losing a sit-off with another patron on the banquette pictured above.

It all started with my silent wish to take a picture of the banquette’s entire length. Not knowing this wish, my bench rival camped out on its east side from 11:30 to 1:00, at which time I had to leave for work. It didn’t feel right to ask her to move, and I was both impressed and exasperated by her sitting power.IMG_3333IMG_3334Around the corner from the contested banquette was an eclectic collection of stuffed animals. A frog and a puma were having a sit-off of their own, but the rest of the creatures were sharing their shelf peacefully. A shark and a bear were getting along just fine, as were a parrot and a three-headed dragon.IMG_3343 IMG_3351

IMG_3404parrotforblog Cliffcrest’s shelves didn’t offer multilingual choices, but its children’s section had a small French collection. I borrowed the book pictured below because I liked the exuberant cover art and the opportunity to practice reading in French.

Finally, a few steps away from the children’s section was the program room. It contained funky tiling, a Historical Highlights display, and some nature photography by Ann Brokelman.

Upon arrival a few hours earlier, I had expected to find the same tired 1970’s strip-mall branch that I’d seen in 2007. The plaza remains dreary, but it can now flaunt its one colourful jewel: a rejuvenated Cliffcrest Library!

The Scattered Lattice Shadows of Goldhawk Park (1992)

I first visited Goldhawk Park in 2009, and my original write-up included Steeles and Bridlewood branches as well. This time I’d like Goldhawk Park to have its own post. It deserves it!

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Goldhawk Park’s most salient attribute is its restful park setting, and I loved how the library’s wide windows made the most of the views, especially when winter inspired the application of paper snowflakes.

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IMG_7526I was also very impressed by a group of elderly T’ai Chi devotees who were performing liquid moves in a courtyard on the north side of the library. Not to be outdone, the indoor seniors were equally committed to constructive activities. For instance, I noticed one man reading a newspaper with a large magnifying glass, soaking up the sun beside a window.

IMG_7605While the morning sun warmed the backs of mature readers, it created scattered lattice shadows everywhere I looked. A quiet library transformed into a solar gallery!

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Even the books seemed brighter, and I enjoyed selecting volumes to model Goldhawk Park’s multilingual collection.

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My second and third visits to this calming branch felt like a celebration of sunshine! Thank you, Goldhawk Park, for your light, your snowflakes, your trees, and your peace!

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At Home at Bamburgh Gardens Shopping Plaza: Steeles Library (1987)

IMG_7040Located on the left side of a walkway leading to the mall, Steeles was very compact, and the homey impression created by its lime green walls was taken up a notch by the presence of several stuffed creatures on top of a high shelf: a gorilla, Tweety Bird, and Marvin the Martian.

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These stuffed entities lined the south wall of the library, not far from a reading corner for youngsters. A padded bench along the east wall had been placed under a bank of windows overlooking the covered walkway. IMG_7008 IMG_7003 This bench seemed ideal for small readers with big imaginations. Sheltered below eye level, they could read without being detected by the mall shoppers who bustle back and forth outside.  “Heh heh!” a thought bubble might say, “I’m reading here and you don’t know it!

Despite Steeles’ limited size, it was possible to find areas of expansiveness, including some restful views of trees and parkland from the north windows. I even saw a bird on a branch!

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The program room floor was a carpet of stars and planets, a reminder of the limitless world of creativity contained in books. Where else could a cat share a swing with birds or a frog dress up like a tourist?

As I prepared to leave the library, I took a moment to admire how busy the library was at 10:30 on a Friday morning. Nearly every chair was occupied by a reader, and it made me happy to see so many folks consuming words instead of mall-products.

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Steps away from the exit, a diagonal length of bike rack pointed the way to some open recreational land behind the mall. I loved how the same sense of openness and possibility filled the deceptively small confines of Steeles Library!

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Supremely Popular Agincourt Library (1991)

When I pulled into the parking lot at ten o’clock in the morning, almost all of Agincourt Library‘s 85 spaces were taken, and as I walked through the branch, I observed that the interior was also densely populated. In my travels, I came across only two free tables, even witnessing a 30-second transfer between the vacating of a study carrel and the next occupant rushing in to claim the space

In addition to Agincourt’s impressive rate of usage, I noticed a lot of positive changes from the 2009 renovation. When I complimented the Branch Head on it, she said the branch looked more open now. Open was an apt word to describe the circular atrium that offered a view of the second floor and the inside of a pyramid at the very top of the building.

IMG_1405A similarly round structure filled the interior of a short turret in the Children’s area. Two tiers of cushioned seating in a horseshoe shape made for a magical yet comfortable storytelling theatre.

IMG_1363I was also taken by the sight of jungle animal cutouts on the wall and the sound of human voices singing Alouette in the nearby program room.IMG_1431IMG_1429IMG_1427IMG_1412The song’s notes lilted from the open door of the program room, spilling cheer into the corridor. As I passed by, I caught a quick impression of rainbow mats, a large screen with a film playing, and a lot of lively family interaction. One caregiver was in the hall with a baby who was delighting in a row of silver hangers. As he played them like a xylophone with his hands, he listened with zen-like appreciation to their rattling chimes.

IMG_1486From the musical-hanger studio, I walked over to the stairway to the upper level. I loved its grandeur and the way the perspective narrowed to a focal triangle at the top. Was it the base of a Mayan temple or an urban library surrounded by gray buildings?

IMG_1574IMG_1517Once I climbed the steps, the sturdy learning centre grounded me, as did the murmuring of study groups and discreet slurpings from McDonald’s coffee cups and thermos flasks. I wondered if the patrons sitting cheek by jowl lived in the blocks of high rises I could glimpse from the windows. From the manner in which many folks were camped out with bags, computers, drinks, and mending, it seemed as though they were both scholars and  homesteaders of the flat prairie tables.

IMG_1523One downside of Agincourt’s popularity was that the teen’s area was serving as an overflow basin for patrons who couldn’t find an available patch of wi-fi real estate. I worried that laptop-toting adults were crowding out real teens from their library space. While visiting other branches, I’ve witnessed grown-ups being shooed out of teen zones, so I hope the same thing happens here after school hours.

IMG_1524Before I left Agincourt, I took some time to admire the astonishing range of languages at this district library: Arabic, Chinese, French, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, and Urdu. I also paused to study a row of acrylic paintings by Daniel Wilkes. My favourite was Der wold und sein Nordlicht (The Wolf and his Northern Lights), especially because the Northern Lights belonged to the wolf.

Finally, I returned to the parking lot and gazed at the iron structure over the entryway. It resembled a pull-out bed on a railway carriage, perhaps a symbol of the library’s role as a second home for citizens of a megalopolis. With so many hospitable facilities on offer, Agincourt has surely earned its supreme popularity.

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Distinguished Barbara Frum (1992) Does Not Disappoint

IMG_2971A large district branch near Lawrence and Bathurst, Barbara Frum Library was named in honour of the famed CBC broadcaster and journalist who died of leukemia shortly before the library opened in 1992.IMG_2967 Barbara Frum’s library impressed me with its comfortable elegance, a composite of palm fronds, floral vine diamonds, high windows, and soaring ceilings. There were a few signs of wear and tear such as graffiti in the study rooms, but that can be a challenge to prevent at such a busy locale.

I loved the dignified staircase to the second floor (and of course the one that led to the third floor). The landing provided a grand perspective of the temple-like columns beside the main entrance.

IMG_3047IMG_2856The columned east lounge of the main level wowed me with its expansiveness, and the Children’s Area in the west wing didn’t disappoint either. I was especially charmed by the friendly jester who stood at the centre of a semi-circular window bench on the north wall. An informal puppet show must have recently taken place there, for a lone cow puppet lay discarded on the windowsill.

At the opposite end of the room from the window jester, whimsicality continued to prevail in the form of a table decorated with eyeballs and some hand-painted chairs that invited elbows to rest on flowers.

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Children’s Wing, South Wall

IMG_2736IMG_2773IMG_2768 The multilingual collection was almost as immense as the sweepingly high walls, and it included the following languages: French, Hebrew, Hungarian, Russian, Tagalog, Chinese, Somali, and Yiddish.

Barbara Frum branch is also home to the Jewish Mosaic Collection, which contains a variety of materials on “anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, Jewish biographies, music, Kosher cooking and literature” (TPL website on the JMC).

With so much knowledge and beauty to offer, it’s fitting that such a classy facility perpetuates Barbara Frum’s memory: a distinguished library for a distinguished woman.

Evelyn Gregory Library on Trowell (Near Eglinton Avenue West and Keele)

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Trowell Avenue ranks high on my list of pleasing street names, and the charm of Evelyn Gregory Library lived up to its address. A stand-alone building with a low roof, big trees on the lawn, a large rock, and a picnic bench, it blended well with its residential surroundings. In this respect, Evelyn Gregory reminded me a lot of Bendale, Victoria Village, and Mimico Centennial branches.

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Completed in 1968, Evelyn Gregory’s interior also conveyed a domestic vibe. Its central checkout area had a warm brick wall behind it, which complemented the low ceiling and informal atmosphere. The patrons seemed right at home, and I liked it when I overheard a librarian asking an elderly gentleman if he had enjoyed his holiday.

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To the left of the staff’s friendly bailiwick was the teens and children’s zone. The south wall of this section contained a large window next to group of trees, greenish light pushing through the canopy. While I was gazing out the window, a ghoulish scream made me jump. I swiveled to my left and saw a grayish-green zombie face on a computer screen. Embarrassed by the attention, a teenager in a headscarf hastily turned down the volume of the scream.

Composure restored, I walked to the west wall to study a mural which was most likely painted in the 1970’s. Against a pale blue background, kids were sledding, rollerskating, building sand castles, playing leapfrog, and blowing bubbles. Their hairstyles shared similarities to those of Fred, Thelma, and Daphne of Skooby Doo fame.

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The east side of the library didn’t have any murals, but there were inviting carpeted ledges that jutted out from the base of two sets of wide windows. The ledge was too narrow to be an out-and-out bench, but there was just enough room to accommodate patrons determined to perch. IMG_4067One young reader had snagged the coveted corner where the two ledges met to form a right angle. This spot afforded a more secure surface from which to lean back against the warm glass and fall into the pages of a book. (On my second visit to the branch in 2012, I was disappointed to see signs that banned ledge-sitting).

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Tall shelves near the popular reading corner were filled with non-fiction materials, including Spanish, Portuguese, and ESL offerings. A few shelves away, Evelyn Gregory’s DVD collection was especially robust, and I quickly found a good movie for later that evening. Bidding the branch farewell, I checked out The Secret Life of Bees and returned to the shaded sidewalks of Trowell Avenue.

Classy High Park Library (1916)

IMG_5858Like its sister branches, Wychwood (1916) and Beaches (1916), the interior of Carnegie-funded High Park Library boasts a high timbered ceiling on the second floor. Its Edwardian dignity creates a calm, even sanctified atmosphere; one of the librarians told me that patrons often ask her if the building used to be a church. In December, High Park’s spiritual character is highlighted by Christmas carollers who find a natural perch on the minstrel gallery on the east side, projecting their voices into the depth of space.

IMG_5912IMG_6095On my first visit, I trotted up the steps to the singing platform, glorying in the perspective it provided. Standing on this interior balcony, I could take in the entire south wing of the upper level.IMG_5910

IMG_5930I enjoyed looking at the dark brown timbers, the central stripe of orange paint, the stone hearth, and the painting above it. From this elevated roost, I tried to visualize the thousands of thoughts, from the dullest to the most sublime, which have floated in the ether above readers’ heads for almost a century. Gentlemen in cravats and cuff links might have composed purple poems to ladies with puffed sleeves, the soaring ceiling a container for daydreams.IMG_6036

I appreciated the contemplative separateness of the lofty gallery, the way it provided a place apart to think and study. When I returned to the second floor proper, I discovered another nook along the south wall. This alcove held the Jobs and Literacy collection and a hopeful skylight. It seemed the perfect spot to set goals for personal and professional development.

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After tilting my head back for a serious bout of window-gazing, I walked to the north wing, only to find more windows to appreciate, especially a large one facing the side of Emmanuel Howard Park United Church. The Teen corner (with its bench shaped like a corner of a picture-frame) had an air of openness thanks to the high windows that overlooked the greenery below.

The expansiveness of the upper floor gave way to a cozier lower level, which was primarily devoted to children’s materials. The Kid’s Section was supervised by a friendly whale who had been captured mid-leap and suspended from a library ceiling. Despite its amiable expression, it would be ill-advised to cross this marine mammal, especially as it guards access to the air conditioning unit.

To the right of the whale was a carpeted reading theatre. The stage was empty on the afternoon of my visit, but it was heartening to see a family gathered around a nearby low table. As a father read a story about pigs to his young daughter, I recalled the sound of my dad’s voice when he used to read The Little Engine that Could, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I owe my love of books to both of my parents, who took the time to read to me when I was very small.

Before taking leave of High Park, I stopped to appreciate a flamingo, a hippo, and a giraffe. The hippo was the most gregarious of the three animals, but I also liked how the bird’s stoicism balanced the quiet optimism of the giraffe. A gorgeous sun warmed the giraffe’s neck, its rays separate entities in intense orange and yellow. The colorful animal portraits added a welcome element of playfulness to this seriously classy historic branch.

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Paper Blog Journal Entry about Dufferin/Saint Clair (Formerly Earl’s Court Library)

From my seat at a wooden table in the north wing of Dufferin/St. Clair Library, I can see books in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish on the shelves to the right. On my left, four square columns in grooved wood separate me from the large central hall, location of the famous Reid and MCarthy mural (1925-32).IMG_5318Confined to a painted arch, the panel entitled “Community” is most visible from my perspective. In this tableau, robed figures recline on boulders and lean against trees. Their receptive poses seem ideal for absorbing wisdom from their spiritual leader, a tall man with a beige jacket draped over his shoulders. His slack sleeves flap as he stands with a beige book in his hands, and lack of eye contact has made his  audience inattentive. (Possibly they are distracted by heating grates that rest on a man’s head and cut into the trunk of seemingly solid tree.)

IMG_5317Despite the static stoicism of the figures, the mural’s greens and browns draw me into the next room to take a closer look at the entire piece. The mural’s panels cover the four walls of the original main room of Earl’s Court Library (1921), presenting a total of ten arches that frame different scenes: Community, Nature Study (seekers draped on large stones that ring a delicious pool of water), The Story Hour, The Family, Philosophy, and forest scenes with square windows gleaming between tree trunks.

IMG_5302In the four corners of the room, torches with scrolls wrapped around their bases fill the spaces between the panels’ arches. The scrolls bear the names of Tennyson, Carlyle, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Scott, Kipling, and Barrie (echoing the names on the stained glass windows at Weston Library).

On the north and south walls, the spandrels contain blank open books with quill pens placed diagonally across them. More torches appear, this time with scrolls inscribed with Science, Art, History, Biography, Romance, Adventure, Religion, and Philosophy.

IMG_5363IMG_5343IMG_5401IMG_5353On the whole, I like the mural’s classical yet down-home sensibility, and I’m very glad the library decided to restore it. My only question concerns the historical context of the figures’ clothing. Some of the outfits reference the toga, but others are more generic shapeless garments suitable for all manner of outdoor lounging.  Are the mural’s inhabitants ancient Greeks or mythical Canadians discussing literature in the bush? Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as everybody keeps reading.IMG_5324IMG_5390 Turning my attention from the mural’s mysteries, I find the Teen’s Section in a corner room off the main hall behind the checkout desk. Two benches that meet at a right angle compose a study nook, complete with table. There’s also a row of computers, a listening station equipped with headphones, and a nearby window bench.

Moving to the south wing, the Children’s area is equally well-appointed, with wide, high windows, comfortable benches, and bright walls in lime green and dark purple. Even the bookshelves manage to be cheerful and fun; circular mirrors attached to their sides allow very young children to regard their reflections. IMG_5081Overhead, an amiable wooden dragon offers his tail as a frame for a KidsStop sign. The majority of the dragon’s body lies flush against the wall, but its tail juts out into space, effectively folding the creature in half.

IMG_5109Below the wall-dragon is a magical entryway made of crossed wooden arches resembling a cathedral vault. The path under the arches leads to the KidsStop playroom which boasts a wooden puppet theatre and a large wooden dragon in the centre. On the dragon’s flanks hang magnetic letters, a colour wheel, a spin-a-story game, and a lever to press for the song “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”

Against two walls, a low wrap-around bench stores books underneath its seat, and a giant Read to Your Bunny book is attached to another wall for a stand-and-read experience. Opposite the arched entryway at floor level is a shadow box framed by a wavy red border. The box contains a phone devoted to Dial-a-Story, a library service that allows kids to hear stories in a variety of languages.

IMG_5222IMG_5275Not to be outdone by the main hall, the playroom (formerly called the Children’s Clubroom) has its own recently restored mural, which was painted by Doris McCarthy in 1932.IMG_5141Cinderella dominates the west wall, and in her loose-fitting gown she looks like an floaty flapper, more apt to waltz than do the Charleston. The prince is handsome, but the gold nodules on his crown are scaring off his love interest.

The south wall belongs to Jack and the Beanstalk. In this section, Jack’s mother is trying to talk him out of climbing the stalk, even though the giant doesn’t look overly intimidating in slippers with ties that crisscross his calves. There’s also a diaphanous fairy with wings who bends over a window. With the window frame to support her upper body weight, her toes are free to dangle in a flower bed.

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IMG_5128Jack the Giant Killer, Hansel and Gretel, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Puss-n-Boots occupy the east wall, where a candy cane chimney and Mama Bear’s apron stand out as especially fine details. In contrast, Jack’s sword and the drop of blood oozing from the giant’s dead mouth make for disconcerting viewing.

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IMG_5171The north wall is devoted to Little Red Riding Hood. In these panels, instructions are given by the mother and forgotten by the daughter, which results in a dangerous encounter. However, the wolf looks so outrageously comfy in his “borrowed” pink nightgown and cap, it’s hard to imagine that he’s not just going to drift off into a deep sleep.

IMG_5156IMG_5158IMG_5160Surveying all four walls, I admire the imaginative system of borders that unifies the entire composition and grounds it in the natural world; the top border contains rows of owls with leafy vines separating each bird while the side borders feature squirrels instead.

After passing under the arches, I return to the main part of the south wing, noting a Preschool Lounge with a long window bench, computers, and circular tables with fun wavy plastic chairs.

IMG_5230IMG_5250 My final stop is the Earl’s Court Room, a combination study hall, community meeting room, and local history repository. As I study old photographs of Earl’s Court, I reflect on what I like so much about this historic yet colourful branch: the dark wood of the shelves, the braided green of the central mural’s borders, and the gold of the prince’s silly crown.

Hillcrest Library (#72 on my Quest)

On my first visit to Hillcrest branch in 2009, I was impressed by the lovely green spaces that surrounded it and how enthusiastically it celebrated Easter. The lobby showcased a holiday display on three shelves behind a glass screen.

Egg-blessed nests rested near stuffed rabbits who were kitted out with straw hats and carrot accessories. One bunny projected pastel cool with his pink spectacles and a purple felt hat with holes for his ears to flop through. Nearby, other rabbits could be seen performing the splits, wielding a wheelbarrow, and gardening with a shovel. Framing the dynamic mammals, two large Easter baskets were overflowing with chicks, eggs, grass, lilies, and yet more bunnies.

My second visit to Hillcrest three years later wasn’t at Eastertide, but the fall harvest display was equally effective. I liked how the wheelbarrow had reappeared to serve duty as a nut and mini-pumpkin transporter for a fuzzy squirrel.

Moving into the library proper, I surveyed the large square room of this pleasant neighbourhood branch. Hillcrest’s size, layout, and atmosphere were very similar to Pleasant View, Elmbrook Park, and Goldhawk Park branches.

In addition to a comprehensive selection of fiction and non-fiction, Hillcrest Library had a solid ESL section, from which I selected an abridged reader about The Beatles for my class. Sizable French and Chinese collections were present, and I noticed Persian books on the shelves on my second visit.

In the northeast corner of the room, a window bench invited sun-loving readers to lounge for a spell by the broad windows. I didn’t see a bench in 2012, but the chairs in front of the windows were very popular. Fifteen minutes after opening time, every sun-chair had a claimant.

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A few steps away from the lounge in the southwest corner was a shelf that contained lost and found items. On my 2015 visit, I was struck by the rich textures of the hats and scarves left behind, and I thought they might make fun subjects for a photo shoot. The toque with a lime-green smiley face  seemed especially personable.IMG_9485

IMG_9397One last distinctive Hillcrest detail was a funky satellite mobile which dangled from the ceiling near the checkout desk. The satellite was shaped like a jack, and its many limbs came in purple, green, yellow, blue, and pink. Purple balls jutted from the ends of each jack-extension. Gaping at this psychedelic satellite was an excellent distraction while waiting in line, and in a cosmic second I was a book and DVD richer.

Somewhat Overlooked Guildwood (1974)

To reach Guildwood Library, it’s necessary to walk along a strip mall and find a set of storefronts in a separate building that face the main strip. Establishments across from the library include Sunny’s Bar and Restaurant and a dry cleaning facility that recycles metal hangers.

While homey, Guildwood is not noted for style, flair, or a dynamic colour scheme. However, I noticed some improvements in the furniture on a return visit in 2015, especially the armchairs beside the storefront windows. I liked how the sunlight filtered through the wicker backs.

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I also admired the homemade Christmas ornaments that I saw in 2011. Children had decorated paper cutouts of hot chocolate mugs, toques, snowflakes, skates, and snowmen, which were then strung from the ceiling in the Children’s area.

Although the heap of fabric gift bags arranged on a shelf with an orangutan was festive , the only thing that puzzled me was the extreme lack of jolliness that the Santa figure displayed. Despite the regulation suit, he seemed far too young and stern to play the part of old Saint Nick.

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With a frankly grouchy expression, he looked more like a 19th century Prussian soldier than the symbol of Yuletide cheer. I also found the slack feet and hands encased in pantyhose off-putting.

On my most recent visit in 2015, I saw no sign of this Santa.

Dwelling no further on Santa’s shortcomings, let me return to the many positive aspects of Guildwood branch. Not only was it fully occupied during my first two visits, but there was also a nice mix of generations among the patrons. In addition, the library offered two romance titles I found particularly fun: Warm and Willing and Criminally Handsome. While it might be a stretch to describe Guildwood as handsome, it is certainly a welcome source of community warmth in an otherwise bland strip mall.

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Neoclassical Library Adventure at Queen and Saulter

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On my first sojourn to Queen and Saulter Library,  I walked right past it after I disembarked from the streetcar on Queen East. Doubling back, I looked up at a massive Neoclassical building in light brown, marvelling at the bulk and scale of it. Standing on the sidewalk in an overt display of gawk, I read an inscription about the history of this substantial building. Designed by E. J. Lennox, it was completed in 1913. Huge stone columns testified to its seriousness of purpose, which befitted an edifice that served as Postal Station G from 1913 to 1975.IMG_0424

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Heavy wooden doors that opened to reveal a second entrance confirmed the impression of gravity, as did the marble floor and check-out counter. However, the high windows brought dramatic life to the interior, offsetting the more subdued colours of the exterior and entryway. To further soften the formality, there were lots of plants on the broad windowsills, a glass case with cat figurines, and a stuffed dragon with bells attached. IMG_0355 IMG_0334 IMG_0313

Small tapestries illustrating the stories of Jack and Jill, Little Red Ridinghood, and The Three Little Pigs warmed the south wall of the library. I especially remember the sewn picture of the wolf lurking in a fabric valley, his eyes focused on the top of a hill where a pig was holding his ground in an arc of cloth.

IMG_0269On more recent visits to the library, I noticed that the tapestries had been taken down. Nevertheless, the welcoming character of Queen and Saulter remained as striking as ever, making me very grateful that this old building continues to stand tall and serve the community as it has done for over a century.

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Exhibit Information for Catherine’s TPL Pilgrimage

Catherine’s Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage:

Photos of 100 Branches

July 2nd-31st, 2015

at North York Central Library, Toronto

 Opening Reception

Saturday July 11th 9:30-11:30 am

Room 2/3 North York Central Library

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Bendale Library’s Staircase
City Hall Hen and Carpet
City Hall Hen and Carpet

 

Artist Statement:

I began visiting and blogging about each branch in the TPL network in 2007 and taught myself digital photography along the journey. The 100 photos in this exhibit celebrate the beauty, diversity, and spirit of community service that I discovered on a pilgrimage through an extraordinary library system. (If you’d like to hear more about the origins of the project, please check out this short radio interview with CBC’s Matt Galloway).

Taylor Memorial's Stained Glass Window
Taylor Memorial’s Stained Glass Window
Flowers Behind the Bookcase at Perth/Dupont
Flowers Behind the Bookcase at Perth/Dupont

Artist Biography:

Since 2007, I have been developing a diverse portfolio of collage, mixed-media, encaustic, textile, and photographic work. In 2011, I exhibited “Maps of Loss: Rivers, Ruins, and Grief” at Richview Library, which was followed by “Mosaic Dream Waves” at Runnymede branch in 2013. Last August, the Tate Gallery in London, England selected my collage “Jenny’s Purple Tuftscape” to be part of a Collage and Texture digital display.

Sparkly Wall Panel at Kennedy/Eglinton
Sparkly Wall Panel at Kennedy/Eglinton

I love teaching collage workshops at libraries, studios, and at Centennial College. I have also enjoyed enriching my art practice through weekend and evening classes at OCAD (encaustic) and the Toronto School of Art (drawing and collage).

Photographer's Shadow at Don Mills
Photographer’s Shadow at Don Mills

Your attendance at this exhibit would be cause for dancing delight!

Centennial Library (1966): A Jewel Among the Pylons

Tall pylons and chimney stacks near Bathurst and Finch provided the backdrop to Centennial Library, which stood in front of a recreational facility called Herbert H. Carnegie Centennial Centre.

Beside the library’s entrance was a leggy sculpture by Ron Baird that I studied before entering a large square room with a central dividing wall that didn’t completely bisect the room’s entire width.

Windows comprised the majority of the library’s south-facing wall, and plenty of reading chairs and tables invited patrons to take advantage of this open and well-illuminated space.

On the first Saturday that I visited Centennial, every possible reading perch was occupied by patrons concentrating on their thoughts, dreams, and lessons.

Books in French, Hebrew, Russian, Korean, Tagalog, and English-learning texts offered opportunities for mental enrichment and self-improvement. And for those in search of lighter reading, the Romance section had “Desert Ice Daddy” and “The Cowboy Wants a Baby.”

The Children’s Area was on the west side of the central dividing wall and boasted a colourful spring scene made from paper. A long tree branch stretched across part of the west wall and presented its cherry blossoms to the viewer. A paper plate drenched in yellow served as the sun, and the cherry branch arched over some tulips, a deer, and a large mushroom that in turn sheltered  a yellow bird under its eave.

I enjoyed Centennial’s unpretentious cheeriness; it struck me as a down-to-earth branch that has not been taken for granted by  patrons who live in the surrounding high rise apartments. (On my second visit, I noticed more than a dozen clients had lined up before opening time on a Saturday to take advantage of free Map passes, of which Ontario Science Centre and Royal Ontario Museum’s disappeared by 9:10 am).

Tucking newly borrowed books and CD’s in bags, I returned to my Honda parked in the shadow of a mystically-looming Hydro pylon. And that was the end of library visit number seventy-three!

The following pictures of art at Centennial Library were taken in 2015 in preparation for a photography exhibit.

 

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Spadina Library (1977) Inspires

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When I called on Spadina Library in 2009 with my camera, I was fortunate that the branch wasn’t as crowded as it had been on previous visits. I was able to gaze at dream catchers, artwork, and the extensive Native People’s Collection without annoying too many patrons who might have needed to navigate around me.

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As a viewer taking her time to look around carefully, I appreciated the decorative unity of the First Nations, Inuit and nature-themed objects that rested on shelves and hung suspended in the air. For example, two upright hand puppets with Inuit features and fur-lined parkas stood a shelf away from a miniature canoe woven from plant fibres.

A flamingo marionette hung next to a marionette of uncertain identity, and a striking assortment of dream catchers kept aerial company with a flying wooden duck.

Closer to the ground, librarians had created a path to the children’s collection by laying down playful animal tracks on circles of blue, green, and yellow paper. The book-loving animals which had left their paw and hoof prints on the carpet included bears, raccoons, and deer.

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Artwork by Eleanor Kanasawe

Animal themes also animated the collection of Eleanor Kanasawe‘s artwork on the walls. Placed overhead at well-spaced intervals were intense portraits in solid colours of the following creatures: owls, spirit fish, turtles, baby robins, a bear on his hind legs reaching for a bee hive, a frog catching flies, a redwinged blackbird, a squirrel, a cricket, a raccoon, and a porcupine. I loved the strong colours and the way each piece retained stand-alone integrity while simultaneously remaining part of an integrated whole.

Artwork by Eleanor Kanasawe
Artwork by Eleanor Kanasawe

Moving down the walls from art to books, the Native People’s Collection included novels and non-fiction material about culture, art, religion, history, and languages (plus DVD’s and videos on these subjects). The reference shelves displayed dictionaries in Cree, Micmac, Mohawk, Anishinaabe, Metis Cree, and Chippewa.

Although Spadina Library’s multilingual collection was small, it did contain language kits for most of the languages listed above, as well as Tlingit, Cherokee, Persian, French, Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali, and Hungarian. Crouching on the floor to study the kits, the plastic boxes seemed so hopeful to me; they promised travel and communicative adventure. Inspired by the possibilities of new words and new perspectives, I put away my notebook and made tracks to Spadina subway station.

Quiet Happiness at Annette Street Library

2012

In search of my 74th Toronto Public Library in 2009, I took the subway to Keele station and then walked north along Keele Street until I discovered Annette Street. After turning left, I quickly spotted the solid classical form of Annette Street Library, which opened more than a century ago.

Situated beside a Masonic Temple and across from a church building, Annette Street branch shared Edwardian sensibility with Yorkville Library (1907). The year of Annette Street Library’s construction, 1908, was etched in stone above a grand entrance flanked by two ramps. Two solid Corinthian columns framed the door, adding drama to the act of ascending the stone steps into the building. As I approached the entrance, I slowed my gait to match the dignity of the temple-like edifice.

 

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Initially descending into the basement level, I came upon an office devoted to the West Junction Historical Society and its archives. The office was closed, but I was able to peer into a darkened room that was waiting for the next day’s scholars to arrive. This lower level also contained two community rooms concealed behind massive wooden doors with wide frames.

Retracing my steps to the lobby, I went up a short curving staircase to the main level, enjoying the heightened suspense afforded by a slight delay in access to the library proper.IMG_3167 IMG_3178

At the top of the steps, the check-out desk was directly in front of me. Pausing to get my visual bearings, I looked up and was captivated by the high ceilings with cornices decorated with carved ferns. I also loved the luxurious mouldings and hanging lamps with glass globes.

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An “Edison Home Phonograph” rested in the gap between the wall behind the checkout area and shelves of children’s books behind it. Moving closer to study the historical object, I marvelled at how such a thin tube could support the giant unfurled cornucopia of a speaker.IMG_3125IMG_3129

To the left side of the checkout station (and behind it) was the children’s wing. Filled with a wide variety of books, DVD’s, French materials, and music, this part of the library was all about informative fun. For example, next to a collection of CD-Roms (including one on dinosaurs) sat a stuffed purple Barney.  Far above Barney’s head were two train sets facing off on a narrow ledge, a fitting tribute to Annette Street’s location in West Toronto Junction. I also enjoyed reading a poster in the non-fiction section that described trees found in Ontario’s Forest Regions: White Birch, Trembling Aspen, Sugar Maple, Sassafras, Tulip Tree, and Eastern White Pine.

Before I explored the remainder of the building, I paused at a table to get a better sense of the atmosphere. It was fairly quiet on the Wednesday afternoon of my first visit. Most of the windows were open on that glorious May day, making Annette Street Library the perfect oasis to celebrate the end of a long winter. Eggshell-white walls complemented the pearly natural light which filled the interior, and all was calm, clean, open, and airy. The only thing the scene lacked was a gentlewoman playing the pianoforte in an Empire gown while her listeners reclined in states of polite repose.

Imaginary pianofortes notwithstanding, the library was definitely not remiss in addressing practical matters. When I got up to investigate the west wing, I noticed a special display of books for job-seekers. (Margaret Penman’s A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983 notes that the Toronto libraries performed a similar function in the 1930’s, providing a haven for the unemployed and books on topics such as crafts, welding, sales and agriculture (p. 43)). In an equally helpful manner, Annette Street provided a solid English as a Second Language section and a large collection of French books.

The west wing also featured a Local History section, which contained titles such as Mayors of Toronto and Not a One Horse Town. Supporting the historical theme, portraits of the first five mayors of West Toronto Junction (in office from 1889 to 1898) presided high on a wall near the check-out desk, a quintet of very purposeful-looking gentlemen in sober attire. And a nearby plaque commemorated the fact that Annette Street branch (formerly Western Branch) was built with funding from Andrew Carnegie and the Public Library Board of the City of West Toronto.

Of Annette Street Library’s many charms, one last feature was a pleasing study area that dipped about two feet below the main floor. I found this carpeted depression to be a great spot to daydream while looking out onto Annette Street. Although chairs were available, one relaxed patron was sitting on the floor beside the window studying the newspaper. I felt content to linger for several minutes while a quiet happiness filled the sunny room.

Window-box Bliss at Sanderson Library (1968)

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I first visited Sanderson Library seven years ago after spending a few hours at Urban Affairs (the hapless branch that closed in 2011). I then walked from Sanderson to College/Shaw, bringing the day’s total library visits to three. In 2012 and 2015, I returned to take pictures of Sanderson.

IMG_6681Nestled in a busy community centre complex with a pool, outreach facilities, immigrant services, and a greenhouse, Sanderson felt much more alive than Urban Affairs. In addition, paper seals on a shelf,  a jug of water in the lobby, the sound of a fussy baby crying, a puppet theatre, and the sight of so many patrons absorbed in their reading contributed to a tableau of warm community engagement.

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As I wandered through the adult section — extensive with split-level floor, stairs, and a ramp — I admired the large Vietnamese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish collections. Canadian Literature had an impressive showing, as did the ESL and Literacy section.

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My favourite Sanderson features were eight window-box seats upholstered with grey carpet. The one I chose to inhabit had a view of the community garden; from my window I saw tall weeds, the greenhouse decorated with children’s drawings, and white butterflies. The seat captured a glorious patch of sunlight, and I luxuriated there in my stockinged feet for at least twenty minutes. Easily made happy, reading in window seats is one of my top ten blissful activities.

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The scene outside Sanderson Library near the corner of Dundas West and Bathurst was less than blissful, however. Two tired homeless men were sleeping away the steamy afternoon under a tree in the courtyard beside a wide expanse of library windows. Just over their heads was a sign yelling “READ” in big red blobby letters. Separating the two sleepers was an abstract concrete shape, part bench, part sculpture. And on the sidewalk nearby were some murals of mythical creatures painted by an artist called Victor.

In city with many creative strengths as well as challenges, I’m grateful for the existence of libraries like Sanderson to provide a place for all Torontonians to dream in the sun with a book for a spell.IMG_6847

… by Catherine Raine