Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Fifty two Toronto libraries visited! Books all OVER the city!

Downsview branch was my 50th library, a large and self-contained building with an enormous main floor and smaller basement level, similar in set up to Don Mills Library. As I entered Downsview library, my head tilted back in appreciation of the wealth of light and space above the shelves. I felt like I was in an extraordinarily spacious white tent.

As I walked through the aisles, I noticed the big Spanish, Italian, and French collections, as well as smaller ones in Gujurati, Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Vietnamese, Bengali, and Chinese. A group of animated teenage boys were playing cards in the magazine section. A stuffed toy parrot supervised a display of books about the outdoors.

In the southwest corner of the main level was the children’s zone. It was separated by a low wall with a special entrance in the form of an eight-foot high red cylinder with a large circular opening for a gate. I don’t think the cylinder was supposed to be a rocket or a tomato — just some liminal space to pass through into magical world of reading. A librarian had posted lots of chicken jokes high on the walls of this section: “Why did the turkey cross the road? Answer: To show he wasn’t chicken.”

I wanted to finish looking at the library quickly because it was almost four o’clock, and there was another branch to visit before the Saturday closing time of five o’clock. Picking up the pace, I strode over to the staircase that led to the basement. Just at the point where the landing curved to meet the first flight of steps, there was an open space between the landing and the set of windows spanning both floors. Two blue butterflies hung from the ceiling of the main floor in this open space, supporting strings that dangled all the way to the basement level. Paper cranes in red, pink, yellow, blue, and green clung to the two long strings, creating an origami cascade down to a book display of summer reading below.

The basement level was more down-to-business, what with its careers section, shelves of adult non-fiction, and extensive ESL and literacy collection. I selected a pronunciation book for one of my classes and scooted past long rows of dark green bookcases for a quick check-out. Thus endeth my fiftieth library encounter!

With the countdown to closing time getting closer and closer, it was fortunate that the next library I visited was a small one. Consisting of one square room in a community centre near Avenue and Wilson, Armour Heights branch had a very sheltering feel to it, especially with its substantial brick fireplace on the east wall. A long low eave spanning the length of the fireplace had been been converted into a reading bench. The bench was covered with inviting cushions, teddy bears, a tiger, zebra, and other assorted animals. A wooden chest with a Peter Rabbit decoration completed the cozy scene.

With only ten minutes left before closing, only two other library patrons besides myself remained. One beleaguered staff member was trying to deal with a querulous gentleman who seemed to feel the Toronto Public Library was persecuting him. He complained of being fined for books he had actually returned, and he condemned young librarians at another branch for not “giving a damn” and even laughing at him. I didn’t care for his loud, bullying tone, as he informed the woman at the Armour Height’s checkout desk that he’d even gotten people fired who didn’t respect him. She did her best to calm him down by being sympathetic, saying that the library system wasn’t perfect and she’d had similar problems. It was a relief for all of us when he finally left (not without asking the librarian’s name). I exited just after him and wasn’t overly surprised when he didn’t hold the door for me.

Later in the week, I visited library number fifty-two, Saint Lawrence branch. Located on Front Street near Sherbourne, Saint Lawrence’s entrance was through a public courtyard. Five gray pillars resting on beige marble bases held up the ceiling of the one long room. Four of the pillars were bare, but the one near the checkout desk was partly covered with flip-chart paper on which someone had drawn Egyptian hieroglyphics. I saw owls, snakes, herons, eyes, some Cleopatras, and ankh symbols on the paper.

The usual library sections were represented, along with one on local history. A framed 1867 map of Toronto showed the importance of the local neighborhood to the founding of our city. Another special feature of Saint Lawrence branch was a puppet theatre set into the wall. Paper vines, flowers, and clouds decorated the space around the square opening, along with a smiling sun and a castle (both in felt). A felt vine dangled in the air of the performance space, reminding me of “Jack and the Beanstalk”. Opposite the puppet theatre was a large cardboard castle-structure that had three arches and was plastered with notices about summer reading.

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