Two Saturdays ago, Stewart and I visited five libraries in northeast Scarborough. That’s right! Five! Listed in the order visited, these branches include: Malvern, Woodside Square, Goldhawk Park, Steeles, and Bridlewood.
The south flank of Malvern Library reminded me of a giant silver ice-cube tray turned on its side to drain. The front of the building had a large triangle shape above the entrance. Since the exterior of the building had made such a geometrical impression on me, I wasn’t prepared for the warmth and organic spaciousness of the interior. I felt like I’d just taken off my parka and stepped into an urban ski lodge decorated with generous amounts of wood. To support the extremely high central ceiling, strong planks sprouted from stone pillars, creating a fan-like structure that held up the straight wooden beams above. As I stood and admired the ceiling, possibly creating an obstacle to browsers, I imagined it as the skeleton of an upsidedown ark-in-progress.
Lots of glass both overhead and on the sides of the library meant lots of light to nourish the patrons and tall potted palms alike. (I think the palms were in lively condition because the leaves of one of them tickled the tassel of my stocking cap when I came in). As I wove between the aisles, I noticed shelves of books in Urdu, Tamil, Hindi, Tagalog, Korean, Punjabi, Gujurati, and Chinese. I also came across a three-dimensional castle puzzle (fully completed) on top of a bookshelf in the children’s section. Nearby was a much larger castle — a fort for young readers to defend themselves against potential enemies of the imagination — that had seats in turrets and large fort holes for bookish knights and ladies to crawl through. The final details which gladdened my heart were an extensive set of windowseats and an equally inviting armchair upholstered in black fabric with a cat’s face stitched on it.
Malvern branch impressed me as a wonderful example of public resources well-spent. To me, it felt like a sanctuary from the surrounding bleakness of apartment blocks in an ocean of concrete.
The next stop on the library train was Woodside Square, which was unsurprisingly located inside Woodside Mall. Woodside Library’s sleekness immediately captured my attention as we approached the entrance near the end of a long corridor at the outer reaches of the mall. The exterior wall was covered in silver metal and contained windows looking into this one-room branch.
The library’s silver compactness made it seem like the ultimate hipsters’ submarine. And like a beatnik cafe in San Francisco, this Woodside joint was jumping! The room was packed with parents reading to their children, kids sitting on the floor with their picture books, each computer busy, some elderly men nodding over Chinese newspapers, and teenagers hunkered down over their math textbooks and calculators.
I continued to admire Woodside Square’s special flair. Some of the windows on the east wall had an amber pane on the top third of the glass structure, an artistic affect that was only slightly marred by the view of the Food Basics’ parking lot. I also liked the wooden wrap-around bench that jutted from the east wall, providing continuous seating under another row of windows. And a corner seat tucked between two shelves was another example of the clever usage of a very limited amount of space.
Although Woodside didn’t have as extensive a collection of multilingual books as Malvern, it did boast materials in Chinese, Gujurati, Hindi, French, and Tamil. The romance section seemed disproportionately ample for the size of the branch, but who could complain when you can enjoy “Seduced for the Inheritance” and “Texas-sized Secrets.”
Secrets that massive are bound to shock, but the most surprising find for me was a DVD about the history of the Kansas City Chiefs. Growing up in the Kansas City area, I often heard locals complain about the Chiefs, how they never won and how over-priced the tickets were. And here was a DVD in a branch library in Scarborough, a city not given to caring much about a Midwestern American football team.
Still marvelling over the unexpected Chiefs DVD, I walked over to the automatic check-out machine. A friendly librarian ended up having to help me because my book came with an audiotape. As she processed my selection, I enjoyed looking at the red firecracker decorations that celebrated Chinese New Year. Welcome, ox! Lanterns with red tassels dangled from the ceiling, adding a festive feel to the room.
The last feature of Woodside Square I admired was a sturdy returns slot that was set deep into the wall. I wished I had a thick book to return so I could hear it make a satisfying thunk in its receptacle in the staff’s office.
What about the other three libraries? To be continued in the next post . . . . .