I can’t believe I’ve run out of Toronto Public Libraries to visit! On Tuesday, I attended Thorncliffe‘s re-opening ceremony and bagged my 99th branch into the bargain! With excited patrons, balloons, a man in a foam book suit, music, and dancers, I privately co-opted some jubilation for the end of my library quest.
I arrived at Thorncliffe Library at 12:45 pm, which was fifteen minutes before the opening. Luckily, I was near the front of the queue, which seemed to double every five minutes. By the time the doors opened at 1:05, the line had lengthened to almost a block! Veiled mothers with strollers, elderly gentlemen in suits, media representatives, white-haired ladies, and lively kids milled about agreeably.
When I took a moment to study the area surrounding the library, all I could see were high-rise apartment buildings in every direction. The somewhat claustrophobic view reminded me of a Toronto Star article about Thorncliffe that I’d saved back in January. According to Immigration Reporter Nicholas Keung, “More than 30,000 (Thorncliffe) residents — mostly newcomers — are crowded into 34 highrise and lowrise apartments in a 2.2-square kilomentre concrete jungle behind Don Mills Road and Don Valley Parkway” (“Crowded, Stresssed Thorncliffe” January 11, 2010).
No wonder the line was so long and the faces so expectant; the occupants of the pervasive high-rises had been without their local library for two and a half years. I imagined packed elevators pouring book-lovers onto Thorncliffe Park Drive this afternoon, all anxious to see a branch that was now twice the size it used to be.
The crowd pushed forward eagerly when two security guards opened the doors, and the interior of Thorncliffe proved itself worthy of both the wait and the 1.83 million dollar expenditure. After I was handed a sturdy blue TPL bag and got my hand shaken by Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West), I took in the whole 10,000 square feet of the library. The newness and energy of the space was tangible, and I was drawn to the large sound system that was animating two belly dancers in sparkly gear. Arms dipping and swooping, they were grooving in front of the east windows of the kid’s section that overlooked a central courtyard.
A few yards away from the dancers, the word “read” in giant three-dimensional letters was attached to the north wall. Each of the four lower-case letters had its own colour, creating an interactive word sculpture which was the centerpiece of Thorncliffe’s KidsStop, an incentive to promote pre-literacy skills. (Thorncliffe is the third TPL branch to have a KidsStop, after S. Walter Stewart and Dufferin/Saint Clair).
In the Toronto Star article mentioned above, Keung cited the statistic that “one quarter of Thorncliffe’s population is under 14.” With the improved children’s area, it made me happy to see that the kids of Thorncliffe would now be better served, with more books, more space, a giant Read to Your Bunny book attached to the wall, a set of pink and teal armchairs that roll on huge wheels, and some colourful low cushions that reminded me of Lucky Charms moons and stars.
Within minutes of the opening, children were playing on the r, e, a, and d structures and enjoying the literacy games that were built into these hands-on learning letters. Kids were spinning dials, examining wooden toggles on a slate, and checking out a counting wheel. One small patron lost no time in claiming a seat on the upward curve of the bottom half of the red letter a. What a great example of experiencing the alphabet kinesthetically! Mission accomplished, KidsStop!
Near the a-chair, a magician was showing a group of kids some card tricks at a low table. By this time, a large appreciative audience had formed a semi-circle around the tireless dancers. The crowd rested their elbows and handbags on bookshelves, clapped in time to the beat, and took pictures with their cell-phone cameras. The joy in the library was palpable, creating a celebratory atmosphere that truly did justice to such an uplifting event.
Still smiling at the happy scene, I moved to a slightly quieter part of the library. As I walked through the branch, I admired side displays of new books and DVD’s, a generous CD collection, and offerings in Hindi, Gujarati, and Urdu. The ESL section contained a lot of shiny new books, as did the Teen nook in the southeast corner of the building. A few steps away from the Teen’s L-shaped sofa and table was a separate Quiet Study Room. However, it wasn’t obliged to be quiet that afternoon because it was hosting a big spread of samosas and salad.
My last stop at my last branch was a comfortable perch on a black leather chair in the reading lounge. Sitting beside the bank of south-facing windows, I sorted out which treasures I was going to carry home in my new library bag and let the buzz of the opening settle around my shoulders. I felt a little sad when I realized that my 2006 library map would now have every branch highlighted. I’m going to miss the anticipation of discovering new libraries. Yes, I still have more work to do on the project, such as expanding earlier blog posts and checking out the bookmobiles, but I take comfort in the fact that I finished the task I started. May this blog be the wordiest thank you letter ever written to The Toronto Public Library!