From the tree-trunk street furniture recycled from Regent’s Park demolition rubble to the containers of crayons provided for the kids, Parliament Street Library’s attention to detail sends a caring message. My most recent visit to the branch reminded me once again how much it does for the local residents.
When I arrived at 9:30 on Tuesday morning, the library was already busy. Almost all of the early bird patrons were men who quickly took their places at the study carrels, computer units, and large tables. One man guarded a trolley that seemed to contain all his possessions, including water bottles, a bag of bread, and some clothes.
I started my personal tour at the east wing. Happily, it contained lots of windows, including a curving bank of them with a view of the butterfly garden and tree-stump sculpture (the result of two recent projects by the Ward 28 Greenspace Committee).
The east wing also reached out to language lovers, immigrants, and the bilingual with its collections in Spanish, French, Tamil, Chinese, Vietnamese, Somali, and Amharic. Music lovers also had a nearby haven, a piano practice room that could be booked for an hour.
Adjacent to the piano room was a quiet study room. As I sat there taking photos of book covers, it was a poetic pleasure to hear classical melodies (slightly muffled) coming from next door.
The art on display in the central part of the library was almost as cheering as the piano music, especially this funky assemblage called “Memory Box” by Inge Vandermeulen. I liked the curving trail of puzzle pieces and the plastic mermaids glued to one side of the box.
And when I walked over to the Children’s Area in the west wing, I was immediately struck by the tapestry piece on the south wall. The charming result of children’s artistic collaboration during a TD Summer Reading Club program, what appealed to me about this wall-hanging was its wild woven strands on the horizontal combined with knotted strips of fabric hanging on the vertical. A fabulous textile!
My third object of art enthusiasm was a colourful piece depicting apartment dwellers with model reading habits. I later learned that the literary apartment picture is actually a plasticine original from Barbara Reid‘s Read Me a Book. (It was fun to encounter Reid’s work again after seeing it at Oakwood Village Library). All told, I really enjoyed the eclectic charm of assemblage, tapestry, and picture.
In addition to the lively visual art, a group of stuffed animals lent their plush hospitality to the west wing. For example, a giant Clifford dog sprawled on the ledge beside the red ramp leading to the Story Hour Room, and dotted along the upper ramparts of the shelving were Curious George, an alligator, Franklin the Turtle, and Babar the Elephant.
The Children’s Section was empty at first, except for a solitary reader who had pulled up her chair right next to a window sill. However, as the magic hour (and a half) of 10:30 drew nigh, librarians began to bustle in preparation for Preschool Story Time. Soon, a number of young story-seekers and their caregivers began to file into the Story Hour Room and gather in front of the puppet theatre. It was heartening to see that even in the 21st century, the prospect of a good old-fashioned story-reading can still create a buzz!
It would have been fun to hear the story, but I just had time to see the second floor before I left. As I walked up the steps, I remembered a field trip to this library that took place about five years ago: “(some) very helpful staff . . . gave a large group of ESL students from my centre an orientation, and the nerd in me thrilled when so many students got their first shiny blue library cards!” (quotation from Libraries, the sequel). On my Tuesday visit, an ESL class was in progress in the same room where my former students once had a mass filling-out of library application forms.
More good work takes place on the second floor, which also houses the Toronto Centre for Community Learning and Development as well as the Neighbourhood Information Post. I learned from one of Parliament’s gracious librarians that many patrons visit the Information Post to fill out forms, pick up mail, and receive welfare cheques. I’m so glad there’s a service that provides that crucial piece of assistance to deal with bureaucracies’ demand for permanent addresses. This is quiet heroism at its best.
I came away from my Parliament Street visit with a strong sense of this library’s commitment to serving children, immigrants, aspiring artists, and low-income patrons on the very edge of survival. Of course, all of the TPL branches provide these important services, too. It’s just that community work seems especially visible at this particular branch. For this reason, I believe Parliament Street deserves extra credit for its valiant role in supporting Toronto’s most vulnerable citizens.