Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Queen’s Quay Bookmobile Stop! I Love It!

Recently I visited the Bookmobile stop at Queen’s Quay and Bathurst, meeting TPL Communications Officer Ab. Velasco in the parking lot of the OMNI Television building. Through no fault of its own, the Bookmobile was late that evening, its scholarly goods held hostage to rush-hour traffic. I asked Ab. if he thought bookmobiles should be classed as emergency vehicles, and he suggested they should at least have a dedicated lane. Then he briefly left the conversation to apologize on behalf of the library to a small group of expectant patrons.

Fortunately, the eagerly-anticipated vehicle soon came into view. After negotiating the parking barrier, the bus positioned itself in the southeast corner of the lot. Once it was fully parked, a suspenseful pause reigned over the tarmac while we waited for the door to open and the ladder steps to lower.

A collective sigh was released as the last obstacle to the traveling library was removed, spilling a rectangle of light onto the darkening parking lot. About a dozen people had gathered by then, mostly older ladies and a mother with three kids. They clambered up the steps and formed huddles by the shelves of children’s materials, the DVD shelves, and Adult Fiction area. I was impressed by the quantity and variety of items available in such a compact space, including large print books, romance and graphic novels, plus magazines in Chinese, Tamil, Spanish, and Russian.

Taking a moment to fully appreciate the Romance section, I sat down at the back of the bus on a red-carpeted bench. My two favourite titles were Along Came a Husband and Lock, Stock, and Secret Baby. I have to say that Sex and the Single Earl had a certain something, too.

The more time I spent inside this marvel of library outreach, the more I observed the community fellowship it has created. The Bookmobile’s Friday visit appeared to be a social highlight, so I could see why patrons might have felt antsy when the vehicle was ten minutes late that evening.

Everyone seemed to know one another. As the bus gently swayed from side to side in response to the constant shifting of weight on the ladder, patrons greeted each other by name and provided family news updates. When an elderly lady climbed up with her cane, another woman inside entreated her to be careful not to lean backwards. Not far from her, a child was exclaiming, “They have fairy books!”

The driver seemed to be enjoying his job. He was handing out large pieces of stiff paper which folded up to create a model of the Bookmobile. When one kid said he didn’t want one, the driver said (in a kind tone), “Are you too cool for it?”

The captain of this library ship served as its librarian as well; he wore the two hats with ease. He processed the DVD I’d selected, My Brilliant Career, and chatted with me for a bit. I asked him about the Bookmobile’s capacity limit and he estimated about twenty people. He added that the adults tended to “self-regulate,” adjusting their comings and goings to the crowd-level. As for the kids, nothing could stop them from getting at the books!

Realizing I was taking up valuable space, I didn’t spend as much time at the Queen’s Quay stop as I normally would at an immovable library. However, I descended the steps into the parking lot with a strong sense that I’d just experienced something truly special. This lovely library on wheels was tangible evidence of TPL’s commitment to reaching all Torontonians. This is a city where books come to the people if the people cannot easily come to the books.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Riverdale’s 100th Birthday Celebration!

For Riverdale Library’s 100th Birthday Party, two rosy bouquets greeted the crowds who streamed into the recently renovated branch. While a large audience was gathering around a portable podium, regular library-users were weaving through clusters of listeners and dodging photographers in their struggle to reach the shelves and relocated check-out desk. (The old desk had been moved to the opposite wall, creating space for a larger computer lab and reading lounge).

I soon drifted away from the lengthy speeches to check out other changes Riverdale Library had undergone since my last visit in June. In my travels, I noticed that the entrance to the Children’s Section was more colourful, thanks to a new sign supported by two columns constructed from enormous building blocks. Also, a new set of red tables showed evidence of learning engagement, and shiny purple shelves provided incentive to investigate the books resting upon them.

Following up on my previous account of Paddington Bear’s condition, I can report that he has been released from his taped-up high chair. At the Birthday Party, he was reclining in luxurious freedom on top of a purple shelf. He also appeared to have been freshly laundered. On the shelf to the bear’s left was a lion who looked equally comfortable. He was well-positioned to see the readers on the window-seat as well as the street scene beyond.

The tree that had once sat gathering dust in the program room with a “Do Not Move” sign on it (which I had mistakenly thought said, “Do Not Remove”) was on display near the window-seat in the Children’s Room. Having sprouted new green leaves, it looked refreshed.

With impeccable timing, I returned to the main part of the library just as refreshments were being served in the community room. As I waited in line, everybody started singing, “Happy Birthday, Dear Riverdale” to the spirit of the branch. Once I reached the buffet table, I became more enveloped in the friendly chaos of the crowd. Folks were sitting, standing, pushing forward, retreating, and searching for missing implements to their meal. I handed a fork to a man who’d missed his chance to grab one and marveled at the pig’s head resting inside a platter with chunks of pork. A patron standing across from me commented: “That’s a vegetarian’s nightmare!”

Veering around groups of eaters who impeded the progress of in-coming revelers, I reached the drinks table. City Librarian, Jane Pyper was standing beside jugs of ice water, handing out cups to the guests. I complimented her on the renovation, and she said how pleased she was with it, especially with how the building was more open to the street now. She wished me luck as I set off to photograph the cakes.

After taking a few more pictures, I left the community room and made for the exit. It made me smile to see patrons leaning against CD carrels and bookshelves with plates of noodles, pork, and cake. Riverdale Library, thank you for celebrating your 100th Birthday with such style and spirit! It was an honour to be part of your special day.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Branch Librarian to the Rescue

When I was writing a post about Main Street Library, I phoned a librarian there to ask if she knew the exact year the front entrance was added to the building. She wasn’t sure but promised to pass the question on to the branch librarian. Sure enough, I received a call this evening and learned the correct date: 1977. I was so impressed that branch librarian had taken the trouble to make sure I had the necessary information to make the Main Street post as accurate as possible. Hooray for librarians!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Toronto Reference Library Picture Collection: A Surprising Source of Comfort

Yesterday I received news that a dear childhood friend had died. As Jenny’s terminal illness progressed over the past few months, I found myself thinking of forest clearings and how much she loved nature. I wanted to make a memory collage that included meadows, so I went to the Picture Collection at the Toronto Reference Library and pulled out a lovely fat folder labelled “meadows.” I was amazed at how much it comforted me to look at those beautiful pictures. I felt connected to Jenny and to our shared experience of camping in Northwest Missouri and the Ozarks.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Deer Park’s Improved Woolen Castle

In 2010, I received a kind e-mail from April Quan, the artist who had created the woolen castle for Deer Park Library in 2000. For many years, April used her creative skills to make toys from natural materials as a fundraiser for her children’s school; thus, Deer Park chose the perfect architect for an interactive toy in its children’s section.

While describing the history of the cloth fortress, April told me that three pennants and some doll figures had been plundered from the castle in the early aughts. Mention of her delightful castle in my 2010 blog post about Deer Park motivated the artist to restore the missing features and return the textile chateau to its original glory. It makes me happy that my library blog played a role in the castle’s evolution!

April’s email also revealed the origins of the soft sculpture’s materials: “The wool is recycled fabric from the big Goodwill store that used to be at Adelaide and Jarvis . . . (the store had) a perfect winter coat just waiting to be turned into stone. . . . The turrets and grass were skirts from the same store.” I loved how Ms. Quan saw the makings of a fairy-tale building in ordinary woolen coat and some skirts from the Goodwill.

Three Huzzahs for April Quan and The Restored Woolen Castle!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches TPL Talks and Programs

Blog Talk at Kennedy/Eglinton Library

I’m blogging live from Kennedy/Eglinton branch with Joan, Raymon, and a few others. I’ve been talking about my library blog and details like the window seats and tall grasses!

I’ve just asked the participants at today’s event what they like about the library. Joan likes the smell and the feel of books, the printed page. Raymon likes the resources such as the ProTech computer lab. He also likes the self-checkout. One person liked the library’s friendly appearance and the helpful staff. The lady sitting behind him was amazed by the huge collections and size of North York Central Library. Finally, another participant has encouraged me to write a book!

I really enjoyed this opportunity to share my blog with Kennedy/Eglinton patrons. Thank you for inviting me!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Remaining Libraries to Describe More Fully

This morning I was thinking about which library to visit next for the blog. Way back in 2007, my first posts were more like notes than paragraphs. Before I sign off on the library blog project for good, I’d like to expand these early posts and add a few pictures. The following are the branches which await a second visit: Parliament, Saint James Town, City Hall, Toronto Reference Library, Lillian H. Smith, High Park, Leaside, Agincourt, Highland Creek, Port Union, Morningside, Cedarbrae (post-renovation), Guildwood, Cliffcrest, Bendale, McGregor Park, Victoria Village, Albert Campbell, Dawes Road, Main Street, Beaches, Jones, Pape-Danforth, and Riverdale.

Some branch descriptions need to be separated into individual posts, and others require more editing and expansion. The libraries that fall under these categories are Barbara Frum, Bayview, Fairview, Don Mills, Flemingdon Park, and Burrows Hall.

Finally, I’d like to do a post each on the two special collections at Lillian H. Smith branch.

No beaches for me this summer unless you count Beaches Library!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Face Time on Shelf Life!

The April 2010 edition of Toronto Public Library’s Shelf Life, has a short article about my library blog. Check it out!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

North York Central (West Side): Gateway Services (2010 Visit)

Located on the west side of the first floor, Gateway Services is devoted to TPL-card-carrying youth. It features the Young Adult Collection, a computer Learning Centre, and The Hub (a teenager-friendly space for study and socializing). Within The Hub’s zone is a tall gazebo that shelters a red-tiled wall in the shape of the letter “S” (mirroring the red wall on the first floor of the east side) and four jukeboxes. Dominating the north wall of Gateway Services is a mural in chunky faux-graffiti font that spells TORONTO PUBLIC LIBRARY.

On the day of my visit, Gateway Services did not lack activity or patrons. Even though the players of intense chess games in progress had not seen their teens for decades, their gently mocking banter radiated youthful energy. In The Hub, a bona fide adolescent was bent over a laptop while perched on the red upholstered bench affixed to the curving interior wall. Another student slouched on the floor, his back supported by the same structure. And a group of friends crowded round a low table, deep in conversation.

Four old-fashioned jukeboxes stood near the undulating red bench under the gazebo. Exuding a 1950’s vibe, these Rock-ola Nostalgia beasts boasted carved wooden arms and an extensive range of music. When I studied the jukeboxes’ song selections (each one matched to a capital letter and a number to punch in), I beheld artists like the following who were paired on the same white rectangular label: LeAnn Rimes and Prince, Luther Vandross and Amy Grant, Ozzy Osbourne and Elton John, The Beastie Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, R.E.M. and Reba McEntire, plus Janet Jackson and The Cranberries.

Gateway Services was my last stop after having visited the entire North York Central facility for the second time. Despite the energy needed to cover six large floors of this branch, enthusiasm did not quail. Before I embarked on my second exploration, I had no idea the North York Central contained a music room, a Legal Aid office, a sound effects collection, a second-hand bookstore, and a galaxy mural on the 6th floor. With varied resources around every corner, North York Central is a massive attraction for fans of the Toronto Public Library.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

CBC Radio Interview

Early yesterday morning I got to talk about my library blog on CBC Radio! I was thrilled and a little nervous, but host Matt Galloway put me at ease at once. Thank you Matt for an engaging and fun interview!

If anybody would like to hear the interview, please check out

It’s been an excellent season for the blog’s publicity, as it was also featured in last Thursday’s Torontoist. Toronto loves her libraries!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Library Blog Interview!

I was delighted to meet Vit Wagner, Publishing Reporter for the Toronto Star this afternoon. We spent half an hour at a café talking about my quest to visit and write about all 99 Toronto Public Libraries. Afterwards, there was even a photo session in front of Saint James Town Library, courtesy of Star Photographer, Tara Walton. After this experience, I am now no longer allowed to wail to my husband, “Nobody reads my blog!”

Update: and here it is – Burning through the branches.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Art-Friendly Mount Dennis Library (Weston Road and Eglinton Avenue West)

A striking mural stopped me in my tracks as I walked through a side passageway to the entrance of Mount Dennis Library. I saw a man and a woman facing each other in the middle of a green field. A community of daffodils gathered in the foreground, and two trees framed the scene, transforming actual pillars into brown trunks. Painted wooden creatures had been riveted to the surface of the mural, creating a bulky appliqué effect. The riveted animals included a seagull, a cardinal, a raccoon looking at a ladybug, a wolfish dog, a bee hive on a branch, and a chipmunk (also on a branch).

After I passed through the main doorways, I noticed a curious detail on the vertical jamb between the two doors. Someone had painted a giraffe’s head near the top of the jamb, its ears and horns jutting into the lintel. Yellow and orange dots cascaded down the length of the jamb, suggesting a long neck. I liked how the artist had seen a giraffe in the shape of an ordinary door jamb, celebrating whimsy in the day-to-day experience of passing through a door.

The main floor of Mount Dennis branch was one long rectangle in soft cream, demure yellow, and brown. With wide aisles and plenty of open space, the interior was restful. High windows facing Weston Road provided a sunlit view of a wooden trellis that called out for grape vines and a paint touchup, echoing some interior shabbiness in which paint was peeling here and there. I also noticed that water damage had taken out a chunk of the ceiling near the checkout desk. However, the main level was still a pleasant place to borrow materials in English, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, or Vietnamese.

The basement level contained the children’s section and a series of giant wooden jigsaw pieces on the east wall. My favourite puzzle piece had a dark red background and was decorated with a diverse circle of children’s faces surrounded by painty handprints in green, purple, black, yellow, and blue. Lining the walls of a narrow corridor just outside was an art display called the “100 Dreams Project,” which complemented the jigsaw piece. Inspiring kindergarten artists such as Adesh, Ashanti, Caleb, Demetri, Issacher, Jenny, Jah-Shy, Lotus, Megan, Shivani, Yasmin, and Zipporah had painted kites, monsters, ice-cream cones, volcanoes, babies, guinea pigs, and a purple ball on small square canvases.

With its welcoming and art-friendly vibe, Mount Dennis Library served as an ideal host for the exuberant 100 Dreams exhibit by students from Dennis Avenue Community School. Long may they colour the walls with their dreams!

General Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Northern District Library (Pre-Renovation)

Northern District Library’s vast main floor reminded me of a university library, and it was easy to lose track of time while wandering among its extensive shelves. Idly glancing up, I noticed grid patterns on the ceiling that resembled an upside-down waffle. The flat lights were the waffle’s indentations, and the beams which framed the light-grids were the square raised ridges.

As I walked under the pale waffle, I passed leather couches near the entrance and headed over to the large Children’s Area in the southeast corner. Reading benches were placed near the tall windows, creating ready perches for when the call to read struck. An inclusive display of books was propped on top of a non-fiction shelf: Goddesses, Heroes and Shamans, Sikhism, and Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions.

A striking feature of the children’s section was a functional art piece entitled “Appleapes.” Composed of wood, it contained a row of coat pegs integrated into the body of a mama ape who was clutching red apples in the digits of each lower limb. Above the maternal primate were four babies hanging from the red wooden border overhead. They shared their parent’s love of apples, happily clasping the fruit in their hands.

As I meandered through the rest of the library, I marveled at the size of the foreign language collections: French, Serbian, Chinese, and Estonian. ESL and Literacy materials abounded, and a North Toronto Local History Section was available for researchers.

My last stop was the Skylight Gallery. Located upstairs, it consisted of a semi-circular stretch of wall that curved underneath an uplifting window to the sky. After a moment of relishing the quiet space bathed in natural light, I trotted back down the stairs and emerged into the afternoon bustle of Yonge and Eglinton.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

And now for Goldhawk Park, Steeles, and Bridlewood branches

The previous post described the first two libraries out of the five Stewart and I visited a couple of weeks ago, so now I’d like to focus on the remaining three.

Goldhawk Park branch resided in its own square building and seemed less trendy than Woodside Square. However, Goldhawk Park’s location on the edge of a large park gave it a scenic advantage, as Woodside patrons had to make do with a Food Basics parkingscape for inspiration when they looked up from their books. So much reading in my childhood may have made me fanciful, but to me Goldhawk Park looked like a scholarly chalet of a marginally-alpine village on the Markham border. Resting on the rim of a pasture dotted with fir trees, the chalet offered a chair and a newspaper to weary literary pilgrims.

As I made a quick tour of the facility, I accidentally disturbed a seniors’ coffee afternoon in progress. Recovering my cool after a swift exit from the meeting room, I sat down at a table in front of a park-side window. When I had my fill of admiring the vast open field with blowing snow, I walked through the main area, noting the shelves of books in Hindi, Tamil, and Chinese. All in all, I liked the unpretentious and comfortable atmosphere of Goldhawk Park.

Pushing on to Steeles Library, the peaceful natural setting gave way to the frenetic parking lot engergy of Bamburgh Gardens Shopping Plaza. Stewart dropped me off and went to find a parking space while I investigated the fourth library of the afternoon.

Steeles Library was located on the left side of a concrete walkway leading to the mall. The branch was very compact, and the homey impression created by its lime green walls heightened by the presence of several stuffed creatures on top of a high shelf: a gorilla, Tweety Bird, and Marvin the Martian. Like Woodside Square, Steeles had lots of Chinese New Year decorations and an enthusiastic crowd of library-users, with nearly every chair occupied by a reader. It was cheering to see so many folks consuming words instead of mall-products.

The fifth and final library of the day, Bridlewood, was a tenant of a mall with the same name. This branch resided in a big white square room around the corner from the bulk food store and Jasmine Chinese Food. In comparison to Malvern and Woodside Square, Bridlewood appeared more old-fashioned due to its handmade decorations and non-automated check-out desk. In this respect, Bridlewood reminded me of the library in the small town where I grew up, especially when I saw the large paper snowflake cut out by hand and a poster made from black construction paper and photocopies of cartoons.

The most prominently low-budget decoration had to be the rocket that hung from the ceiling near the youth section. A roll of brown construction paper formed the body of the rocket, and the pointy head of the missile was also fashioned from this paper. The initials “TPL” were written on the rocket’s side beside a blue globe, each letter cut from brown paper with a larger outline of the letters in aluminum foil as background. Yet more aluminum foil flared out in streamers from the hind end of the rocket. Though I believe the time may have come to retire this particular ornament, I agree with its message that reading can transport you around the world and even into space.

In addition to the rocket, other noteworthy features of Bridlewood branch included a blue toadstool table, books in Chinese and Urdu, and a romance title “Beauty and the Beastly Rancher.” I didn’t end up learning what made the rancher so beastly, but I was very glad of this beautiful Saturday afternoon spent at five great libraries. As the number of Toronto Public Libraries I’ve visited continues to skyrocket (now up to 59!), I grow more and more impressed with the services they provide to local communities. It makes me proud to carry my blue library card in my wallet! Long may the TPL flourish!

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.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

A Walking Tour of Urban Affairs, Sanderson, and College/Shaw Branches

A few days after the Mount Pleasant Library visit, I walked from the Eaton Centre to Ossington and Bloor, taking in three libraries along the way.

The first library I visited that day was Urban Affairs inside Metro City Hall. A blue and green banner alerted me to its presence, and I walked up a short flight of stairs into the quiet.

Judging from its silence and spaciousness, this branch was clearly more of a research than a community library (although there were lots of helpful leaflets about community events strewn about the tops of cabinets). With Urban Affair’s special Toronto Collection, microfilm machines, law and legislation section, and stacks of urban-themed magazines and journals, it reminded me of a time in my life when I was consumed with postgraduate research. (I used to spend hours in the University of Glasgow Library and other research libraries in Edinburgh, Leeds, and Cambidge when I was writing a Ph.D. thesis about Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son).

I admired Urban Affairs’ extra-wide tables, four appealing study rooms, meeting room, and the view of the busy intersection of John and Wellington. A few sleepers could be discovered face down in their papers, their breathing only mildly affecting the hush that was sometimes broken by the rustle of turning pages and the tapping of keyboards.

It was slightly disorienting to be in a Toronto library with no movie section, no ESL shelves, no storytelling schedules or librarians trying to herd patrons into a single line. The no-nonsense atmosphere didn’t encourage me to linger, but I was very sad when Urban Affairs closed in 2011. I would have liked to have had the chance to take some photographs of this serene branch.

The next two libraries I saw on my 2008 walking tour, Sanderson and College/Shaw, had very different vibes from Urban Affairs. Please click on the name-links in the previous sentence to see updated posts of these two branches!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Three More Libraries on My TPL Pilgrimage!

Let me tell you about them.

Don Mills Library–lobby featured a pillow embroidery display and a potted pine, main level was a massive room with orange walls, and the basement level offered substantial reference and career section.

Flemingdon Park Library–a small room housed within a larger community centre, very warm atmosphere with distinct but not unpleasant smell of chlorine from the pool next door, every computer unit hosted an absorbed library patron, separate glassed-in room for the ESL and Literacy collection.

Burrows Hall Library–like Flemingdon Park and Saint James Town, this library is part of a community centre. The centre includes a Chinese theatre, outside of which sit two large stone lions. Near the entrance to the library was a Christmas tree and two reindeer, one big room constituted the library, a Chinese dragon tapestry decorated the south wall, high ceilings, impressive multi-lingual section. I bought three discarded books from a collection of about thirty. This library seemed new and spacious, and it was uncrowded on a Saturday afternoon.

A big warm thank you to Stewart who has been the driver and fellow library pilgrim for most of the sites described so far!

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Libraries, the Sequel

In an earlier post I described the Toronto Public Libraries east of the Don Valley Parkway that I’ve visited. Now, after a pause that heightened suspense to unbearable levels, I give you, ladies and gentlemen, the Libraries West of the Don Valley that Catherine Has Visited!
Parliament–a spacious building on two floors, very helpful staff who once gave a large group of ESL students from my center an orientation (the nerd in me thrilled when so many students got their first shiny blue library cards), large ESL section, nice high windows.

Saint James Town–this is a fairly new library which is housed in one long room, lots of computers, feels very urban, part of a community centre complex that includes a busy basketball court.

City Hall–tucked away in a small room just to the right of the main entrance to City Hall, cozy yet important, pleasantly crowded.

Lillian H. Smith— what I remember most about this library is its circular staircase leading to an upper gallery.

High Park–a beautiful building with two floors, an ideal place to daydream because of its high ceilings, huge windows, and lots of wooden tables.

Palmerston–a low-key neighborhood venue in one room, not fancy but obviously well-used and in demand.

Spadina Road–roughly the same size and shape as Palmerston, its specialty an Aboriginal Studies section with lots of books and films, every table hosted studious patrons and newspaper browsers.

Yorkville–another busy downtown library, brisk pace, features stone lions at the entrance (if I remember rightly) and an upmarket book deposit box.

Toronto Reference Library–the first library in Toronto I ever visited (as a tourist in 2001), love the fountains and design, a fun experience is to ride the glass elevator to the fifth floor facing outwards so you can see the inner canyon expand as you rise and take in the opera-stage of silent readers. Have taken numerous class trips to the fifth floor to check out the large ESL section and the amazing collection of resources in a variety of languages, one summer helped a friend edit his English translation of Persian proverbs here.

Deer Park–when we immigrated to Canada in 2002, this was the library where I received my first card just a few days after arrival (Deer Park is across the street from the building where you line up for a SIN card, also we were staying in the Annex), a spacious library on one level with high ceilings, one time I saw a tired homeless man asleep in the reclining chair that rests on the floor by a low wall separating the children’s section from the main entryway.

Leaside–an active residential branch located on the edge of a large park, one long room, family-oriented, welcoming.

Northern District–just north of Eglinton and Yonge, this large district branch library is on two levels, has large periodicals and ESL section, top floor with lots of wall space for art exhibitions, sunny from generous number of windows.

Locke–elegant stone building, graceful interior with high ceilings and lots of sunlight, visited this branch after a trip to a nearby guitar store on Yonge Street.

Barbara Frum–a few summers ago I taught at a centre near Bathurst and Lawrence and visited this library before class one time, pleasing design in butterfly shape, you go in and find two round wings to the left and right and a center staircase leading up to the second floor. Enjoyed being there on that Friday afternoon as many families were gathering up books and hustling to get ready for the Sabbath–this branch had a warm community feel to it.

North York Central–I associate this branch with another class I taught, this one near Yonge and Finch, we had a fun class trip there one afternoon. The building is very large as befits a research and reference branch and is connected to a big shopping center, has impressive collection of ESL and foreign languages materials.

Bayview–another mall branch, its modest interior a contrast to the opulence of Bayview Mall, its design was interesting though. While the branch is contained in one room, there’s a deepening of the space as you walk through it, carpeted steps bring you lower, as if the place where you first walk in the door is the tile around a large pool and the steps take you into the actual pool. Lots of carpet, an 1980’s atmosphere similar to the Maryvale and Cliffcrest branches.

Fairview–near Fairview Mall, this library had the worn-down look of district branch under pressure from so many enthusiastic library patrons. It seemed about the same age as Albert Campbell Library and shared a similar designer, this was one of the busiest libraries I’ve visited, with every chair taken, every table space utilized, its two levels humming with life — study groups, individuals in private study rooms, newspaper and magazine readers, family groups– this truly is a vibrant library. To visit it is to be inspired by all those patrons following their dreams.

Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

library quest

For the past year or so, I have been on a delightfully nerdy quest to visit all 99 public libraries in Toronto. As of yesterday, I’ve visited 41 of them. Woo hoo!

Here’s some notes on what I remember about the libraries. I won’t be at all offended if you skim!

Agincourt — branch library, massive ESL and second language collection, super busy

Brookbanks — a quiet branch near a karate school in North York
Maryvale — inside a 1980’s mall, also in North York

Highland Creek — big windows and lots of natural light, east Scarborough

Port Union — library which is the furthest east in TPL jurisdiction

Morningside — a long, low one room library, very new, awesome window seats

Cedarbrae — near Markham and Lawrence, a huge branch library with two floors, Scarborough historical collection, massive ESL selection, also where I volunteered as a conversation circle leader for awhile and took students to get new library cards when teaching LINC in the area

Guildwood — a small, cozy branch in a strip mall, found a book on Canadian history

Cliffcrest — also a one-room branch in a southeast Scarborough strip mall

Bendale — this library sits by itself on a little grassy rise, appears as if on stilts (which I liked), arrived just a few minutes before closing

McGregor Park — a newish library, very spacious, Lawrence and Birchmount

Victoria Village — a neighbourhood branch, very busy, seemed to be at centre of lots of community activity

Kennedy and Eglinton — another crowded but cozy branch, seems constantly in use, situated between a bar that was shut down and a pharmacy

Eglinton Square — a one-room library in the mall just off the food court, lots of broad tables with folks reading the newspaper

Albert Cambell — a time capsule of 1970’s architecture and interior design, two levels, with quiet rooms for study, near Saint Clair and Birchmount

Dawes Road — situated in residential area, found a good grammar book there, one big square room with lots of shelves, near Saint Clair and Victoria Park

Taylor Memorial — near the lake, features a fireplace with armchairs, very peaceful

Main Street — a compact, attractive building, full of patrons reading and browsing

Beaches — gorgeous library with window seats and views of Kew Gardens, two levels, very uplifting space

Danforth/Coxwell — a narrow building with two levels, this was one of the first libraries I visited as a newcomer when I went to a conversation circle

Gerrard/Ashdale — this branch is on a lively street full of shops selling South Asian clothing, curry, and roasted corn, has two levels, top floor with beautiful wooden beams and a fireplace

Jones — very small, surrounded by a homey neighbourhood with large trees and houses with porches, lots of patrons there on a Saturday, appealing wooden floors

Pape/Danforth — handsome, historic building, two long narrow floors, extremely busy

Riverdale — arrived there by Broadview streetcar, nice brick building in circular shape, crowded with readers, next to Don Valley jail building

And that’s all I’ve visited east of the Don Valley Parkway. Stay riveted or at least mildly awake for a review of libraries west of the DVP.