Monday, March 2, 2009

TPL-filled weekend!

Yup, I had a TPL-filled weekend. I usually try to visit a few branches of the Toronto Public Library when I'm in town (gotta make a dent in 99, you know!), and this time, it was well worth the schlepping around town. Here's a summary, with links to TPL info and my Flickr pics along the way.

I first made my way to the Annette Branch (a Carnegie library), based solely on the fact that someone who attended my recent OLA talk worked there. Annette Branch is a lovely, traditional Carnegie branch, opened in 1909, and it bears many similarities to my library... or, it, ahem, will, once mine gets its major facelift. Annette Branch boasts lovely dental moulding on the ceiling, an intriguing Edison phonograph, and a cozy periodicals area. Not to mention, I got a personalised tour, as it turned out my friend from OLA was working (ah, public libraries... always making us work Saturdays...).

Based on this friend's recommendation, I next made my way to the Dufferin/St. Clair Branch, which has several unique features. First off, it has breath-taking murals by G. A. Reid and Doris McCarthy, painted between 1925 and 1932 and recently restored (they had been painted over in 1964, which is criminal!) Hats off also to Makrimichalos Cugini Architects for a lovely renovation, including two little wings off either side of the branch, acting as glassed-in reading rooms. I love it when we smaller branches make the absolute most of the limited space we have! That's thinking, kids! (Sorry, no wings pics since I didn't want to risk my life in the middle of the street). The gorgeous dark wood stacks inside the Adults area, moreover, are perfectly in keeping with the elegance of the branch (made the husband very happy, too - he's a tough critic when it comes to wood finishes, and, let's admit it, libraries usually cheap out on this and it's very visible...), and the muted colour scheme lets the murals shine through.

Now, the pièce de résistance: the KidsStop. I just about died with sheer excitement at the sight of it. I had heard that TPL was building these interactive early literacy spaces to re-inforce pre-literacy skills taught in library programming (TPL uses Ready for Reading; we at OPL use ALA's Every Child Ready to Read). Nothing prepares you for seeing the space, though. It was, by far, the absolute best library experience that my husband (not a librarian!) and I have ever had. We both walked out of it in awe. I'll start from the beginning.

So, you're in the Children's Department (terribly dark photo here). Pretty kickass on its own, I might say, with mirrors on the edge of each row and lovely natural light pouring in. If you're me, you immediately spot the dragon from The Paper Bag Princess on the wall, and exclaim about it. A random mum nearby overheard me (apparently I left my "library voice" at home that day) and says, "Wait until you go inside." Me: "Inside where?" "Over there," she replies, pointing underneath the dragon where wooden beams are cut to look like tree branches forming an archway.

Under the archway you go, looking up to see a ceiling of stars. You come out (pleased as punch, if you're me!) in a small, separate room, filled with picture books and various toys and games. Everything is in the same polished wood, painted in places, naturally stained in others. Another Martchenko dragon fills the centre of the room, carrying books on his back. One wall is mostly taken up by the castle for play-acting, bookended by pit stops for narrative skills and print awareness. Other stops for letter knowledge and print motivation caught my eye (who could not be motivated on a throne?), as did the colourful home for the Dial-a-story phone. Just past the dragon's backside (sorry, but it's true) were more pre-literacy games at baby's eye level (one of my favourites was the spin-a-story thingamajig) and a toy book return bin (every budding librarian's dream!).

I think TPL did a fabulous job with this branch. I can't say enough about it.

After all that, I must say my first visit (I know - that's just sad) to the Toronto Reference Library was anticlimactic. It is quite something, what with the collections in many languages and all that (Finnish included!) and the various special collections (we peered into the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection room). I did have the palpable feeling that I was in an important space, and I reminded myself of authors and intellectuals who have hung out here, doing research, even if the fraying carpeting on the staircase walls (who carpets walls?) was doing its best to kill my mood. I must end on a positive note, though, to assuage my own conscience if nothing else: I really like the Foundation's recent poster campaign. You can read the stories featured on the posters here.

That was enough for one day. We retired to a pub for dinner.

Just in case you think I'm a total geek who goes to different cities exclusively to check out libraries (I suppose that's not far off, though...), I was there for a work-related purpose. And I did do other stuff, I swear!

Meanwhile, I came home exhausted and managed to somehow make myself ill again. Charming.

It was worth it for that dragon, though.

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