Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Library wanderings in Toronto

(now with more bookstores!)

Another RA meeting, another chance to explore TPL renos. This past weekend, we visited the Bloor/Gladstone Branch of TPL, which re-opened in July of last year after closing in 2006 for a renovation and expansion. This branch, one of TPL's oldest (opened in 1913 as Dovercourt, a much better name in my opinion...!), nearly doubled in size with the addition of a large modern glass block on the west side. Also, to improve accessibility, the inner and outer staircases were removed and patrons now enter on the lowest level of the library.

I quite liked the marriage of old and new; I am a total sucker for those old buildings that keep the formerly outer wall intact (see also: TPL's Yorkville Branch). I think they did a magnificent job in the lobby, and the 2nd floor landing, where you can stand and look down into the renovated lobby, is a highlight (a 7 yr old was soaking up the view while we visited). I also quite liked the placement of holds (in an alcove with community and library info - photo here). I liked that the former was stored in a binder - this is something I am doing at St Laurent: the valuable poster space on the wall is for library programs first and foremost! The only thing I didn't like about where the holds were was that you didn't have to pass any collections (well, some display cubes, but that's all) on the way; in my mind, that's like grocery stores putting the milk at the entrance: why waste an opportunity to make people walk through your location?

The branch also featured a listening station in the teen section, which was cool. Um, about the teen section. Have a look at this photo I took. I think some good ideas backfired a bit: the addition of the TV has turned the area into a .... loitering spot for non-teens, let's just say. I caught a strong whiff of alcohol while I was setting up the photo. Which is a pity. Don't get me wrong - I am glad that people are in the library, and happy to welcome anyone, no questions asked, but I think that an area specifically designed for teens should be safe for teens. I recently read on the YALSA blog that NYPL Teen Central spaces are reserved for teen use only; if staff see an adult sitting there, he/she will be asked to move. Pretty hard-core, but then, not entirely a bad idea. I would prefer signage or something, rather than having to police the area (but then I say that because my teen zone is behind me, with a glass wall in between us).

The branch also featured a great use of LCD projector: projecting historical photos as well as current information above the Newcomer information desk (photo here). The architectural firm involved in the reno also has some lovely photos of the renovation here.

The other library I visited was the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. I've been to Robarts many a time, mostly for the U of T FIS job fairs, but never quite made it to the other tower.

Recently, I discovered that a good friend of mine worked researched there as a student, and I was inspired to really make the effort to visit (despite the - ahem - restrictive opening hours, which I completely understand, but are nonetheless annoying if you're me).

We didn't roam through the collection, which is vast and impressive. We instead took in the current exhibit, which was "Caterpillars and Cathedrals: The etchings of Wenceslaus Hollar," which was lovely in its minutiae. What was also lovely to behold was that a library could so deftly overcome its Brutalist shell to be quite beautiful in the end.

Sidebar: TFRBL has Gwendolyn MacEwen's papers, and I am a big fan of novelist and poet MacEwen, once a rival to Atwood, now largely unknown outside CanLit circles. MacEwen is perhaps best known for her poem, "Dark pines under water", from 1972's The Shadow Maker, which was voted by LRC as one of Canada's most memorable poems:

This land like a mirror turns you inward
And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
You dream in the green of your time,
Your memory is a row of sinking pines.

Explorer, you tell yourself this is not what you came for
Although it is good here, and green;
You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
In an elementary world;
There is something down there and you want it told.

So, I was more than thrilled to see the bust of MacEwen at TFRBL, and to have a short conversation about her with the library staff member who greeted us.

While on campus, we also visited the Hart House Library (best. ceiling. ever.), which reminded me distinctly of the Birks Reading Room (it could simply have been because of the creaky floors), spent far, far too long in the U of T bookstore, and came serendipitously upon a Toronto Legacy Project plaque for Robertson Davies (since you probably can't read that, it says "The novelist Robertson Davies, 1913-1995) lived here from 1963-1981 as the first master of Massey College").


  1. I wish I had worked there! I took a course there after those *ahem* restrictive opening hours and did research there. I worked at other libraries on campus, though. It is worth the effort to visit.

  2. I think I should mention that I have recently published a novel,
    entitled Mighty Oaks (available from Amazon.com) that deals with the
    brief period that Gwen was married to Milton Acorn, living on Toronto
    Island and formulating the philosophies that would become the
    foundations of her work and may, ultimately, have cost her her life.
    Yours truly,
    Lorne S. Jones