My love affair with libraries.

I’ve been a library girl since early childhood.  We used to go weekly to the Rosemount branch in Ottawa where Mrs. Wilmer would help us choose books in their wonderful children’s department in the basement.  I remember the day when, realizing that we were avid and accomplished readers, my sister and I were invited to check out the upstairs, adult section of the library.

Those were the days of wooden card catalogs with brass drawer pulls, stiff paper library cards that you could leave at the library, the ink pad and rubber date stamp that marked the “Date Due” slip glued into the back of the book.  They were days of being quiet, sitting at long wooden tables, no eating, drinking, or chewing gum, whispering, and the musty smell of the stacks.

I have had a libary card everywhere I’ve lived.  Even in university, where our student card gave us access to the wonders of the university library, I still belonged to the public library.  The vibe was different.  The users were a wider cross-section of society.  They had comfier chairs, plants, the new releases shelf near the front door, magazines to read when, as a grad student, I wasn’t in a position to be buying them.

When we moved to Atlanta, I quickly joined our county library system and discovered the joys of putting books on hold electronically.  And then when I started homeschooling Michael, this capability allowed us to get books on a wide range of subject matter, requiring only a quick hop into my local branch to pick up my holds.  We started spending an afternoon a week at the library so that he could do research and we could benefit from a change of scenery.   It was in Atlanta where I suddenly realised that if I read the Books section of the newspaper while logged into the library website, I could just put new books that I wanted to read on hold and then sometime in the future, they’d be there for me!

Back in Toronto, this has become part of my weekend routine.  And it also causes some traffic jams on my hold list, where all of a sudden I’ll have eight or twelve great books signed out, none of which can be renewed because they are new releases, and I can’t possibly get through them all.  But it’s a problem that I can deal with!

This morning’s Star had a very positive article entitled Library 2.0 by Christopher Hume, the architecture critic and writer on urban affairs.  An excellent piece, it talks about the new library as a welcoming place for all, the extension of home for many Toronto residents.  I was surprised to hear that we have the second largest per capita membership in the world, only behind Hong Kong.  Hume also talks about some of the gorgeous new libraries and library renos that have take place in Toronto.  I love the Bloor Gladstone branch (pictured here), of which Hume writes:

Not that contemporary libraries are funhouses, exactly. The recently renovated and expanded Bloor-Gladstone Library is a good example of the new model. The addition, a light-filled glass box, sits next to the original 1913 structure, connected but quite distinct. It’s as if the insides of the old building had been yanked out, leaving only the walls behind. Where the first library was stone, brick and wood, the new one is glass. The journey, from opacity to transparency, has been symbolic as well as physical.

A Toronto blogger has spent months visiting each branch and you can read her thoughts here.  It’s a cool project, and I hope to read through her thoughts over the next week or so, and pick a few branches to visit myself!

My neighborhood library is a tiny one tucked in a Community Centre.  I use it mainly to pick up my holds, grab a few Paris Match mags for Z, and maybe borrow a DVD if there’s anything interesting in the 30-50 titles they typically have on hand.  Up a step in size is the Barbara Frum branch which is around the corner from Michael’s karate studio, so I often pass the time there in the comfy chairs reading or browsing.  The Toronto Reference Library and the North York Central Library are great places to do genealogical research, and the latter also has school text books for in-library use for those (now rare) occasions when Michael forgets his textbook at school and has homework due.

We are so blessed in this city with an abundance of free resources, and the library has to be one my faves.

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