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We love the Toronto Public Library! TPL Librarians tell us about their favourite branch, great finds, and the most fun they’ve had at the library

When I was a kid, a trip to the library brought me unparalleled joy. It meant freedom from mundane family routines of the week. It meant discovering new and inspiring reads – a simple pleasure that I appreciate to this day.

The Toronto Public library is a hub of awesome activity. You can borrow all the books and DVDs you could ever want, but you can also attend workshops on holistic nutrition or yoga and meditation, learn how to make a zine, get legal advice, meet some famous authors, see some rad bands, and generally get lots of free stuff.

Maybe this is why Toronto residents rated libraries 8th on a list of 35 city services, even ahead of police and parks and recreation centers. We totally value our writers, artists, musicians and the success of the TPL proves it. But more than anything, libraries are genuine community spaces that are there to help people. Libraries give cities character, and they are  often the most beautiful buildings in them. Our illustrious mayor’s recent plan to cut back TPL funding would leave the 1.25 million library card holders in the city hanging. Join Margaret Atwood in the good fight to keep the TPL going strong. Sign this petition!

As a testament to our love for the library, we asked a few librarians to tell us a bit about their experiences within the stacks. Long live the TPL!

Irene Gotz, Librarian at the North York Central Library, Society and Recreation Dept.

What is your favourite TPL branch?
Bloor/Gladstone is an inspiring mixture of heritage architecture, beautiful contemporary design, and pragmatic functionality. The light and airy space is incredibly welcoming for library patrons and is a joy to work in as a librarian. It is a really relaxing, warm, fun space to hang out in – comfy, laptop friendly armchairs with an open view of the street. Whether you want to do some research, kick back with a newspaper or good book or get some one-on-one help, there’s space and resources for everyone. This library showcases what is best about public libraries: free and open access for all to information resources and experts, a deep and wide selection of books and a beautiful public space.

What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever found in a library?
One of the most memorable items I’ve found in a library was actually shown to me by Leslie McGrath at the Osborne Collection at Lillian H. Smith branch – a 14th century manuscript of Aesop’s Fables. It was an amazing experience to hold its smooth pages in my own hands as readers did over six hundred years ago. But, what makes this one of the coolest library items ever, is that anyone can go to the Osborne to check it out!

Vicky Tourkolias, Librarian, Malvern

What is your favourite TPL branch?
Whether it’s where I first started my career shelving books at Agincourt library, the distinctive architecture of the Riverdale branch or the modern flare of the newly renovated Cedarbrae Library, all TPL branches have something unique to offer. However, I must admit I do secretly favour the Agincourt branch because this is where it all began for me. This is where I learned how to shelve according to the Dewey Decimal System, where I answered my first reference question as a librarian, and where I’ve made some of my best friendships.

What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever found in a library?
I have found many things in the library – umbrellas, baseball gloves, water bottles, photos, a retainer, love notes, poop, a shower cap, and sunglasses – but never buried treasure. Sigh.

What’s the most fun you’ve had in a library as an adult?
One occasion that really sticks out for me is an Open House event we hosted at Malvern Library. For the event, we brought in a magician (think Chris Angel meets Russell Peters). Now I know this sounds a little childish, but I hadn’t seen a magic show since I was a kid and I forgot how much fun they are! The community enjoyed the show very much and for some, it would be the only opportunity to experience a magic show.

Loretta Tang, Librarian, Malvern

What is your favourite TPL branch?
The Toronto Reference Library.  Every time I set foot in the branch, I’m overwhelmed by the vast collections, people bustling in and out, its traditional design with a modern touch, and of course, just the mere size of the library. It’s hard not to step back, take a deep breath and let yourself soak it all in. TRL is one of the library branches that I worked at as a page, and I still remember shelving books in the stacks. (The stacks are hidden towers of book shelves where they keep the old, dusty books that date back to the 1700s.) To me, the stacks are one of the most mysterious, dark yet absolutely wonderful qualities of TRL. Whether I’m looking for a quiet space to study or for a cozy place to start my next read, TRL has it all.

What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever found in a library?
A few things come to mind: an ice cream cone in the book drop, electronics that people leave behind (ipods, cell phones, laptops), photographs, make-up, diaries, jackets … you name it!

What’s the most fun you’ve had in a library as an adult?
I had the chance to throw an ‘Anti-Valentine’s Day Party’ at Cedarbrae branch when I was there as the youth services librarian. We made anti-conversation hearts with messages like “Bite Me” and “Love Stinks”, played anti-love songs, had a contest for who could come up with the best break-up letter, vandalized romance cover novels, and much more!

It’s also inspiring and rewarding to see libraries changing lives of young people across the city by providing them with information on career choices and post-secondary education, things some of them never would have been exposed to or considered otherwise.

Elsa Ngan, Branch Head at the Yorkville Branch

What is your favourite TPL branch?
Rexdale. That was my first branch working as a professional children’s and teens’ librarian. I still remember the tranquil and friendly feel of a small neighbourhood branch, right in the middle of the former Etobicoke suburbs.

What is the most memorable thing you’ve ever found in a library?
A mom came into Palmerston Branch looking for information about the Royal Canadian Air Force and its activities during WWII. She and her son looked through everything that they could get their hands on but came up empty. I remembered my former Canadian History professor had written a book about this topic specifically. It was called “Years of Victory, 1939-1945.” Lo and behold, the book was in the history section right at Palmerston Branch. The mom was beyond thrilled and happy. And this also reconnected me and my professor as I wrote to him and thanked him for writing a book on that topic.

What’s the most fun you’ve had in a library as an adult?
In July 2010, I hosted a Word Out Book Sale with the Book Ends North staff and my former Youth Advisory Group members from North York Central Branch. Everyone worked so well together even though it was their first meeting for both the adult and youth volunteers. We brought awareness to the public about: Word Out 2010 (Teen Summer Reading), Book Ends, and volunteering at the library!

~ Kait Fowlie

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