“I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture, and our concern for the future, can all be tested by how well we support our libraries.” – Carl Sagan
So many of my favourite movies have really terrific library scenes. Here are a few:
- In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins builds his prison a library out of a quiet passion for reading and education.
- In The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage moves to an inherited and abandoned train station, and in his new town encounters community at his local library, while attempting to borrow a book on trains.
- The Breakfast Club takes place in one beauty of a high school library.
I’m a huge fan of public libraries. I think they speak a lot about the character of a city and how much value it places on community and reading and the openness of ideas. It is about books, but it’s also about more than books – it’s about access to information, skills, neighbourhoods, people.
Caleb and I recently took a short trip to San Francisco, and while slightly lost, we entered into the Chinatown Branch of San Fran’s Library system. We were specifically looking to take the cable car, and not the regular transit, and the librarians all started discussing the best way to do this in Cantonese. I love that no matter where you are, you can walk into a library, and find people who are ready to help you in whatever way you need, and that the materials and often librarians themselves are a reflection of the neighbourhoods they’re in.
When I was a university student, I studied English and a lot of my textbooks were novels. My university library often didn’t have enough copies in stock, and so I ended up getting a Kingston Public Library card and borrowing my texts from there.
My first experience with Toronto libraries was during my teaching placements, when I was back and forth between Toronto for my 4-week teaching placements and Kingston for teachers’ college classes. My associate teacher told me he had to run because he had to get to his library holds before his library closed.
By coincidence, I happened to meet a new friend who worked for the library and who said I could get a card because I worked in Toronto. It’s rare that I can identify turning points in my life like this, but I’m not joking when I say my relationship with Toronto truly changed after I got a library card.
Having been born and raised in a small town, I was astounded at the size and breadth of Toronto’s libraries. According to Wikipedia, Toronto Public Library is the “largest neighbourhood-based library system in the world,” and many of their branches are architecturally beautiful.
For a short while, I tried to visit all 98 branches (at the time, I think they’ve opened up more locations since), although I gave up after around 30. I’m also a big believer in the TTC, so I tried to visit branches via public transit, but let me tell you, some of these branches are pretty far out. I think that was probably my problem: I figured I’d get the hardest ones out of the way first, but a trip could be 3 hours on a subway and two buses one way, and by the time I got home I was wiped out.
After I landed my first permanent teaching job, I moved to the east end of the city, and my local library was the Main Street Branch. The Main Street Branch is small enough that the librarians and clerks know you by name, and can discuss with you what you’re borrowing. To this day, it’s one of my favourite branches, although shortly after I moved there, an incident with a crossbow shooting occurred inside. I, however, am not easily deterred.
Today I bring Caleb to the library once a week – we go to the Queen and Saulter branch. He knows the routine, we read a few books together, then he’s allowed to pick two books to borrow, and then we have to spend some time looking at my books. Depending on his mood, I have anywhere from 2-5 minutes to pick out my books – it’s irrelevant to him that we just spent half an hour reading books on tow trucks.
I love that he already knows how to return books, where the section of books on trucks and vehicles are, how to borrow books at the self-checkout. I want to raise children who know how to go to the library, and, I hope, go there themselves.
As a small business family, we consider ourselves lucky to be able to put diapers on our babe and dinner on the table, but we’ll always find money for books, second-hand or otherwise. That being said, libraries are about so much more than books – story times and discovering books on shelves and responsibility and community and whole new worlds.
In any case, a few months ago, the library asked me to compile a list of recommended reads to put on their website. What an honour! And what pressure.
I ended up picking a few books related to slowing down, writing, correspondence, and analogue tool – some recent new reads, or favourite books from years past. Please check it out! I’m sure many of these titles may be familiar to some of you as well.
As we barrel on into these cooler and colder months, I’m finding my plans for reading growing as I envision snuggling deep into blankets – although I also find as spring comes and warm weather is on the way, the same rush of ambition for new books is there again. I hope some of these books may interest you, or at the very least, inspire a visit to your own local library.