Toronto by Library #3: Toronto Reference Library

After an unexpected late night of work last night I was able to take the afternoon off. My task? No, not eclipse-watching (though we did see some of it). It was to look for a location for Sage to record episodes of the High Stakes Storytelling Podcast. She needed a relatively quiet space where she could record people telling their stories.

And so off we went to the Toronto Reference Library.  This is our city’s biggest public library. It is over 400,000 square feet in size and has over 1.6 million cataloged items. As this is a reference library, most of these cannot be checked out though they do have a small collection of books that can be checked out and many pick up their holds there. They also have a variety of spaces available for study/working.

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What drew us there was the fact that it is one of three libraries that offers a free recording studio. Our plan was to try recording some there and then try some other areas in the library in case that one is booked.

The studio happened to be open for a half an hour which was enough to test room tone and try recording talking in there.  The tone was nearly perfect.  The room itself had a few things we didn’t expect like a Mac with recording/editing software and studio speakers:

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On the other side of the room is a green screen – if you’re interested in filming your next sci-fi epic taking place on another planet this could be the place for you.  There are a number of lights available and they loan various cameras for still and motion photography.  While you’re filming you can make your own soundtrack using the instruments in the room.

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Though the sound was excellent in that room we wanted to be sure that she had some other options should that be booked at the time she needed it. So we recorded a few different options here and there and got to see a bunch of what was on offer at this library:

 

 

A selection of 3D printers are on offer for use along with the software to make your own creations. Some of the creations people have made at the library were in a display case:

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Signs posted in the area talked about other equipment available for exploration:

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Not only that, workstations are available to do the following:

  • Audio/Video Editing (27″ iMacs, Audio Mixer, Ultra Studio Express)
  • Document/Photo Scanning (PCs, Epson scanners)
  • 3D Scanning (27″ iMac, Makerbot 3D Scanner)
  • Analog Video Conversion (27″ iMac, VCR to digital converter)
  • Web/Graphic/3D Design (Mac G5 & PC, large-format Epson photo scanners)
  • Coding/Programming (Driveless PC)
  • Adobe Creative Suite

The great thing is that there’s not a charge for the time, only materials used.

We left there and headed upstairs to try our next possible recording area, a study pod. If there’s anything that looks like what we in the 80’s thought 2017 might look like, it’s this. Glass cylinders that keep most sound out (or in as our case might be).

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As we left the study pod behind, a flash of green caught my eye.

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Up close I could hear a trickle of water behind it.  As I looked at Wikipedia to get the stats for this, I found out what this was: “The design of this library was influenced by the hanging garden of Babylon and therefore plants were located around the edge of each floor facing the atrium. However, due to financial constraints, the plants were later removed.”  I guess not all of the plants were removed.

One of the things we saw a lot of were old school card catalogs. They’ve got over 2.5 million catalogued materials like films, tapes, microforms, maps, and other ephemera.

20170821_134346.jpg20170821_134325.jpgIt felt good to see this old friend of mine. There really is something about searching through a card catalog. Note that this one was cataloging old service manuals from cars to VCRs to other electronics. Need to fix your 1970 Oldsmobile Toronado? The library’s got you covered.

Looking for sheet music or plays? They’ve got you covered there also:

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Maybe you can’t play music, though. What about if you want to just listen to some on record or CD? Head to the top floor. Just ask for the one you want to listen to and go to the listening station of your choice.

 

 

What about if you just want an old photo, maybe an ad with someone tight rope walking. No problem:

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How do you know where to find it? It’s all catalogued by subject in a file cabinet. These apparently can be checked out for up to 3 weeks.

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Looking at the website listing everything on offer at this library I can see we only saw a tiny fraction of what was there. There really is something for everyone and so much space for people to enjoy it.

As I walked through I felt really grateful and content. We live in a city that values knowledge and technology and moreover, access to it to such a high degree that this place can exist. There have been attempts to cut library funding in the past but it’s always been violently opposed by the people and for that I’m hugely grateful. It’s a fantastic resource for our city.

So to summarize using our usual criteria:

Neighbourhood: This  library is at the intersection of Yonge and Bloor. The busiest subway station in the city is right below and within a short walk from the library. The area is rapidly gentrifying with condos going up on all sides. It’s not an unpleasant neighbourhood by any stretch but it is a fairly bland one in my opinion. If you like chain stores, chain restaurants, and chain coffee bars then you’ll be happy here. I can’t say as I know of any real hidden gems here, though.

Book Selection: There’s a great book selection here. And since you can’t check most of the collection out you’ll find what you’re looking for on pretty much any subject. There are also special collections here so you’ll find rare and interesting things. The book selection in the “Browsery” – the small area where you can check books out from is good and has good variety. There’s also a huge foreign language collection for nearly every major language and these can be checked out. There are a ton of Hindi books available also but sadly they’re all grown up books and I’m still reading early readers. So in some ways I’m back where I was in Grade 2 where I could only use a tiny fraction of our school library and the big kid’s section was off limits. Someday.

Atmosphere: Fantastic. One of my favourite places in the city. It’s huge and there are many nooks and crannies throughout the building to find a quiet place to read or a more genial social area. Big windows on the west side of the city look out at busy Yonge street, and those on the east side look out across the Rosedale Ravine and its greenery. Beyond that in the distance we saw a few of our city’s highrises including the one I’m currently sitting in. If the last library was a place that reminded me of my small town 80’s childhood, this is a place where I go and am reminded that I live in a big, cosmopolitan and really interesting city.

The Verdict: I don’t come here often but I adore it when I do. I think I need to plan to spend more time here exploring the resources, going to lectures (Salman Rushdie’s speaking there soon), taking classes or just grabbing an old record and listening to some music. I could also see myself going there to work on days when I don’t have conference calls to participate in. They’ve got great quiet workspaces and free wifi.  I’ll definitely be back

9 thoughts on “Toronto by Library #3: Toronto Reference Library

  1. The TRL really is amazing. It also has a huge collection of old, rare books and archival material in the fifth-floor Baillie room. The setup includes a clean reading room designed not to damage the books, which can’t leave the room. I was there to look at some of the most boring material imaginable (old directories from Halton county, for genealogical research), but I bet there are a lot of really interesting things in the collection. And even the equivalent of a phone book is more interesting when it’s from the 19th century.

    As for the neighbourhood, you’re right that it tends toward the bland, commercial, and corporate, but just a five minute walk down Yonge is Eliot’s Bookshop, which is probably the most classic used bookstore in the city, full of creaky floors and the smell of old books.

    I love the idea of seeing all the public libraries in the city, and I hope you’ll have time to keep posting about your visits. And if you finish all the public libraries—or just want a change of pace—the University of Toronto has great libraries, some of which are somewhat open to the public (you can’t check out books without active U of T ID, but you can use the space and browse the stacks.) Trinity’s Graham Library has a wonderful atmosphere, and the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library (which is open to the public) is fascinating, absolutely worth visiting if you’ve never been.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the tips on the other libraries. They sound wonderful. And yes, Eliot’s is a treasure. Sadly I”m hearing rumours of their closing soon. I think the same tax increases that have killed the House of Lords are getting to them as well.

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      1. Oh no! Eliot’s isn’t my favourite bookstore anymore the way it was when I was a kid, but I used to go there with my mom and have a lot of good memories from that store. I’ll have to make sure I go back soon in case it’s the last time!

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  2. Oh wow that library is outrageous, it has EVERYTHING! That glass study pod is the best thing ever invented, I’m pretty sure. Blocks all sound? Amazing. This library looks like a dream come true, must have felt so magical being in there! Btw, I really am enjoying the “Toronto by Library” series! 😊 Thanks for sharing!

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    1. So glad you’re enjoying it. This library really is incredible. There’s a ton more stuff there – other collections, so many programs. It really helps that while folks in our city might complain about some services, some don’t like the quality of transit service, others think the police’s budget is too high, and others question how our city spends its budget in other ways. But it seems like everyone here loves the library and so many people use it. I’ve never lived in a city where there are literally lines outside the library door before they open.

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      1. Yeah I read that in one of your other posts about the lines at the libraries! That’s insane, and so so wonderful! Here in Vegas we have few, small libraries, sadly. I wish we had libraries here like you all do in Toronto!

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    1. Thanks! It’s a pretty great one. That said, just from the small percentage I’ve been to (I would guess I’ve been to about 10% of them), there are some pretty great ones each with something to like.

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