In 2012 I worked on a project at the northern border of Toronto. It was close enough that I could bike there in an hour or so. Showers were available at work so it was a great way to get 2 hours of cycling in every day while commuting for the same amount of time as I would by transit.
For much of the way I would take Oakwood Avenue, passing through Oakwood Village several days a week. Despite this I never knew there was a library here.
Today I am not riding my bike but instead get here by taking two buses and a subway. I get off in an area that tended to be quite busy on my way home from work with lots of traffic and people pulling out of parking spaces. It is slightly downhill here so when I traveled I would go at the same speed as the cars. On the one hand this meant I didn’t have cars passing me too close. On the other hand I had to be very alert. If someone pulled in front of me or stopped quick I needed to react.
When I visit today I found it somewhat depressing. The traffic I used to see on a weekday was not here today and a number of the stores were now shuttered.
The library is a short walk from the bus stop. When I get there I find a friendly welcome – from the door at least.
I enter the library and am immediately in the middle of the children’s section. For some reason this is disorienting. It is only after thinking a bit about it that I realize: The entire floor is dedicated to children. I would have to go upstairs to find the grownup books.
In the time it takes me to realize that the entire floor is for children, a few Children’s books catch my eye. This selection gives one an idea of the good things you can find in our library system.
I head upstairs and have a look around. There are a number of people here but most are relaxing in chairs or on computers. This means I can easily find photos to share from within the stacks to give you a feel for it.
What I notice most about this library is its state. As you can see the carpet is stained and the design hasn’t been updated in a while. At the moment six other branches including some very large ones, and yet this library, built in 1997 hasn’t been updated since. It isn’t that this library is falling apart or unable to serve its patrons. It is completely adequate. It’s just that while other libraries in better shape are being renovated, this one isn’t and I wonder if it would be were it in a more wealthy neighbourhood. On the other hand, with 100 libraries built at all different times over the past century or so, I’m sure there are hard decisions to be made relating to priorities.
That said, they’re doing a great job with what they have and the issues are 100% cosmetic. They have some excellent programs coming up, for example:
And in the adult section there is a great selection of books. Whomever is curating the collection is doing a wonderful job. This clearly isn’t just a library to pick up your holds at. This is a library to browse and I found several interesting books.
First up is 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style by Matt Madden. I’m really intrigued by the principle of this book: Take the same story, tell it 99 times (in graphic novel format) in different ways.
Second is: To Teach – The Journey, In Comics by William Ayers and Ryan Alexander-Tanner. What got me to pick it up is the idea of a graphic novel about the joys of teaching. Were I to do it all over again I’d very seriously consider becoming a teacher or librarian and am really interested in the subject of teaching / learning. But as I am writing this now I’m looking again and the name William Ayers jumped out at me. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, he was one of the leaders of the Weather Underground, a radical left-wing domestic terrorist organization in the US devoted to the overthrow of US Imperialism. They did a bunch of actions from armed robbery to busting Timothy Leary out of prison to bombing the Pentagon. Ayers was a fugitive until 1980 when he turned himself in. This is captured in another excellent book by Ayers, Fugitive Days. It’s a fascinating and immersive story.
Finally, Prius or Pickup: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America’s Great Divide. The book discusses the idea that it isn’t just political ideology dividing the people in the US but an entirely different world view. I’ve always felt like political conservatives feel like they’re living in an entirely different world than I feel I’m living in so it will be interesting to dig deeper in to this.
As I browse, a group of four boys all in their mid-teens are sitting and talking together. I’m surprised and encouraged to hear them openly sharing with each other answers to the question one had asked: “When’s the last time you cried in a movie theatre?” When I was that age, I wouldn’t have admitted to crying in movies. I have grown up since then, though, and can tell you the last time was at the end of this film. How about you?
I leave the library and go in search of somewhere to get a snack. There are not a lot of places open. There are a few sports bars with a handful of people in them but as a non-drinker and someone who doesn’t follow sports I don’t see myself going in.
I finally end up at Jack’s, a 24 hour Portuguese bakery. However, when I first walk in I feel like I actually have ended up in a sports bar anyway.
A group of men is watching a football game between Juventus (Italy) and Ajax (Netherlands) and speaking what I think is Portuguese. Only one other patron is there, sitting near the front window drinking a coffee and looking at her phone.
The sweets look enticing and I have a hard time choosing which one I want.
As I wait in line I also see some great looking breads.
I am amused to read the Portuguese descriptions. I don’t know most of the words but recognize the Portuguese word for bread: “Pao”. My readers in India will also likely recognize that word if I spell it a different way: “Pav”. Don’t get me started, though, on where various foods came from and how they spread around the world. I’ll start with talking about the non-veg Portuguese dish of Carne de vinha d’alhos (spell those last words differently and tweak the recipe and you’ll find ‘vindaloo’), and I’ll end up on spices and coffee and forget everything I was going to talk about.
I order a coffee and a pastry and as the server is making my Americano she clearly notices the person behind me and starts an espresso for him at the same time without exchanging a word. Clearly this is a place with a number of regulars. I sit down to enjoy my coffee and dessert.
The coffee is quite good. However while the brownie looks amazing, it’s quite stale. The outer part is chewy not because of an intended texture but because it has been sitting there for a long time. Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that if you have multiple cases of sweets (there were several more beyond what I showed) and limited customers you’re going to have some things sit. Reading Yelp reviews for the place I can see I’m not alone in finding the desserts stale and disappointing. Clearly I should have asked “What’s everyone’s favourite thing here?”
On the way home I stop at the Indigo at Bay and Bloor – a big chain bookstore here in Canada that like many other chain bookstores has become less about books and more about becoming a “lifestyle store” with everything from pillows to coffee mugs, to clothing. Oh, and a few books. I went looking for Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life – a book about the importance of libraries and similar public infrastructure to the health of a community. A reader suggested it and I even got to start on it after waiting weeks for my turn to come up in the library hold queue but had to return it before finishing it. Today I look again and see that if I put it on hold, there are 60 people in front of me waiting. I don’t want to wait that long and also know that if I am unable to read it before it is due back I’ll have to wait again in the queue. This is a book to buy. (If you’re curious about some of the details of the book, check out the 99% Invisible podcast episode in which the author, Eric Klinenberg is interviewed. It’s a good one)
I walk in the door and head straight for the computer to look it up.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a book whose whole point is saying how great libraries are, isn’t available at a massive chain bookstore. I think I’m going to have to go look at an independent bookstore instead.