Scarborough Civic Centre Gets a Library

Originally published on Torontoist on May 19, 2015.

20150519frontview_small

Many things strike you at once when you approach the new Scarborough Civic Centre library branch: the angles and curves designed to complement those on the surrounding 1970s civic buildings, designed by architect Raymond Moriyama; the extensive use of Quebec spruce for the beams; the scent of freshly baked cookies drifting in from the Mondelez factory to the northwest.

The finishing touches are still being applied as the Toronto Public Library’s 100th branch prepares for its public opening Wednesday, May 20 at 10 a.m. The building continues a tradition of library service in Scarborough stretching back to the dawn of the 19th century, when pioneers David and Mary Thomson loaned fellow settlers volumes from their private library.

While Moriyama and local officials envisioned a library branch as part of the Scarborough Civic Centre from the site’s construction during the 1970s, no funding was provided. A master plan developed by pre-amalgamation Scarborough in the early 1990s included a new central library, but it wasn’t until 2009 that city councillors approved the current site at 156 Borough Drive. At the time, library planning guidelines indicated that all residents should be within 1.6 kilometres of a library branch, but the closest to the civic centre, Bendale, was nearly 4 kilometres away. Public consultations were held throughout the first half of 2010, and construction began in April 2013.

20150519centralareaview_small

As designed by LGA Architectural Partners, the branch is filled with natural light. Sightlines allow users to see both across the library and outside to the park across the road. A series of roof planes create a series of swooping layers supporting a green roof. Future exterior landscaping will include a reading garden under a grove of trees to the east and an open civic space to the west.

The TPL’s third Digital Innovation Hub is housed at the library, offering access to programs and 3D printing equipment similar to the labs offered at Fort York branch and the Toronto Reference Library. Future expansion of the digital technology program includes hubs at Agincourt and Fairview branches, as well the development of pop-up hubs elsewhere in the system.

For children, the KidsStop Early Literacy Centre offers a series of interactive activities housed within three towers decorated with pennies and local dried herbs.

20150519woot_small

Anne Bailey, the director of branch libraries for the TPL, feels that having 100 branches in the system is a wonderful achievement. “It speaks to Toronto as a city of neighbourhoods,” she notes, “and it speaks to Toronto as a city of readers who are interested in learning, in being engaged in the community, in moving into the 21st century.”

Don’t expect branch number 101 to appear anytime soon, though, as the TPL is focusing on maintaining its existing infrastructure and developing digital services. Moving branches is one option to improve facilities—St. Lawrence is slated to relocate to the first Parliament site and grow into a district branch, while plans are being developed with the Parks, Forestry & Recreation and Children’s Services to create a joint-use facility near Bessarion station to replace the Bayview branch.

Advertisements

Freedom to Read and Reconsider at the Toronto Public Library

Originally published on Torontoist on February 25, 2014.

20140225ftrwdisplay

Freedom to Read Week display at the Maria A. Shchuka branch.

Although the Toronto Public Library possesses a number of controversial holdings, few people are outraged enough to demand that items be withdrawn from its collection: it’s reassuring to consider, especially during this Freedom to Read Week, that on the whole, Torontonians support the public’s right to access materials considered offensive, and to do so via a local TPL branch.

The TPL outlines its position on contentious items and the importance of free debate in its Materials Selection Policy:

The Library believes that a vital society encourages members of its community to actively participate in an open exchange of ideas and opinions. Material selectors consequently strive to provide the widest possible range of resources within Toronto Public Library collections.

The content or manner of expressing ideas in material that is purposely selected to fill the needs of some library users, may, on occasion, be considered to be offensive by other library users. The library recognizes the right of any individual or group to reject library material for personal use, but does not accord to any individual or group the right to restrict the freedom of others to make use of that same material.

Yet there are, inevitably, patrons who wish to restrict that freedom, or to prevent items containing inaccurate or outdated information from circulating freely. And for such patrons, the TPL has developed a formal process. So what do these patrons do if they want the library to take a book off the shelf?

First, they ask their local librarian for a “Request for Reconsideration of Library Material” form. Once they’ve filled it out, it goes to the Collection Development department, where the manager reviews the request and contacts them if any clarification is needed. Then, the request is sent on to a librarian committee for review, and a response is issued within 12 weeks.

Since 2000, around 100 requests for reconsideration have been filed—and only nine items have been removed. The most recent title to be pulled, Date Rape: A Violation of Trust, was withdrawn from the video collection in 2012 because it, “while well-intentioned, reinforces stereotypes and lacks diversity and is, therefore, not appropriate as an educational tool in Toronto’s multiracial and multicultural environment.” Other titles have vanished for reasons including libel threats, unreliable accounts of Romanian history, bad advice on passing business accreditation exams, outdated information on dairy farming—and being poorly produced knockoffs of Pixar films made by the highly esteemed Video Brinquedo studio (What’s Up: Balloon to the Rescue).

Other reconsidered titles find new homes within the library system. Tintin in the Congo, for example, which features controversial depictions of Africans, was moved from the children’s collection to the adult graphic novel section in 2010. Not all suggestions from complainants can be acted upon: one 2003 complaint about eye weekly urged the library to provide copies sans escort ads. And in 2006, a patron requested that a rabbi review the content of Sarah Silverman’s film Jesus is Magic.

20140225rorpageone

Front page of the Toronto Public Library’s “Request for Reconsideration of Library Material” form.

The most popular requests for consideration between 2000 and 2013? It’s a tie between Maxim magazine (2005 and 2006; one request suggested users be IDed lest it fall into the hands of innocent youth) and Robert Kaplow’s The Cat Who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun, a raunchy parody of The Cat Who… mystery series (2005 and 2007).

Library staff have not noticed trends in the complaints, and are proud of how few requests for reconsideration come in. Vickery Bowles, director of Collections Management and City-Wide Services, feels this reflects Torontonians’ “appreciation for the breadth and depth of our collections and the fact we are living in a large urban setting.” She believes that the public senses that “intellectual freedom in the public library setting is very important” and that the widest variety of available materials should be offered.

Richview librarian Kara Miley notes that discussion with staff can calm angry patrons. “Half the time they just want to rant at somebody—they want to think that you’re listening to them. If you let them just rant, they tend to lose steam.” Miley’s interest in censorship issues led her to put together a presentation as part of the library’s Freedom to Read Week activities. In “How to Ban a Book in 10 Easy Steps,” Miley focuses on the challenges libraries face elsewhere in North America, especially in the United States, where the merest hint of controversy damages an item’s acquisition chances. If you tackle topics like sex, racism, evolution, magic, and the Israel/Palestine conflict, be prepared.

What spares the TPL from many of the battles American librarians face are stronger protections via the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the anti-censorship policies of professional bodies like the Canadian Library Association. Plus, as Miley puts it, “I’d like to think we’re open and tolerant in Toronto.”

Vintage Toronto Ads: Carpet with Civic Fibres

Originally published on Torontoist on February 16, 2007.

Next time you visit the library, take a look at the carpeting and furniture. Does it make you want to linger with a good book or run through the checkout as fast as possible?
2007_02_16MRLcarpet.jpgThe Toronto Reference Library, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in November, was breaking itself in when today’s ad appeared. Judging from the number of people seen sleeping there, the carpet colours may be too easy on some readers’ eyes. Architect Raymond Moriyama’s design, with carpeted walls, easy-to-browse open shelves and the 70s see-through elevator, lends a comforting, cozy feel, turning short trips into lengthy stays, especially in winter. Moriyama’s firm is still involved in the building, contributing to its renewal plan.
 
The Reference Library’s roots date back to 1830, with the establishment of the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute (originally named York, until the city changed its name in 1834). Modeled after similar groups formed in Great Britain during the 1820s, its aim, according to Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, was “the mutual improvement of mechanics and others who become members of the society in arts and sciences by the formation of a library of reference and circulation, by the delivery of lectures on scientific and mechanical subjects embraced by this constitution from which all discussion of political or religious matters is to be carefully excluded.”

Originally located on Colborne St, the Institute moved to the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide in the mid-1850s. By 1858, the library consisted of 4,000 books, available to 800 paying members. A city bylaw passed in 1883 established a free public library system, which the Mechanics’ Institute was folded into. When the library opened to full public access the following spring, the rush of people wishing to use it quickly led to increased staff and multiple copies of popular titles.

In 1903, the city received a Carnegie grant to build a new central library and several branches, including Yorkville, Queen/Lisgar (now used by the city’s Public Health department) and Riverdale. When the new Toronto Reference Library opened at St. George and College in 1909, it contained nearly 100,000 books. The Institute building remained a branch through the late 1920s, the was used as offices by the city’s public welfare department until it was demolished in the late 1940s.
In 1967, the Metropolitan Toronto Library Board was established to handle the reference library and special collections acquired over the years. Moriyama presented his design in 1970, with construction underway by 1975. The old library was sold to the University of Toronto and now serves as the Koffler Student Services Centre, which includes the main branch of the U of T Bookstore.

Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.