I use the library a lot.
Specifically, the Toronto Public Library.
As a child my family and I spent a lot of time there. Every Saturday we found ourselves at the Cedarbrae Public Library, partaking in the free programming they offered. For us, the library was an inexpensive place for families to read, learn, and have fun. I got to borrow and read a lot of books, watch puppet shows and, listen to storytellers with my mom and siblings. We didn’t have much, but we had the library, which was a whole lot.
As a teen, the library continued to play a positive role in my life. I even worked at my high school library for a year or two. I still loved books and enjoyed reading but was starting to read less. While in University I barely spent time in the library, but we were still connected. We had a ‘borrow and return’ relationship. “Studying-in-the-library” seemed like the thing to do when you’re in university. But when I tried studying there I couldn’t focus, it was too quiet. But times have changed.
Gone are the days when you have to be super quiet and leave your food outside. Gone are the days when librarians busy themselves telling loud talkers to “sshhh”. The library is a place for everyone. Its doors are open to everyone. Literally. Young kids playing hide-and-seek, couples having arguments or discussing their finances, homeless people, people struggling with mental health, unemployed people, successful people, students, babies, the elderly and so on.
I’m a teacher, student, writer and mom, kind of library people. As such, I continue to spend a lot of time there. As a teacher, it’s a place for me to collect reading materials to support my teaching and student’s learning, as well it’s a place for us to visit as a class. As a student, it’s a quiet place for me to complete my readings and papers. And when I need a break, I simply take a little walk to the Children’s section and read the first two books that catch my attention. As a writer who doesn’t mind some noise in the background, the library is an ideal place to reflect and, of course write. Lastly, as a mom it’s a place for my son and I to take part in programming for babies and their parents, as well as simply hang out, read and play. As a mom, the library is a safe space for my son to play, explore and learn. We are library people.On mine and baby boy’s last visit to the library before the Christmas holidays began, I took note of a notice displaying the library’s Christmas holiday schedule. They weren’t going to be open as much as they usually were. Upon realizing this, I felt sad. Sad, because our trips to the library would cease for the next few weeks, and because all the people to whom the library is a safe haven wouldn’t have access. I wondered what they would do and how they would endure the temporary closures during a time of the year that is joyous for many, but also extremely difficult for many others. Where would they go? What would they do?
I would be home surrounded by loved ones during one of my favourite times of the year, Christmas, and the birth of my baby boy who turned one on New Year’s Eve. So, while I would miss our regular visits to the library for a short while, I had very pleasant distractions to indulge and partake in. As much as we love and value the library, baby boy and I would be fine. We are those lucky people who don’t rely on the library for warmth, books, access to computers and free wifi. We are blessed and I’m grateful. But this isn’t the case for everyone. These are the people I was thinking of as we walked home from our last visit to the library last month.
The library is a special place. Every time I enter the library I feel a deep sense of calm, even if just moments before I was feeling stressed about a looming deadline, lack of sleep or my usual, over-thinking. The library is never empty. No matter what time I go, it’s busy. And to think, past Mayor, Rob Ford tried to say people don’t use the library
anymore <insert eye rolling emoji>. Every time I enter the library I think about all of the people I see and can’t help but wonder what brings them to this place of books. I wonder about the young man who sits at a computer and intermittently jumps out of his seat and screams. I wonder about the woman who sits for hours in a corner with dark sunglasses on. I wonder about the moms with their little ones. Are they like me, in need of a change of environment, different stimuli? Maybe they are newcomers trying to get their bearings in a new land. Maybe they are secret lovers. I wonder, is the library more of an escape from some monster in their life? A safe place? Either way, whatever the incentive, they are library people.
For some, maybe even many, the library is indeed an escape. An escape from abuse in its varying forms. An escape from familial and societal pressures. It’s a place to soul search and feel comfortable in one’s own skin. It’s a space to feel safe and warm. It’s a place for people to escape disappointment, to seek knowledge. It’s a magical place that supports learning and accomplishing goals. The library helps people dream and keep faith in their journeys. The library is warmth, access to computers and free wifi. It has books, audiobooks, magazines, CD’s, DVD’s, electronic books, multilingual books, braille books and much more. It’s a space that holds and honours creativity, knowledge and perseverance. It’s a space to focus, to study, to grow.
I’ve always struggled with focusing while at home. It’s too comfortable. Too full of distractions. Which can make it tricky for a writer. But through reflection, I figure out how to get done what I need done. Throughout last year, I kept on receiving a recurring message. First from a naturopath and then repeatedly from several accomplished writers. Designate time for writing. Treat it like a job. During that time, everyone is to leave me be and let me write. It’s my time. I never implemented it though. Instead, I was staying up late and writing or writing early in the morning. It was exhausting and I’m exhausted. I can’t maintain that type of schedule anymore. So, my ‘me time’, my ‘writing time’ will take place at the library 2-3 times a week. I’ve promised myself this time.
Without a doubt, the library is a haven for many people. For me, it’s a place to breathe, to feel free, to read, to write, to clear and clarify my thoughts. I can only imagine the many reasons that bring the millions of people who use the world’s busiest library system.
The Toronto Public Library system is an integral part of the city. It offers more than I’ve yet to discover. I look forward to taking advantage of what it has to offer. Out of the 100 libraries within the Toronto Public Library system, my visits have taken me to 13 of them; including, Cedarbrae, Albert Campbell, Fairview, Thorncliffe, Kennedy/Eglinton, McGregor Park, Morningside, Yorkwoods, Malvern, Burrows Hall, Bridlewood, The Toronto Reference Library and the 100th library at the Scarborough Civic Centre. Before the year ends I’d like to get that number up, starting with a visit to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books.
I’ve registered for a writing workshop next month, and am contemplating several others. Gone are the days when people go to the library only for books. There are programs and workshops for all ages to meet the needs of the diverse communities that make Toronto.
I’ve paid more than my share of late fees. And despite email reminders I’ll continue to pay late fees. I’ve always paid them willingly, knowing I messed up and that the money is going to a good cause.
Anyway, the Toronto Public Library is a really cool place for a whole lot of reasons. If you haven’t been to a library in a while, take a trip to the one most convenient for you. Once there, What do you notice about it? How does it make you feel? Are you library people?
-A note from the Toronto Public Library – Whether you are a Library user, or not, if you stand by the core values of Toronto Public Library, and you understand the importance of public libraries and how they enrich the lives of Torontonians… then you are Library People. You believe in equity, diversity, intellectual freedom, innovation, inclusion, integrity, accountability and quality service for everyone in Toronto.