In Praise of Libraries!

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

Everybody has been to the Library. Or some Library in their lives at some point. And there are all kinds! From Grade school to The Congress of the United States of America. And every single one of them is well used. They are formidable sources of information. They can shed light on almost any subject you can conjure up. Libraries can inspire you just by showing you the wealth of information and thoughtful discourse that has already happened before you even appeared. They can give you a place of study that is focused and quiet. They can change you mind, formulate your opinions, and argue against you. Libraries can introduce you to people who inspire you with their wisdom, or knowledge, or compassion, or leadership, and all other manner of Human behaviour. Libraries can show you every known culture in the world, and explain all the things that make us all people of earth. They can prove to you that challenges can be met, and that obstacles can be overcome. Libraries can show you hope, and they can teach you history. All under one roof. When people want to research for themselves they go to the Library. When people want the truth, they go to the Library.

For the good sake of us all there is one in just about every neighbourhood. I’ve never, that I know of, been to a place that didn’t have, or restricted the use of, Libraries. I am sure that they exist, but I don’t know that I have every been there. Seems to me that Libraries are the very centre of all good things! Libraries can let people learn the things no one wants to teach them. Libraries let you find out the truth for yourself. That the mere fact that they exist is an act of freedom. Expressed by the people who fund Libraries. And in our case that would be the tax payer, you and me. And I have no problem with it. I know how to use them because they taught us how in grade school. One of the few useful things they did teach us. And I do hope more people would make use of the fist full of services that Public Libraries offer. Losing them would seem to me be losing a piece of our freedom. Of giving away access to knowledge. And of cutting ourselves off from ever having an attainable truth.


 

I’ve had a running love affair with Libraries that, although slow starting, picked up steam quickly and has never left me. In grade school it was the room with the rugs, and had that old teacher the loved books more than people, wore the glasses with the rope on them, and was always happy until you made too much noise. The books were mostly picture books, and you read them right there, unless you signed one out for the weekend. It was a fun room, but you had to be quiet, so I didn’t spend too much time there.

In High School it was different. It was bigger. And there were lots more books. There were things you could look up, and you had to go to the stacks to find were it might be in that really big room. You could often get hidden, behind the shelves of books. Ours was converted from the old Gym, and had partial second floor the ran the outside of almost the whole room with a wide staircase in the middle and large two story windows opposite, creating a sort of mini mezzanine in the middle of the room. We had our favourite place in the corner by the fire exit. This Library was also run by a person who had a rope on his glasses. But he was not always happy, and not very nice. At least not to us loud and trouble prone boys. (We often demonstrated the proper procedure for cardiac arrest right in the middle of that mini mezzanine. A subject, usually my buddy Andrew, would drop to the floor demonstrating the effects of a full on cardiac arrest, squirming on the floor, and screaming in pain. A “First Responder”, usually me, would rush up and start pounding on his chest screaming things we heard from that show about fire trucks “Emergency” on TV the night before.

The crowd loved it.

The glasses wearing, book hoarding, silence loving, Mr. Schwartz, not so much.)

That is were I got to know about Libraries. Loved when I figured out that you could look up a “subject”, not just a book, and finds things that you didn’t know existed; When I figured out Libraries like to number things funny; Realizing that most of the books there someone thought was worth the read; When you figured out what a bibliography was and how to use it! Really broke my teeth in that Library.

The second floor was all study cubicles and is where you went when you were behind and had to get shit done. As in:

“Where’s Fe?”

“Upstairs”

“Oooohhhh. soooo”

“Don’t go up there, dude. He’s got shit to do.

“How do you know?”

“He’s upstairs!?! Wow! You paying attention? I got ball. Later.”

The Library was the place to get your project done. For the first three years of high school all the information you would need was in the school Library. Was it a choice on the list of things you could write about? Shit’s in the Library. Until you got to grade 12. In grade 12 and 13, suddenly our fantastic Library that used to be a Gym was too small?!We had to go to the reference Library on Yonge St.

Now, that place was huge! It had just opened. I wondered to myself how they could call such a great building a Library and get away with it? Four floors! It was mind blowing! There was no end to the stuff they had. A waterfall in the lobby, and elevators, and meeting rooms, and escalators, huge plants, and computers to look things up, and very easy to find stuff. Books, periodicals, magazines, maps, films, newspapers, mico film, video tape, and more, on everything we would ever need. (Or so we thought.) And most people in there were there to get some work done. There was no noise, no messing about. There are some fantastic study areas that we found. We discovered a whole new world of study, where going there was met with respect. And we loved that. I spent more than a few hours in that building. Those great big desks with the lights above. You needed the room. Spread your shit out so you can see it all. You had to find the things you wanted to use, make all your notes, write for hours so people could read it, and then read it over to make sure you hadn’t messed up. Heaven help you if you had to do something over. There was a lot of stuff to do! It was a great place to work.


 

University Of Regina had a library and though I was not there long, I did frequent the place. Regina is built in a small depression in the prairie. And although the University is just outside the city, it too sits in a small depression. A valley of sorts. The Library had four floors, I think. As a building it was pretty non-descript. A simple building housing books. But from the third floor and up you were twenty to forty feel above the plain. And you could see for miles. The first time I went up there I watched a storm cross north of Regina. A full on thunderstorm with lightning and rain. All miles away. Stunning. It took hours. And I watched every minute. I had never seen anything like that. From that height you have nothing in your way. You can see for hundreds of kilometres. And even on a nice day it’s breathtaking. Right beside the University was a water way. A wet lands that was pretty big. As it turns out it is a resting place for thousands and thousands of migrating birds. One of the largest through fares for migrating Geese on the continent. Hundreds of thousands of birds pass through this place to and from the south on their migration. I first noticed because I sat facing west. toward the water way. I didn’t sit facing north at the fantastic view knowing I wouldn’t get any work done. Then I heard this noise and looked up to see five hundred birds get up out of the water and start to form a “V” as they headed south. Then five hundred more flew in from the north and took their place. It went on all day long. Flock leaving, flock arriving. Hundreds of birds in a flock. Thousands of birds in the water. I never got any work done in that Library, but I loved going.

The Small Town Library was kinda weak when we got there. A small single story building that clearly had been something else before, seemed crammed and unorganized. But they built a new one. And it is impressive for a town of that size. Three stories, with a mezzanine in the middle. It reminded me a lot to Toronto Reference Library, except a lot smaller. Very clean. Things are well laid out. Fifty years of modern small town libraries and it looks as though they have it figured out. Large kids area that is separate from the rest of the building, which is pretty much open for three floors, and things easy to find. Run all sorts of great programs out of there. Staff is friendly and helpful, as well as avid readers themselves. I never had to do any work there, but it had a great atmosphere. Great building. I do love that place.

Now that I am downtown, I have been frequenting the Riverdale Chapter of the Toronto Public Library. And it is different than all the others. Right on the corner of Broadview and Gerrard it’s housed in a one floor older building that has some historical significance, I think. Lovely rounded windows look out over Broadview Ave. on one side and Gerrard St. on the other. It has a spacious kids area, and a large meeting room for lots of classes that seem to be there every day. It’s very much a functioning Library. It has a good amount of material for the local users, most of whom do not speak English at home. It has access to everything in the system if you care to order it. It is well staffed by a courteous and knowledgable staff. It is a bit tired, I grant you. The building is not the highlight of this place. It’s the Characters that frequent it’s warm surroundings.


On the Broadview side, inside the windows is an area of large chairs to sit and do work, or read. The regulars come to this spot to claim their chair and read the dailies. And, like any good Library, they have all of the dailies. The Globe and Mail, The Star, The National, as well as many Chinese newspapers and magazines. One guy seems to be in charge of the Chinese dailies and who reads what and in what order. He sits in a particular chair, a grey haired man with a friendly face. He knows every Chinese person who comes in that area it seems. And he distributes the papers as he sees the need. Even the Librarians come and give him the papers if they arrive after he does. And when you finish your Chinese daily, you give it back to him for redistribution. And he is there all morning, although it does seem he gets home for lunch. Even people who don’t know him will ask him questions. One day a younger guy, clearly not Chinese, was there and was asking him a question about what was in the paper. He tried Chinese, and I am sorry I do not know the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese, and the old guy quickly went to English. But he had a few things he could say, and the old guy was impressed. He asked him a few things and the Old guy told his friends “He speaks a little” about his linguistic skills. Sometimes when a paper comes back to him he will quickly take it to another person who is sitting somewhere else. Almost like they were waiting for it to become free. And the all speak Chinese to each other and it’s not quiet. But it’s fine, and it’s not constant. They need to speak, so they speak. Most of the library is Chinese. They might be Vietnamese, as there is large community in the neighbourhood, but I think this particular group that frequent this library are Chinese. There is an Indian man who comes in to sleep. And sleep he does. I can ofter hear him snore. Funny thing about it is that when he comes in he doesn’t take any of his outer clothes off. There he is in his sweater, and Jacket, hat and boots, in the chair fast asleep. I was thinking that I might tell him to take them off so that when he goes outside he won’t be so cold. I haven’t done that yet. And there are the occasional guys who bring a bunch of stuff in to the Library and take a rest. Some of them clearly live on the street. Some of them I am not so sure. And we have had recently a new resident. An older lady who clearly has some world experience. Takes off her big coat and reads the paper in the sunshine from the window. Clearly not Chinese, and new. Not sure how many times I will see her in there. Then there are the singers. Yes singers. Once a guy came walkin’ in. He did not read, or look at a paper. or pick up anything. He had his headset on. He just sat there, clearly bidding his time for something else. Real tough guy, young, and mean looking. He had his rap on his head phones, but was singing none the less. “”Stayin with your master” was the line I think he repeated over and over again. There was another guy there trying to do work and was getting totally distracted by this, but he didn’t say anything. No one did. It really didn’t bother me. Kind of reminded me of my dad who had one song when we were younger that he would only ever sing one line from; “When I grow, To old to dream”. As it turns out my brother years later discovered that he had the words wrong. But it drove us crazy when he would start. This guy was the same, only it has no tune. It’s rap, so just this line repeated over and over again, for about forty minutes straight. No one said a word. I kind of wish I had, but it really wasn’t bothering me. I can shut that stuff out most times. Or hear it and notice it and not loose my concentration. Good trait for the library, by the way. A lot of people come to use the computer. They sit at one of the 20 or so that they have there. Some are in for a bit, some once a week, some all day. They all wear headsets and seem to be in their own world. I will say that those computers are almost full fifteen minutes after the place opens.

As I mentioned, the staff is helpful and polite. For the most part. After listening to some of the things that go on there, I am was surprised they were so friendly. It’s not a big place. When you talk people can hear you. There is just no getting away from it. And the staff have to run the place, answer the phone, and help people make the best use of this service. So you can hear them. They are very helpful. Until you try and do something stupid. Then they become Staff. They don’t need your shit, and certainly aren’t ready to take it. And it that neighbourhood they need to be ready to deal with assholes all the time. I heard one guy come to the counter when I was in there once. It started nice enough: “I know you guys work hard and run a great place, but all you guys do is tell us that we need to be quiet. And yet all I hear is you people fucking talking on and on! Why the fuck is that?” There was no answer, so he continued: “I mean we all got to talk, but for christ sake do we have to listen to it constantly?” At that point I stood up. I could see the person behind the counter, but not the guy addressing her. She was crimson, and was holding her breath waiting for him to finish so she could ask him to leave. There is a security guard there, although from the look of him I have no idea what he would do in a real crisis. He wandered over to show support, so I sat back down. The entire place can hear the conversation, so this guy is getting away with nothing. She then asked him to leave, and he did, after a few other words. It was all good in the end. I was just amazed that anyone would say that to a librarian! I mean, DUDE.! Get a life! Volunteer! Do something more productive that shitting on the Librarian at your local Library.

It’s a great place to go. I love seeing all the people, saying good morning. Even the staff has noticed me now. So it’s good. And the smells and the noise, and the faces all just confirm that we are all just part of a big pot of delicious differences. And it’s fun to enjoy it. It’s fun to see it after twenty years of not. Fun to hear it. Seems to me that that is the beauty that is life. Change, difference, people. Mix them together and it’s so fascinating and fulfilling all at the same time. A chance to relish in simple human emotions. All while you get your emails done and download one more episode. The Library; all sorts of useful activities. Research, reading, learning, quiet time, free wifi, and some downtown theatre as well! Worth the price of admission every time.

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