"I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture, and our concern for the future, can all be tested by how well we support our libraries." - Carl Sagan
So many of my favourite movies have really terrific library scenes. Here are a few:
  1. In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins builds his prison a library out of a quiet passion for reading and education.
  2. In The Station Agent, Peter Dinklage moves to an inherited and abandoned train station, and in his new town encounters community at his local library, while attempting to borrow a book on trains.
  3. The Breakfast Club takes place in one beauty of a high school library.
I'm a huge fan of public libraries. I think they speak a lot about the character of a city and how much value it places on community and reading and the openness of ideas. It is about books, but it's also about more than books - it's about access to information, skills, neighbourhoods, people. Caleb and I recently took a short trip to San Francisco, and while slightly lost, we entered into the Chinatown Branch of San Fran's Library system. We were specifically looking to take the cable car, and not the regular transit, and the librarians all started discussing the best way to do this in Cantonese. I love that no matter where you are, you can walk into a library, and find people who are ready to help you in whatever way you need, and that the materials and often librarians themselves are a reflection of the neighbourhoods they're in. When I was a university student, I studied English and a lot of my textbooks were novels. My university library often didn't have enough copies in stock, and so I ended up getting a Kingston Public Library card and borrowing my texts from there. My first experience with Toronto libraries was during my teaching placements, when I was back and forth between Toronto for my 4-week teaching placements and Kingston for teachers' college classes. My associate teacher told me he had to run because he had to get to his library holds before his library closed. By coincidence, I happened to meet a new friend who worked for the library and who said I could get a card because I worked in Toronto. It's rare that I can identify turning points in my life like this, but I'm not joking when I say my relationship with Toronto truly changed after I got a library card. Having been born and raised in a small town, I was astounded at the size and breadth of Toronto's libraries. According to Wikipedia, Toronto Public Library is the "largest neighbourhood-based library system in the world," and many of their branches are architecturally beautiful. For a short while, I tried to visit all 98 branches (at the time, I think they've opened up more locations since), although I gave up after around 30. I'm also a big believer in the TTC, so I tried to visit branches via public transit, but let me tell you, some of these branches are pretty far out. I think that was probably my problem: I figured I'd get the hardest ones out of the way first, but a trip could be 3 hours on a subway and two buses one way, and by the time I got home I was wiped out. After I landed my first permanent teaching job, I moved to the east end of the city, and my local library was the Main Street Branch. The Main Street Branch is small enough that the librarians and clerks know you by name, and can discuss with you what you're borrowing. To this day, it's one of my favourite branches, although shortly after I moved there, an incident with a crossbow shooting occurred inside. I, however, am not easily deterred.
Caleb outside the Queen and Saulter Branch, with his own bag of books.
Today I bring Caleb to the library once a week - we go to the Queen and Saulter branch. He knows the routine, we read a few books together, then he's allowed to pick two books to borrow, and then we have to spend some time looking at my books. Depending on his mood, I have anywhere from 2-5 minutes to pick out my books - it's irrelevant to him that we just spent half an hour reading books on tow trucks. I love that he already knows how to return books, where the section of books on trucks and vehicles are, how to borrow books at the self-checkout. I want to raise children who know how to go to the library, and, I hope, go there themselves. As a small business family, we consider ourselves lucky to be able to put diapers on our babe and dinner on the table, but we'll always find money for books, second-hand or otherwise. That being said, libraries are about so much more than books - story times and discovering books on shelves and responsibility and community and whole new worlds. In any case, a few months ago, the library asked me to compile a list of recommended reads to put on their website. What an honour! And what pressure.  
  I ended up picking a few books related to slowing down, writing, correspondence, and analogue tool - some recent new reads, or favourite books from years past. Please check it out! I'm sure many of these titles may be familiar to some of you as well. As we barrel on into these cooler and colder months, I'm finding my plans for reading growing as I envision snuggling deep into blankets - although I also find as spring comes and warm weather is on the way, the same rush of ambition for new books is there again. I hope some of these books may interest you, or at the very least, inspire a visit to your own local library.

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October 13, 2017 — wonderpens



Amy said:

I spent a significant portion of my childhood going to the main Street branch everyday after school while both my parents worked, this brought back feels. Libraries are so important!


Anonymous said:

They are! What a great resource for families and communities. The Main Street Branch was my first “home” branch after I moved to Toronto – a lot of good memories there for me, too!

Texas Leigh

Texas Leigh said:

Liz, your love of libraries comes through in your essay. You are doing a wonderful job teaching Caleb the joy of books, reading, and libraries. Thank you for the superb book list. I’m passing on a link to your article to the dean of libraries at the University of Houston. She’ll enjoy reading it.


Anonymous said:

Thank you so much for reading! And all the way from Texas, what a thrill.

It’s so important to try and pass on a love of reading and community, and I can only hope Caleb will grow up to be the kind of human that is informed by stories and people. Beyond being a “responsible citizen” I think there’s something very integral to the idea of the human spirit that is transformed by a childhood of exploring other worlds through books and libraries and neighbourhoods of people.


Anonymous said:

Type was quite close to us when we were on the west end, just on the other side of Trinity Bellwoods! I have never been to the Forest Hill location, though.

You absolutely must visit Eliot’s, at Yonge and Wellesley, which I hear is thinking of closing down! It’s a three floors of used books, full of charm, and I’m disappointed to hear of the possibility of closure. Back when Jon was working in the financial district, I used to visit Ben McNally when I was waiting for him to get off work, and it’s a very nice new book store, although I’m rarely in the area these days. Another favourite is She Said Boom, in Roncesvalles – I lived there when I first moved to Toronto and got my first teaching job.

And, there is a brand new bookstore that just opened up near us in Leslieville, called Queen Books, which is beautiful inside.

The more I think about it, the more I realize how fortunate our city is to have so many wonderful bookshops in so many neighbourhoods!


Anonymous said:

Wow, I’m impressed! I have been to a few more now, since I’ve given up keeping track, and I love seeing the differences in the older, historic libraries and some of the new modern ones. Maybe one day it’ll be a summer challenge for us and Caleb and the TTC – he loves the subway and the streetcars.


Anonymous said:

Such love and respect for all that you do! Librarians are sometimes underappreciated in this age of Google and technology, but so much of the programming and community building is so important to the fabric of our neighbourhoods.


Pat said:

Wow! Thank you for your post.

I love the TPL system and miss it a lot since moving to Waterloo (where the city only has 3 library branches).

I try to visit different library branches every time I go back to visit family. I use one of the Library Passports (http://www.torontolibrarypassport.com) to help me keep track and incentivize my exploring. I’ll definitely check out your reading recommendations

On an unreleated note, I’m so thrilled to see that you’re starting to stock Tattly :) Those are so much fun to wear! Especially for Halloween :D


Anonymous said:

I know what you mean! I grew up in Hamilton and frequented the Hamilton-Wentworth libraries, which are actually excellent, but of course a city the size of Toronto has many more resources and programming available.

I have seen the TPL Passports! Back when I tried to visit each of the branches, I kept all the receipts along with a map, meaning I borrowed something from every branch I visited. It was before I had a smart phone, so I used to have to look up the addresses ahead of time, and wrote down directions on my map. I don’t have it anymore, but maybe I will have to try one of these passports!

Caleb is also thrilled with the tattoos. For a while he had a watch one on each wrist, and was completely delighted every time you asked him what time it was.

Ruth E. Martin

Ruth E. Martin said:

For me, one of the highlights of Scriptus is its venue. Walking into the Toronto Reference Library last year for the first time was almost like a religious experience for me! What a tremendous resource, and a beautiful building to boot. Toronto is truly blessed in its library system. And my own little rural library ain’t bad, either! :) I’m definitely an habitué there, and you’re right, it’s a wonderful feeling when the staff knows you by name!


Anonymous said:

I attended a Book Sale at the Reference Library earlier this year, and got some real treasures! I truly love how the Reference Library and many branches are community and city meeting places for us. Unfortunately the Reference Library is more of a research library, and while I have spent some time there collecting books when I was a teacher, for example for a history unit, I haven’t spent as much time there since, as they don’t children’s programming etc. The Reference Library is beautiful though, and every time we go, Caleb asks to ride those glass elevators.
At the cottage, we sometimes attend the children’s story time, and I think I love these tiny branches the most. These places that know my and Caleb’s name, where you don’t even need your library card to check things out!


Anonymous said:

We’ll hope to see you soon! But if your travels don’t bring back into our neighbourhood, I’ll hope that you had time for a visit to your local library. There’s nothing like the library in fall :)

Thanks so much for reading!


Cecily said:

As a librarian, this speaks to me. Great job, Liz (and Caleb, and Chicken)!


Peter said:

I also love the TPL system. It is perhaps my favourite thing about Toronto (other than Wonder Pens, of course!).

I have been lucky enough to visit all 100 branches of the TPL, several times over. And all by TTC. It is a great way to explore the city, and have a look into the many varied neighbourhoods that hide behind all of the main streets.

You produced a great list of reads for the TPL, Liz. Well done!


Patricia said:

Liz, love your ode to public libraries and your recommended reading list. I haven’t been to your wonderful store for some time, but your latest blog reminds me to get back to your store and to my local library.

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