Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Public Library Love

I'm having a passionate love affair. I know, I know: it can't last. But it's so glorious! The hours of pleasure, the constant checking in...I'll get my heart broken eventually. It's inevitable. Unavoidable. But the sweetness now is so wonderful that I can't tear myself away.

My friends, I have fallen in love with the public library.

Lame! Or? Awesome! I'm going with awesome, since the Stratford Public Library is just so wonderful. It's a big brick building, built right where downtown Stratford starts to bleed into its residential surrounds, with great shady trees on its front lawn. It's air-conditioned, which, given this preposterous heat wave, is a total boon. Originally one of the Carnegie libraries - of the 2500 hundred he helped build, it was one of 125 Canadian projects - the Stratford Public Library is a three-story storehouse of stories. And movies. And music.

I'm not a frequent user of the Toronto Public Library, since I still owe them sixty-four dollars in overdue fines from 2003. I find the Toronto system kind of annoying, to be honest: while the Stratford library has a wide selection of books, the Toronto libraries nearest my house hold special-interest collections: the Spadina branch is home to the Native People's Resource Collection, which, I'm sorry, but I just don't care about, while the Lillian H. Smith branch houses a large children's collection I'm not privy to unless accompanied by a child. The way people are expected to use the Toronto system is to work with inter-library loans: since most branches don't have most books, people ask for the books to be whizzed around the city, and they'll be delivered to your home branch in a matter of days.

I'm an immediate gratification kind of gal, so I hate waiting for things to come through on the Toronto system. The whole appeal of the library is to go and browse, grabbing novels and CDs, maybe a memoir or an anthology, and then meandering towards the checkout with your treasures hugged to your chest. If I have to ask, and then wait, and then pick starts feeling like less of a treasure and more of a chore. Like homework. Like a drag.

The first time I went to Robarts, the University of Toronto's mega-library and notorious eyesore, I got teary. Not because it was mystical and magical; I was miserable. In high school, I used to cheer myself up from particularly black moods by stopping in at the library - at the very least, no-one is going to talk to you, and there was always the chance of stumbling across some life-affirming book. Robarts, on the other hand, uses the Library of Congress shelving system (instead of dependable old Dewey), and is a lightless repository of moldering books no one could possibly give a shit about. It was disheartening to walk those stacks, knowing that the next four (what? Okay, eight) years of my life were going to be spent in a place that considered this soulless cipher of a library the ultimate in biblioacheivement.

It's funny, because in most cases, I'm usually firmly planted in the "Toronto blows Stratford out of the water" camp...but thinking about this library sort of makes me feel warm towards my bedraggled hometown. The public library here is a friendly, welcoming place - one where, over the years, I've probably funded a wing or two with my overdue fines - just stuffed with interesting stuff. It's airy, full of light, and doesn't take itself too seriously, and works in the ways it's supposed to. It gives you the books you want. And the movies, and the music.


  1. Sometimes small towns get a worse rep than they deserve, with an open window I can regularly here Hanover teens insult the ground they walk on, and it's a real downer. It's nice to hear some one appreciate what they have :)

  2. I occurred to me very recently that I owed a great deal of my childhood education and reading habits to the good ol' SPL. When I hear about public library closures in the States, I'm discouraged by the thought of a childhood (let alone an adulthood) where access to free reading materials isn't possible.
    Thumbs up SPL. :)

  3. I too love the public library. The best part is you don't actually have to go there to search for books, you just sign in to your Toronto Public Library account, type in the book you want, select it and have it delivered to your nearest branch. THEN THEY PHONE YOU WHEN IT COMES IN! Lickety split, in and out!

  4. Even though I just re read part of that and it said you hate that kind of stuff. I love it. DIfferent strokes.

  5. True say. And, using the interlibrary loan system here in Stratford has opened my eyes to the wonders of having something free and available in next to no time. I might be a convert. Maybe.