Love letter to the Toronto Public Library: Sanderson


The Toronto Public Library is a beautiful thing; not a perfect thing, maybe, but a beautiful thing. Howsoever it may be imperfect is not my concern here; I’m interested only in singing its praises, exploring its myriad faces in terms of architecture, collection development, community, etc. I have assigned myself a Project, which it will take years to complete: I plan to visit all 98 branches of the TPL and post about each one.

No doubt what I find interesting enough to write about will change, but for me the important thing is the commitment to visit even the furthest flung reaches of TPL’s expansive galaxy. (Friends, I’m going to have to go into the suburbs. There be dragons in big, gas-guzzling cars driving down streets without sidewalks there.)

Why do I love TPL, besides the obvious reasons for loving any public library (a beautiful notion made concretely manifest in part by the early efforts of the brilliant Benjamin Franklin)? Lots of reasons, but that’s actually a completely adequate reason for this project, in my opinion. However, the Quest is also inspired in part by the fact that I fell deeply in love with the library the week before I defended my thesis: I went to a branch near my home to prepare for my defense; instead of engaging in said preparation, I randomly grabbed and then ended up getting completely absorbed in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Yes, one afternoon at the library planted the seed of my current obsession with the nineteenth century! That alone is enough to justify the gushing hyperbole I’m about to throw down.

So, a love letter in 98 parts begins here. First stop: Sanderson.


sanderson7 right side upThe Sanderson branch is at the semi-dodgy corner of Bathurst and Dundas in Toronto. It sits, in all its concrete 70s-style glory, kitty corner to a McDonald’s, a Tim Hortons, and fittingly, a hospital. It is housed in a larger community centre; behind it, there is a skate park and a pool; it is serviced by the very busy Bathurst streetcar line and the even busier Dundas line; it sits at the interstices of corporate facelessness and righteous indie pride (Kensington Market is a 5-minute walk away); it is hemmed in by subsidized housing on its east side and an extremely gentrified Little Italy on the other. It’s classic Toronto, in other words.

I had never been inside before and I was dazzled by its interior. It’s full of natural light, it’s got lots of wood paneling and concrete walls and ceilings. It really is a dream of 70s architectural ambition; it reminded me both of classrooms from my early university days and the lovely room where I got married (the Wedding Chambers in New City Hall–nothing says “Stay with me forever and forever” like wood paneling, concrete, and fake flowers).

Sanderson made me feel immediately cozy and nostalgic, in other words.

It was packed to the gills, as every TPL branch I’ve ever been to always is. And people were properly lounging in those chairs, feet in the air, heads resting on their chair backs, and being generally awesome in their quiet readerliness. I just wandered around a little, opened some books at random, admired everything about the branch, wished I worked there, took some photos, and then went back outside into the gritty grit of a hot summer day.

A photo montage of my delightful foray into Sanderson:

Even more 70s and concrete than you thought.
Even more 70s and concrete than you thought.


Never has "natter" been so appropriately used in a sentence.
Never has “natter” been so appropriately used in a sentence.


When I become an eccentric billionaire, I'm going to build a house that looks exactly like this inside.
When I become an eccentric billionaire, I’m going to build a house that looks exactly like this inside.


Reading nooks everywhere. Adorable.
Reading nooks everywhere. Adorable.


See, I didn't just go to the book place and gawp; I LEARNED SOMETHING. (Incidentally, the fear of clowns is a very sensible fear.)
See, I didn’t just go to the book place and gawp; I LEARNED SOMETHING. (Incidentally, the fear of clowns is a very sensible fear.)

What a lovely time we’ve spent together in the library today. Next time, I’ll try to both learn more and to get more photos of self being the creepy adult watching the puppet show with the childers–unless you have suggestions for other ways I can both explore and celebrate the TPL. If you can make such fantastic suggestions, you’re clearly cleverer than I am, Fancy Clever Person, and I will allow your genius to partially direct me for the duration of this Project.

In the meantime, go give your local public library a big hard squeeze.

12 Comments Add yours

  1. Biblibio says:

    I really wish I could love every single one of the public library branches I’ve ever been part of, but alas that is not the case… to say nothing of the semi-public (read: Israeli) libraries I’ve had the, ahem, “pleasure” of patroning. Let’s just say that even the single room (U.S.) half-branch I vaguely remember from age five is better than the central library in Israel’s largest city… Basically, I’m extraordinarily jealous right now. Really looking forward to the next 97 installments!

    1. Colleen says:

      That’s surprising and disappointing about Israel being so deficient in library awesomeness; I really would have assumed just the opposite if you’d asked me! But perhaps it makes up for this in super-amazing bookstores (both new and secondhand)?

      Also, I know how lucky I am, believe me! I’m looking forward to the next installments too. 🙂

  2. Stefanie says:

    When you become an eccentric billionaire and build your library house, can I come visit? 🙂 I, of course, fully approve of this project you have embarked on. You can create a fun game for your visits: stump the librarian. All you have to do is come up with some random oddball question to ask at the reference desk. Librarians love oddball questions. They will tell all their librarian friends about it and if you do it at all the branches, eventually word about you will get out and they will be looking for you in anticipation. Or, depending on the kinds of questions you ask, they might try to hide and not be the one stuck on the reference desk when you come in. Either way, it could be a fun game.

    1. Colleen says:

      Of course you’ll visit my eccentric billionaire library house; every one of the 20 spare bedrooms will also look like this paean to 70s architectural chic.

      I like your idea of oddball questions very much, but I need some advice on what that might mean…because I’ve asked many librarians many questions over the years and never stumped even one of them! Give me an example or two and I’ll parse and come up with some of my own!

      1. Stefanie says:

        You could go for off the wall like “Can you tell me where the library bought the couch up in the Children’s Room? It’s the most comfortable couch I’ve ever sat in and I want to get one for my house.” or really crazy like these. Or you could ask something like how big was the whale Moby Dick? Or whether the city has any laws against you setting up a chinchilla farm in your backyard. Be creative 🙂

        Oh, and I look forward to visiting your library house one day!

  3. Simply perfect. We have an amazing library here also that I have been using for many years. It’s nothing like the libraries where I am originally from but glad I have it all the same. Love the blog.

    1. Colleen says:

      As long as you love it…and keep using it, it’ll thrive! I try to be kind to my public library but I am a terrible person right now and have not paid my $1 fine yet.

      1. well, better that it’s only $1. I just paid off my son’s fees of $20. Was not a happy parent 🙂

  4. Colleen says:

    That list is hilarious…and sad: I got similar questions in the bookstore. Also, proclamations such as, Virginia Woolf wrote all of Shakespeare’s stuff. Thanks for the inspiration…I’m compiling a list of possible questions.

  5. Reblogged this on jeanettesliving's Blog and commented:
    Great blog. Nice to see someone else who has the same passion 🙂

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