For at least five of the ten years I’ve been in Toronto, I’ve lived no more than a half hour walk away from the Riverdale branch of the Toronto Public Library. I never went inside before yesterday. Let us, for a moment, quietly contemplate just how goddamned lame that is.
How do I make amends–to myself!!–for this? I can’t. This branch is so beautiful and well appointed that it’s challenging my devotion to the Lilian H. Smith branch (you have to be a pretty fine library branch to challenge gryphons).
Yes, Riverdale is small; it’s basically three rooms. It is not possessed of a great many chairs for lounging about in. But the chairs it does have are comfy. And this, for me, is one of the biggest things: no matter where you sit, there are good windows nearby. Really good windows under very tall ceilings. It makes me want to go study in the silent camaraderie of an early September afternoon (which is so close you can taste it).
This branch is located at the corner of Broadview and Gerrard East. It acts as a natural gateway from the west to East Chinatown. It sits snugly in the shadow of the Don Jail and the ever growing monolith that is Bridgepoint Health. Homeless men sleep in its lovely shade. It is a solid piece of architecture as well as a symbol of community strength and diversity. But you know, I think most of the downtown-ish branches function this way. (I’ll be curious to see what the branches in the more culturally…homogenous…parts of the city look and feel like.) Riverdale is exploding with both English and Chinese language resources.
For me individually, this branch is surrounded by enough amenities that it makes it a double-damned shame that I haven’t been doing any of my work there. Literally across the street, there is a vegan restaurant (Green Earth); not my favourite by any means, in part because of the creepy Supreme Master TV, but it’ll ensure I never have to go home early because my stomach is eating itself. A five minute walk up Broadview is Rooster Coffee, which has both tasty caffeinated things as well as some vegan snacks. This branch is also dangerously close to the Humane Society but if I have my laptop with me, incipient back pain will probably help me escape without another beastie to add to our little menagerie.
This branch and everything around it is easy to get to, either via transit or on bicycle or foot. But WARNING: don’t ride your bike east on Gerrard unless you don’t wish to tell the tale of your lovely trip to the Riverdale library–the stretch between Broadview and Degrassi is a door prize death trap. I found a number of times, before making it personal policy always to make a major detour, that my brakes really do stop on a dime. But it’s more conducive to serenity, properly caring for a bag full of library books, and not killing people to just avoid this leg of Gerrard.
Stefanie suggested I ask the librarians at the branches I visit tough questions; as a trained librarian herself, she insisted they’d like it. Well, I did it. I asked my first Challenging Question. It was too challenging; the branch head didn’t know the answer, but she did tell me who to contact to find out, probably. I actually knew it would be too challenging for a small branch (it’s really a Reference Library thing, I think) but I thought I’d try anyway, just in case TPL had a running listing of IAQs (Infrequently Asked Questions).
This was the question (which, incidentally, I now really want to know the answer to): What was the first book ever checked out of the Toronto Public Library?
I believe this question is probably more complicated than it at first appears because, of course, Toronto had much narrower boundaries when public libraries first began beautifying our little neighbourhoods. So maybe my refined question will have to be What was the first book checked out of the first branch of the first public library to exist within the current bounds of the GTA? The lumbering diction and grammar of this sentence suggest I should probably just make a whole list of questions about the history of the TPL and go harass an archivist. Now that sounds like a party! No, really, it does.
But back to the gorgeous Riverdale branch. As always, the photos will give you a better sense of its perfect loveliness. After you’ve looked at them, you will be as intensely grateful as I am that the fire that last month gutted the building across the street didn’t damage it.
Whoever designed this library gets that we need some serious magic to make it in this world. I think this is going to be a love affair for the ages.