Through the return slot at Gladstone

One of the components of this brand-new library that’s actually working, unlike, say, the elevator, the RFID checkout stations, the magazine collection, or staff attitudes toward the contemplation tank.

Carts of books and DVDs, a computer on a bench, and a distant staffmember seen through a blue and silver slot

Not that I’m complaining.

Todmordenned

So. After my crap experience at Shchuka, I decided to go where I knew I’d be wanted – TPL’s smallest branch, the Todmorden Room (TOD), located in a community centre at Pape and Torrens.

The place is the size of a bachelor apartment. It’s barely bigger than the bookmobile.

Circulation desk in cluttered corner

But like the bookmobile, it has nearly everything you need in a branch – everything except foreign-language books, which “didn’t move,”  librarian Linda said. We had a nice chat. I’ve never had a librarian tell me “Nice to meet you” before.

Paper chrysanthemum sits on top of bookshelf alongside NON-FICTION sign

Yes, they do interloans occasionally. The magazine selection isn’t great, but Todmorden has what could be the only DVD section in the city that isn’t completely picked over half an hour after opening. (How many feature DVDs did Shchuka have? I counted them: Three. Seriously, you call that a library?)

Todmorden’s oldest patron is over a century old and still walks there. Judging by the number of bins, the throughput of this branch is much larger than you’d expect. S. Walter Stewart branch is just down the road, but maybe people like it here more. I can see the reason. It seemed that Linda knew everybody who came in, and it wasn’t just a matter of recognizing a face. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.

The 99-Branch Club

In a Same Planet, Different Worlds scenario, I only just discovered Catherine Raine, an American émigrée to Canada who has assigned herself the task of visiting all 99 Toronto Public Library branches. She’s up to 74 or 75 already over a two-year period.

Catherine describes her project thus:

My admiration for the TPL system started seven years ago when my husband Stewart and I immigrated to Canada. During my very first week in Toronto, I applied for a library card at Deer Park. By 2006, I had visited quite a few different branches before I decided it would be interesting to visit all of them. When I mentioned this idea to Stewart, he encouraged me to blog about it. Hesitant at first, I became more and more enthusiastic about describing the various branches. My first two posts in the fall of 2007 provided quite brief notes, but by January 2008 I was starting to write much fuller descriptions.

Now I’m in the process of fleshing out the earlier entries and making plans to visit the remaining 26 branches still unknown to me.

Catherine is unwittingly following in the footsteps of transit fans, some of whom take it upon themselves to visit all 69 subway stations on the same day. The phrases “every-station club” and “69-station club” (blog) have come to be used for these people.

Hence Catherine Raine is the founder of the 99-Branch Club. Somebody’s gotta do it.

Щука!

Peach-coloured Gill letters read SHCHU and hover on top of a window The other day I was more or less in the neighbourhood of Eglinton and Dufferin and decided to visit the Maria A. Shchuka Library (MAS), a singed-looking cube of brick that’s supposed to be impressive. (Diamond & Schmitt was the architect.)

The building’s exterior – a terribly recherché riff on that Toronto cliché, buff brick – is now already a cliché. Half the architects’ houses in Toronto use sooty-black or dark-grey brick. These houses just end up looking pre-burned, as though they’d just recently survived a fire.

The branch, with its difficult-to-spell-and-pronounce name (Cyrillic Щ takes up four letters in English), has reasonable architectural usage of the TPL typeface, Gill Sans. The planter outside the branch is festooned with messages inscribed into the living brick.

But inside, there isn’t a lot of room, the second floor is awkwardly punched out by a half-assed atrium, it’s overly warm, and the view through the picture windows reveals nothing but the building’s hideous neighbours. Eight-foot-high doors lead to tiny washrooms – e.g., a men’s room with two stalls and a single sink with your choice of hot or scalding water. (When is TPL going to enter the 21st century and install Dyson Airblades in its washrooms? They’re the only hand dryers that work. They’re good enough for Robarts Library.)

The old guy at the second-floor desk was too involved with his Facebook or whatever to bother jotting down a note for Facilities when I mentioned it to him. And he essentially told me I must be mistaken and must have been too stupid to use the cold-water tap (the one that actually emits hot water). I then had to play the engineer card. Downstairs they told me I had to complain upstairs, and insinuated if the old guy had told me there was nothing wrong then there really isn’t anything wrong and what the hell is my problem? Oh, and I owe $2.10 in fines.

It would be facile to dismiss this quite new, yet unwelcoming and decaying branch, as just plain ugly. (Its neighbourhood sure is.) They’ve gone to great lengths to slap a very artistique and moderne patina onto the building to stop you from doing that. (“This place can’t be second-rate – look at that architectural excellence!”) At least Northern District and St. Lawrence don’t bother pretending they aren’t ugly. At the branches everyone admits are ugly I don’t get library staff telling me I must be too stupid to use a tap.

As I believe the kids no longer say anymore, FAIL.

(Pictures.)