Fairview branch reno

The other week I went to the open house for the reno of the Fairview branch, which I discovered is a giant concrete bunker at Don Mills and Sheppard. (For a short time, I was the only human being walking up Sheppard. Though there was that sad preteen waiting for the bus.)

I found the bunker and more or less guessed where the front door was. (This, it turns out, is the problem the reno addresses.) I was just starting to look at the DVDs when some chick next to me, out of nowhere, declared “The selection here sucks.” This begat a giant argument about how:

  • the library shouldn’t be carrying DVDs, because it might put somebody out of business (“Like Blockbuster? All stores closed. Rogers Video? 60 stores closed”)

  • the library isn’t a business but should be run like one

  • film is not educational (she said that and relentlessly defended it)

  • she doesn’t put anything on hold, because, in true right-wing fashion, she feels her exact needs should be filled the instant she chooses to sashay through the door

  • new-release feature films actually are not kept hold-free for six months (a Muslim page backed me up that they are)

  • she isn’t actually a Conservative

I won’t even bother telling you how she responded to my questions about books that aren’t “educational.” I emphasize that she started talking to me.

Now, what is the punchline? All the while she was clutching two library DVDs to her bosom.

But was there an open house going on?

There was. All they’re doing is creating a ground-level entrance and enabling the library to actually address its cross streets for the first time.

The available renderings were as bad as they usually are (especially the typography) and tried to downplay the fact that we are spending $4.1 million to create largely unusable vestibule space. (The library budgetted $11.5 million for five automated sorters at different branches, including Fairview. I think they are a great idea in principle, as human beings have better things to do than sort library books. But the sorters are much too obvious in the Fairview renderings.)

Rendering shows glassed-in two-storey facing on two sides, red column at corner

The library’s Spokesgay was there, of course, suntanning us all in light bounced off his powder-blue seersucker suit. He induced me to say something complimentary about the whole thing. Beaches it ain’t, I told him. Nor is it Gladstone. You aren’t really doing much that warrants enthusiasm, I said. I understand you don’t have that much to work with, I told them, because this place isn’t even an interesting kind of brutalism like Robarts Library.

I predict this renovation will turn out poorly in one respect because it also involves renovating the Fairview Theatre, which I didn’t even know existed. It was painfully obvious that green young architect Tina Ranieri-D’Ovidio and her colleagues at the equally multiculturally named Makrimichalos Cugini Architects had decided they knew all about designing a theatre and just winged it. That’s just my assumption – that they arrogantly assumed they already knew all they needed to know.

But you tell me what other conclusion I should draw when the plans:

  • have nowhere to store the piano

  • do not fix an ongoing ingress/egress problem, whereby when a production is actually onstage somebody has to run out an exit door, circumnavigate half the building, and scoot inside another exit door that had to be propped open in advance

  • have no room for two necessary crewmembers to sit or relax during a performance

  • have office space that fronts, via plate-glass windows, onto a public hallway

  • envision a theatre without a marquee!

I infer that Fairview Theatre plans were developed in complete ignorance, and I mean complete, of the actual needs of the crew, volunteers, and paid clients and users of the theatre. I told several people, including Tina, that they need to seriously consult with the actual users and give them everything they want – even and especially if it necessitates ripping up plans. The path I see the library going down, I told them, is as follows: Fairview Theatre ends up renovated exactly as the plans currently show with no deviation, after which Anne Bailey or somebody responds to complaints with “We consulted you already. We mailed you a PDF last fall.”

Just to be crystal clear on what I am alleging, based on my informed reading of the plans, listening to the actual needs articulated by users, observing the protracted flustered and embarrassed looks on Tina’s face, and listening to her non-answers to my queries, I predict the Fairview Theatre component of the renovation will be a disaster for theatre users because TPL will not have consulted with those users and a boutique architecture firm with a god complex will have acted like it knows best. (Tina could have told me otherwise to my face and didn’t.)

Hey, did you know scaredy-cats came in powder blue?

On the way out, I tried to help a different chick check out her stack of DVDs. Three discs just wouldn’t work. Spokesgay showed up out of nowhere and loudly interrupted with “Are you enjoying our Are Eff Eye Dee self-checkout system?” I rolled my eyes and told him I’d already had a meeting with the manageress and lots of changes needed to be made. “Good! Our customers love it!” Spokesgay enthused. I will not be lied to. “No, they don’t,” I told him.

Ten minutes later, I was talking to one of the Fairview Theatre crew when boom, Spokesgay butts in and tells her he needs her help with something downstairs. He’s back in a flash, though, leading me to believe there never was anything he needed help with – especially not downstairs, the basement level at Fairview, where a publicist from downtown head office has nothing to do. Spokesgay interrupted my private conversation – again – to prevent an employee from talking to me, I conclude. (Spokesgay and Anne Marie Aikins both refused to respond to my questions on this count.)

Basically, I agree with Sue-Ann Levy on a single point

For better or worse, I have to concur with the only conservative married lesbian columnist in existence, Sue-Ann Levy, when she observed that Maureen O’Reilly is engaged in serious hyperbole about “privatization” of the library. (Marcus Gee made a similar point.)

I am not even sure what privatization means in this context. Floaters are already privatized, and that isn’t working out great. I assume the fear is that every aspect of collections and cataloguing would be “outsourced” to that American firm I’m not going to bother looking up. Even staunch Conservatives (note the majuscule), who dearly wish they were American, can understand how an American company is unlikely to do a better job stocking the Toronto Public Library than Torontonians do. It seems like a non-starter.

I oppose advertising in the library. Advertising is advertising (QED), not sale of public assets to private interests.

Moreover, I don’t see any rational prospect of branch closures under this Board. I don’t trust these fuckers as far as I can throw them, but they aren’t that stupid. Paul Ainslie has already decided that, no matter what the facts are, some library branches are “underused,” hence their hours should be cut back. I promise you he will try to push that through. I bill myself as a scabrous, uncompromising defender of the Toronto Public Library, yet I just do not see an outcome where any branch ends up closed.

What about job security?

I don’t see how otherwise intelligent union executives and columnists are unclear as to why the Ford administration wants to reduce job security. Because they can. Because conservatives (note the minuscule) believe in a race to the bottom. (Progressive Conservatives might not have believed that. City government is not run by Progressive Conservatives.) Employees by definition should not have “job security,” conservatives believe, invariably lashing out like wounded animals by claiming they never had it before, so why should anybody else?

Two days into the strike, I begin to wonder about the solidity of the principle on which it is based.


Funny, I don’t remember contract negotiations with the previous board – the one not overrun by lobbyists and Mr. Magoo – ending in a strike. Didn’t the union even allow a few concessions back then?

Maureen O’Reilly in viewfinder of news camera

With basically nowhere to breeze through en route to somewhere else (my modus operandi visiting the library), I now have time on my hands. I will fill that time by treating this strike as irreverently as possible. Because nobody else will.

Something else nobody is doing is covering all the issues. And incidentally, union president Maureen O’Reilly wouldn’t answer my question about mandatory Sunday work. (Of course I asked.)

I am almost neutral about unions, but I support the library staff. I sure as hell don’t support the library board, whom City Council could shitcan.

This will be going on for a good two weeks, I guesstimate. In the meantime, follow the Twitters and Flickr photos.

But none of this would be happening under Smitherman, right?

Obviously we wouldn’t be enduring a library strike if George Smitherman had won the mayoralty. Right?

But he wasn’t the only loser.