Guest Post From An Enthusiastic TPL Fan
Five years ago, I started a project of visiting all 99 (now 98) Toronto Public Libraries and writing about them in a blog called Breakfast in Scarborough. As a frequent library user and devoted fan, I am happy to write a guest post that assesses TPL’s service delivery.
Starting with the positive, TPL does an exemplary job of making its services accessible to diverse patrons from all over the GTA. When I visited the Ward’s Island and Queen’s Quay bookmobile stops, branches in Scarborough malls, downtown libraries, and quiet residential branches in Etobicoke, I marvelled at the breadth of TPL’s multilingual offerings as well as the depth of its general collections for children, teens, and adults. The library also offers services for patrons with disabilities, such as Sign Language provision, CCTV print magnifiers, and a Mobile Library Service for people with mobility difficulties.
Second, TPL scores high on their programs. Over the past two years, I have visited the Textile Museum of Canada on a MAP pass, taken a poetry workshop, experienced Gaga dance, learned about Rumi, listened to survivor testimonies during Holocaust Education Week, and heard stories from the Carribean. All for free!
My final point of praise is for the “scope for the imagination” (à la Anne of Green Gables) that our city’s library spaces provide. In our hyper-commercialized modern world, we need nourishment for our creativity, such as a window seat in the sun at Malvern Branch or a minstrel’s gallery at Wychwood that call out for dreamers to inhabit them. And when I see an ark at Fairview, a stained glass window at Taylor Memorial, a woolen castle at Deer Park, or a magical stairway at Lillian H. Smith, I am transported from everyday concerns and encouraged to be fanciful. I’m so glad that Toronto’s lucky kids have the opportunity to read inside a castle turret at Malvern, play in a riverboat at Cedarbrae, or do their homework in a historic attic like Main Street’s.
Positive aspects far outnumber the negative. However, if I had to pick a few areas for TPL to improve, they would include certain bureaucratic tendencies that generate a bewildering array of paperwork and inhibit staff from making decisions independently of their branch heads.
For example, when I’ve made requests to take photographs of the libraries, especially when my blog wasn’t very well known within the system, I’ve been met with lots of “I’ll have to talk to my supervisor” and presented with a variety of permission forms. Often there was confusion over the right form for me to fill out, which meant lots of time wasted while I was itching to get on with my work.
Truthfully, I haven’t minded the permission-form hassle nearly as much as the handful of times that staff treated my project with outright mistrust and suspicion. It has been irritating to be officiously informed, “You do know you cannot take pictures of patrons in the library!” when I have faithfully respected this rule for five years. I understand that legitimate privacy concerns exist, but I’d like to be given a little credit for not being an insensitive oaf.
What are my suggestions for a system that’s already committed to accessibility, cultural enrichment, and creativity? Keep doing the impressive work that endears you to Torontonians but add a greater degree of friendly flexibility to avoid becoming an impersonal monolith of officiousness. Long may you prosper!