Memories of Locke Branch
Back in the 1970s, I was one of the "Ladies of Locke," the apt moniker that Branch Head Helen McNeil used for the all-female staff. Locke Branch then had Toronto Public Library's largest collection (71,051 books in 1974) and, with 414,000 circulations, it was second only to Deer Park as the busiest of TPL's 28 branches. Without automated circulation and catalogue systems, online databases and Internet, or self-service check-out, it took about 20 staff (pictured here at Locke's 25th anniversary in 1974) to operate the branch. Today, Locke does roughly the same business with far fewer staff.
Named to commemorate Toronto Public Library's esteemed chief librarian from 1908 to 1937, George H. Locke's spirit still prevailed. His name literally was (and still is) carved in stone above the Yonge Street entrance. His life-sized portrait (right), painted by his friend Curtis Albert Williamson in 1933, was installed on the west wall of the Adult Reading Room, where it remains today.
Staff was instructed to answer the telephone with the full, "This is the George H. Locke Memorial Branch, how may I help you?" not a curt, "Locke Branch." Marjorie Bullard, the formidable assistant branch head who began 43 years with TPL in 1930, regularly would invoke Locke's direction,"Experiment. If it works, tell us - if it fails bury it."
Locke Branch was a breeding ground for future library leaders. Many staff went on to serve as branch heads and senior administrators at the Toronto Public Library. Lynne Howarth, a student page, eventually became dean of the library school at the University of Toronto. She has established the Marjorie Fleming Mentoring Fund with the Ontario Library Association. It is named after her own mentor, Marjorie Fleming, the longtime head of the Boys and Girls Department at Locke Branch.
Locke Branch was where I got my start in local history. I'll be back this Saturday before the plaque presentation to lead a Heritage Toronto walk of "Lawrence Park: A Garden Suburb" (home of many Locke borrowers) with my old Locke colleague and co-author, Lynda Moon.