Toronto Reference Library at 40: A Space of Gathering for Programmed Events

November 17, 2017 | Richard

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opening ceremonies at Toronto Reference Library
The Opening Ceremonies on November 2, 1977

While recently digging through an old archive of library reports, I discovered an incisive quotation that describes what the Toronto Reference Library is all about. In responding to a survey question in 1996, "Have we made a difference?" John Robert Colombo wrote:

Nowhere in Metropolitan Toronto will one find such a cross-section of the population as one encounters around the atrium of this beautiful, Moriyama-designed building. Here are those people on whom a city must rely for its resilience and vitality and growth, hard at work, engaged in acquiring new insights, facts, figures, ideas, skills, techniques and personal enlightenment . . .

This pithy quotation captures perfectly, I think, the role this library has played in the life of this city. The Toronto Reference Library is a remarkable gathering space, a space for learning, discovery and connection, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of this important cultural institution. As we mark our 40th anniversary, I'd like to highlight, from a personal perspective, some of the history and evolution of our programmed events.

It is the programmed public events that stand out for me: all the great speakers and talks throughout the years, especially after 1998, post-amalgamation, when seven library systems were brought together to form one Toronto Public Library. My first significant involvement was to help organize speakers in 2002 for our 25th Anniversary event, Knowing is Better: Toronto Reference Library at 25. It was an eye-opener, because I became aware of all the work that goes into running a speaking engagement: the scheduling, the publicity, the venue booking, the setting up, the introductions. The satisfaction of running such an event was huge. The two speakers I invited for the 25th were Mark Kingwell and David Foot. Both delivered interesting and entertaining talks that captivated large audiences.

I had the opportunity of hosting a number of really fantastic speaker engagements over the years: Linda McQuaigDavid Frum, Sally Armstrong, Stephanie McLuhan, Steve Paiken, John Sewell and Joe Fioroti all come to mind. Beginning in 2010, I was also invited to help organize the speakers for Islamic History Month in October. These events have been popular, educating audiences on the riches of Muslim culture and history. I was lucky to be involved in a different formula for speaking engagements known as Treehouse Talks. These were regular lectures, co-hosted by the library, involving experts in many fields sharing their latest thinking. Most of the talks were recorded and are still available on Vimeo at the above link. 

The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon opened in 2009. This new event space, with its capacity of over 400 people, made possible a new era of programming. In an article in the Toronto Star, Tina Srebotnjak, program manager at the time, called it a "venue for people in the city to meet: thinkers, writers and newsmakers." A gathering place. A place to exchange ideas. The library continues to make a difference.


The eh List
The eh List offers conversations on Canadian literature at branches across the city.

Check out all of Toronto Public Library's program series.