If there is a public library system on the planet better than the Toronto Public Library—the world’s busiest—we’d like to know about it. A shining, seemingly rare example of tax dollars working hard and wisely for every member of the community, the TPL raises book borrowing—and movie-watching, eBook devouring, museum-going, computer-using, and lecture-attending—to an art form. Or at least, the library makes all those things a whole lot more accessible to everyone from grannies to tweens, new Canadians to new moms.
In fact, the TPL offers so many way-cool, free services that a lot of users—even regulars—might not know about them all. And if you’re not already a regular visitor, you are totally missing out. Stop making Heather Reisman richer. Skip Indigo (and all their overpriced home-decor trappings) and head down to your local library branch for your next nail-biter novel or copy of Chatelaine. Here are 10 highly compelling reasons (plucked from a smorgasbord of many) of why you should.
1. Any book can be sent to any branch
Even if your local branch is puny and light on stock, you can place a hold on a desired title and the TPL will ship it in from another branch, giving you a full week to pick it up (though fining you $1 if you don’t bother, which seems reasonable). Plus, you’ll be notified by email or automated phone call (your choice) when your materials are ready for pick-up at the designated branch.
2. They’ll buy books for you
Suppose you read about a book in the New York Times that sounds amazing but has a highly niche focus… say, sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s excellent 2002 entry Heat Wave, chronicling the widespread social breakdown that led to the deaths of nearly 800 Chicagoans during a blistering summer season in 1995. Said book—which might not have been ordered on release—can be ordered retroactively by the TPL if a member submits a “request for purchase” at a branch. (Forms will be available soon via email.) The TPL ordered this very book for me based on a request for purchase and they delivered it to my local branch, all free. Yeah, I know, awesome.
3. Free museum passes
Multiple branches, usually located in less affluent neighbourhoods, offer free passes to museums, galleries, and other cultural hubs that might otherwise be too costly and inaccessible. And they include some places you may have heard of: the ROM, the AGO, Black Creek Pioneer Village, the Bata Shoe Museum, and Ontario Science Centre. Granted, passes are limited but, given that general admission to the ROM is $15 for adults and $12 for kids (and that TPL passes are good for two adults and up to five children), those passes are well worth queuing up for.
4. TPL is totally wired
Internet access (wireless and otherwise), Microsoft Office, and computer classes are free in every library branch. That means low- or fixed-income people, seniors, and so-called latch-key kids can access the web for research help, potential job listings, health information, public-transit schedules, weather advisories, etc., while creating sharp-looking documents such as résumés. And, speaking of the web, members can manage their accounts (place or cancel holds, renew materials, reserve computers, track fines and so on) through the very comprehensive TPL website. All you need is a library card to log in.
5. Even knuckle-draggers get some love
Despite the advent of Netflix, some of us still watch DVDs on DVD players. TPL loans out DVDs (and CDs); both can be reserved like books and sent to your preferred branch.
6. They also loan out pricey, up-to-the-minute periodicals
Such as: Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Bon Appétit, Vogue, the New Yorker, Architectural Digest, the Economist, and the celebrity tabloids. And TPL subscribes to all the daily newspapers. Plus, the reading areas are surprisingly comfortable; the Pape/Danforth branch, for instance, has deep, Le Corbusier-type chairs.
7. TPL hosts a range of cultural events
Beyond readings, lectures, and book clubs—though all are on offer—the TPL also presents live music. Witness two upcoming February performances at the North York Central branch by pianist Mboya Nicholson spotlighting Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and the music of New Orleans. Many branches also screen movies for both adults and children.
8. The staff are actually friendly
In a decade of weekly (or greater) TPL use, I honestly don’t recall encountering a surly, short-tempered, or unhelpful staffer. I don’t know where they find these gentle souls, but someone from TTC HR should be discreetly looking into this, like, today.
9. Their newsletter tells you stuff you can use
A recent edition, for example, let me know that “Toronto Public Library is pleased to provide space for art exhibits which reflect the diverse cultural interests of Toronto and its neighbourhoods.” Cool, no? This, in addition to listing upcoming lectures (“Teaching Your Kids about Money”) and tutorials (“Introduction to eBooks & eAudiobooks”) teeing up Family Literacy Day (Jan. 27), while offering recommended reading lists. Sign up here.
10. TPL is ours, damnit!
According to their site, over 19 million people visited 98 branches in 2011, up from 18 million people in 2010. Those savvy Torontonians borrowed 33 million items (!), up from 32 million items in 2010. They also attended ESL classes, health and wellness programs, received career and job search guidance, enjoyed March Break game nights, accessed all manner of accessibility features like Braille printers and audio books, and probably had a nice chat with a staffer about the weather. If that’s not something to celebrate, nothing is.
What do you love about your library? Tell us in the comments section below.