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Librarians, Authors Join Forces at Read-In

Local 4948's striking library workers held a reading event outside the Toronto Reference Library, with help from local authors.

Author Ted Barris addresses the crowd in front of the Toronto Reference Library. Photo by Chris Dart.

“Cheerful rage” may be an oxymoron, but that’s probably the best way of describing the mood at the “read-in” and rally—organized by the striking librarians’ union, CUPE Local 4948—that took place in front of the Toronto Reference Library on Sunday afternoon.

The crowd of more than 100 people included library workers, supportive members of the public and, most notably, a sizable contingent from the Writers’ Union of Canada, who showed up to voice their support for their fellow word lovers during the labour disruption.

While the writers were vocally upset by what they perceive as the Toronto Public Library Board’s refusal to give a fair deal to the members of Local 4948, they opted to keep things as light as possible. Instead of aggressively criticizing management, they talked about the value of libraries and did things like recite Dennis Lee’s poem “Alligator Pie” while subbing out the words “alligator pie” for “collective bargaining rights.”

Members of the public were encouraged to read their favourite books to the crowd, or simply to take the mic and explain the ways in which libraries were important to them. It was this audience-participation part of the rally that got the biggest response, particularly when a rather adorable little boy took the mic to ask, if libraries were to close, “Where will the learning happen?”

Striking library workers and their supporters raise their favourite titles at Sunday's protest. Photo by Chris Dart.

According to CUPE communications officer Michael Smith, response to the read-in was far better than expected.

“We were expecting good attendance for the rally, because we’ve been getting that, but we’d planned for about four speakers, and we had to adjust our plans on the fly, because we had about 20,” he said.

One of the speakers from the Writers’ Union, non-fiction writer Ted Barris, said that he thinks it’s important for writers and librarians to support each other. Libraries, he said, are essential to authors, not only as a source of revenue (they buy books), but also as a source of material and as a way to connect with readers. The fact that so many members of the Writers’ Union had come to the rally, he said, was proof that, even in the age of e-books, authors and libraries still need each other.

“[Libraries] get us in touch with living sources, as well as written ones,” he said. “The library’s not just an electronic connection to the world; it’s also people.

“There were probably 40 or 50 published authors at this corner for the last half hour,” he added, later. “And to know that they decided to come down here on a Sunday afternoon and throw some support behind the library workers is quite an important statement.”

Photos by Chris Dart/Torontoist.

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