A Spotter’s Guide to Endangered Library Branches
Toronto Public Library’s Perth/Dupont branch.
On page 152 of KPMG’s core service review report—which identifies City services that could be cut or reduced for cost savings—is a column marked “Key Opportunities” that contains a single bullet point. “Some library branches could be closed,” it says.
The Toronto Public Library’s budget is $170 million this year, and even though that represents a 2 per cent increase over 2010, the system still had to close a branch, cut jobs, and reduce the number of materials it purchases just to make ends meet.
On another page of the report, KPMG notes that TPL, with its 98 branches, provides facility access well beyond the minimum specified in the Public Libraries Act. What that means is that higher levels of government don’t have straightforward levers they can use to regulate any cuts to Toronto’s library system—not that they’d pull those levers even if they could.
And so it will be up to the small-c city (meaning, its citizens) to decide whether or not it values its library system in its current form. Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), the mayor’s brother and close confidante, has already made his feelings clear.
Specific proposals for cuts are still a long way off. Thursday night’s (and Friday morning’s) marathon executive committee meeting was only the prelude to a longer fight that will culminate next year, when it comes time to approve 2012’s budget. But if library branches are to be closed, it seems likely that the most vulnerable ones will be those that do the least business.
And so here is a visual guide to four of the teensiest library branches in Toronto by total circulation (meaning, the number of items they loaned out in 2010). Remember their locations, because depending on how things go at council and what way you lean politically, you might be picketing in front of one or two of them in a few months’ time.
Perth/Dupont’s interior. This is all there is.
Perth/Dupont, 1589 Dupont Street
2010 Circulation: 79,683
2010 Visits: 38,463
This is a branch that has gone so long between major overhauls that it still has the pre-amalgamation logo on its facade.
It’s a low brick building, situated between Dovercourt Avenue and the Junction. Inside is a single room with four public computers, a reading table, and a children’s area. The air is a little musty. During our visit, there are only about 10 patrons inside, but the library is so small that it seems full. Several of them know the librarian behind the counter and call her by her first name.
Potted plants hang from the ceiling, and there’s a little courtyard behind the building, visible through its ample rear windows, that has a tree with pink flowers and a little bit of landscaping. The place has the feel of an urban oasis. You’d never suspect it from the street.
St. Clair/Silverthorn, 1748 St. Clair Avenue West
2010 Circulation: 61,939
2010 Visits: 37,775
Set into a St. Clair West storefront, the Silverthorn branch looks pretty good, thanks to a 2008 facade renovation. TPL has set aside some money to do work on the interior starting in 2016 or so, but in the meantime the place is very comfortable.
There’s plenty of seating, six public computers, and air conditioning so frosty that, on one particularly hot day, it cracked one of the windowpanes facing the street.
Several people sit with their laptops and browse the web. That’s because last year, TPL expanded free wi-fi service to all of its branches. Even at places as small as Silverthorn, internet access is available to anyone with a mobile device. The library doesn’t release statistics on the number of people who take advantage of this service as part of its annual performance measures report.
The branch manager is a cheerful woman in a pink dress shirt who addresses children as “kiddo.”
Todmorden Room. Photo by Joel Charlebois/Torontoist.
Todmorden Room, 1081 1/2 Pape Avenue
2010 Circulation: 42,897
2010 Visits: 14,307
Todmorden Room is literally a room. It’s inside the East York Community Recreation Centre, across from an indoor pool. A single librarian sits behind the circulation desk while a group of boys who look 12 or 13 years old use one of two public computers to play video games. There are only two reading chairs. Space is so precious that book-sale items don’t physically fit inside the library; they sit on rolling carts in the hallway.
The space is longer than it is wide. It’s like someone designed a library to fit inside a shipping container. Maybe TPL could try that as a cost-saving measure. We could put them under highway overpasses!
Swansea Memorial, 95 Lavinia Avenue
2010 Circulation: 42,554
2010 Visits: 17,938
Swansea was once an independent municipality, before it was absorbed by Toronto in 1967. The Swansea memorial branch operates out of what was once Swansea Town Hall—a nice brick building with homey, double-hung windows that also hosts a number of other community services. The surrounding neighbourhood is stately, heavily treed, and extremely upper-middle-class.
The library itself is about the size of a living room in a medium-sized home. About a quarter of it is a children’s section with light blue walls and about half a dozen kids bouncing around and enjoying themselves.
There are two public computer terminals, one friendly librarian with a big beard who recommends books to patrons, and a sturdy wooden table, that, according to a printed sign, was “made on February 19, 1926, by S. Haslam, carpenter, who lived at 122 Windermere Avenue, to be used by the Council for the Village of Swansea.”
TPL’s Bookmobiles are also fairly teensy, with a circulation of 157,692 between the two of them in 2010.
There are also very small TPL collections at hospitals, including the Hospital for Sick Children. Usage figures for these branches (if they can be called that) amount to hardly a blip among 2010’s end-of-year totals.
Photos by Harry Choi/Torontoist, unless otherwise noted.