Monday, September 7, 2009

Toronto Part II: Libraries are the New Raves

My bike fell over yesterday, which means the chain got caught in the rear axle, which means I'm currently back to being without transportation. Further, since it's Labour Day today, the bike shop is not open, so I've got to wait till Tuesday at least to take it in. And since I don't feel up to the eight kilometer hike back and forth to the university, that means I'm working from home today. And as yet another direct consequence, that means I'm stuck using my keyboard with the broken spacebar, since my bike isn't my only possession with a tendency to crap out when I need it. And for added fun, my internet connection is randomly going out every few seconds.(In case you're wondering, I created the spaces for this post by copying a single space, then pasting it every single time necessary. YES IT IS TEDIOUS.)

And all this cause-and-effect is to make this point: if this post comes across slightly peevish, the above events are the reason why.

Anyway, today's vacation topic is libraries. When I went to Toronto, I went with the goal to maintain my minimum hundred-pages of lit theory a day, a goal that had already been recently tarnished, thanks to all the time I spent on that Batman game. (Still worth it.) I managed to fulfill that goal for two of the three days I was in Toronto, which was about as good as I could realistically hope to have done. And most of this reading was done in the environment I still find most conducive for it: libraries.

All right, I realize that "The Libraries of Toronto" isn't going to become a popular walking tour anytime soon. But even if I hadn't set the comp goal, there was about even odds that I would have wound up in a library or two anyway. See, the truth is, I like libraries. Especially public libraries. I like seeing how the assortment of books differs from branch to branch. I like seeing how the interior architecture complements the building's function. I like the wide swathe of humanity that comes through the door. It's almost like a franchise store chain, where you can travel the world over and still feel like you never left home--only the libraries are allowed to express a sort of individuality that your average heartless conglomerate lacks.

(Incidentally, here's too things I don't like about libraries, and I'll admit both have a certain amount of snobbery on my part: the large swarm of people in public libraries always buzzing around the DVD section, because Heaven forfend you actually read something; and the fact that any given time, a university library seems more a place for undergraduates to sit and study on laptops than a place for people actually reading or looking for books.)

So anyway, I went to three different libraries during my stay in Toronto. The first was the big kahuna: since I was on campus, I went to the U of T main arts library, the Robarts. This is the Robarts:
The Robarts Library, I'm told, was built in a style of architecture called brutalism. Why someone thought that it would be a good idea to construct a building where the end result being considered brutal is the best case scenario is left to other minds than mine. Here's what wikipedia says about brutalism:

Brutalism as an architectural philosophy, rather than a style, was often also associated with a socialist utopian ideology, which tended to be supported by its designers, especially Alison and Peter Smithson, near the height of the style. Critics argue that this abstract nature of Brutalism makes the style unfriendly and uncommunicative, instead of being integrating and protective, as its proponents intended. Brutalism also is criticised as disregarding the social, historic, and architectural environment of its surroundings, making the introduction of such structures in existing developed areas appear starkly out of place and alien. The failure of positive communities to form early on in some Brutalist structures, possibly due to the larger processes of urban decay that set in after World War II (especially in the United Kingdom), led to the combined unpopularity of both the ideology and the architectural style.

You know what else is unfriendly and nonintegrative? The fact that in order to go beyond the first floor of the Robarts library, you need a U of T library card. Admittedly, any grad student in Ontario can apply for one, but that didn't do much good right then and there. I could have sat on the first floor and worked, but it would have been like working in an afterlife waiting room; you don't know if what you're missing is heaven or hell, but you do know you're missing it. And since the interior isn't much less brutal than the exterior, I went elsewhere.

Specifically I went here:

Here in this case being the Lillian H. Smith Branch. It's not brutal, but, well, we can't have everything. It was, however, quiet, and that was all I needed to get my work done for the day. If I had more time, I would have loved to peruse their Merrill Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy,but there was some sort of sign in policy, and after being turned away at U of T, I couldn't bring myself to face rejection again so soon.

I never made it to a library on Thursday, but I did go to see lots of second hand bookstores, which I'll talk more about later. But on Friday, I spent multiple hours at this library:
This is the S. Walter Stewart District library. I wasn't actually intending to spend quite so long here, but the theory book I was reading was a little harder to read than I anticipated. Ah, hubris. The SWS library was a lot like the area itself. Again, I'll be talking about it in more detail later, but I think I can give you a good idea what it was like just by saying that its most frequent customer is mid-twenty to early thirty year old new mommies with baby strollers. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it bears an interesting constrast with the student atmosphere of the Robarts library, or the more cosmopolitan mix of social classes at the Smith branch (in that the Smith branch got a mix of students, the elderly, what looked pretty much like hobos, young women, and children. The SWS was missing the students and hobos. That might be to its credit.). It also had the best graphic novel variety. Take that to mean whatever you'd like.

And that was the library portion of my trip to Toronto. According to the Toronto Library website, there are 99 branches in the city; I have now seen two. It's nice to know there's something left to do on the next visit.

Okay, that wasn't nearly snarky enough, given the conditions I'm writing under. If you really want to get my mood at the moment, just insert a random curse word every five words. Yeah, that does it.


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