Many of my fondest memories from my childhood are at the library. Our local library was just a short walk from my house, and where my mother took us every summer to keep us occupied. The Whitby Public Library had a summer reading challenge, and my goal was always to fill at least one, if not more, of their booklets with the titles I read. There was always a stack of books at my bedside, and there is one particularly entertaining photograph my parents love to share on Facebook of me asleep with my face buried in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I distinctly remember being very emotional when they decided to tear down our library and rebuild a newer model—though now, ironically, I have many more memories of the remodel.
I spent almost as much time in my library at school—reading, attending Scholastic book fairs (truly the highlight of elementary school), participating in ‘Battle of the Books’, and joining Chess Club so I could be warm inside the library at lunch instead of heading outside with the rest of the school.
The library was such a quintessential, formative part of my childhood, that I will forever be grateful for. Yet when I left Whitby for Toronto to study, I acquired some kind of library-amnesia. Until a few months ago, the only time I entered a library was at my university, to study or hastily check out a book to help with a class project. At the same time, I was buying books at every chance I got, until my bookshelf was overflowing. Amazon and English charity shops were my avenue of choice. Don’t get me wrong, I love having my own personal library, and collecting books that resonate with me, but it is a) an expensive hobby, b) highly unsustainable and c) impractical in a small one-bedroom apartment in Toronto.
I don’t know why it took me so long to get a library card, being such an avid reader. Was it because I was reading less, due to my packed school/work/internship schedule? Was it pure laziness? I’ve lived a five minute walk from the Toronto Reference Library for 3 years. There is really no excuse. Yet I’ve continued to understand the importance of libraries, in a disconnected, vague sense. It took the recent news of the government cutting library funding for me to realize that I wasn’t the only one, and the best way I could help advocate for the importance of libraries was to actually get my own damn card and participate.
I made my way to the Yorkville library on May 23 to get my card, and left with three books under my arm. I then went home and put 9 other titles on hold that I wanted to read but hadn’t found at my branch. In the last few months, I’ve joined the colourless world of Tsukuru Tazaki, followed the March for Our Lives teens through their first few months of action, and gained a deeper insight into the life of fashion’s ice queen, Anna Wintour. My dresser is a stack of stories that I am tearing through, and my bag always contains my current read, regardless of where I’m going. You can find me on the subway at 8 am Monday to Friday with my head in a book. I’ve convinced my fiancé to also get his library card, and we now take weekend trips to the Lillian H. Smith branch to check out the comics section.
Since getting my card, I’ve been reading constantly, and my life has improved significantly—I’m learning something new everyday and I have somewhere I can go to browse the shelves without feeling obligated to spend any money.
Therein lies the importance of libraries; they are one of the few free spaces we have left. There’s no fee to enter, no financial obligation, little or no barriers to entry. Libraries are a haven, a place to go when you need somewhere safe, warm, quiet, non-judgemental (at least from the books’ perspective). They’re a space for the most vulnerable of us, and those who don’t have a safe place to call home.
Libraries are more than just book lenders- they are research assistants, cultural learning centres, afterschool programming, and job search support. These free drop-in services are essential, even if you’ve never used them, or never will. Programs like these were integral to my childhood, and something I see incredible value in as an adult with little disposable income and a thirst for knowledge, who is much more aware of the inequalities of the city in which I live. Of course, living in a city, I am lucky to be surrounded by local libraries—it is those with fewer resources that need our support most.
When I say to you, support your local library, I really do mean it. Show those who don’t see their cultural value that we are still here, using our libraries, and that they are a vital part of our urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. Go get yourself a library card (they’re free!) and read your heart out, so that someone else can too.
If you live in the City of Toronto and want to support your local library, click here.
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