‘Transformed’ library reopens to rave reviews

Dozens of people packed tightly in the front entrance of the Dufferin/St.Clair Branch of the Toronto Public Library on Tuesday. Avid readers waited patiently for the nearly 90-year-old library to reopen its doors to the community. It was closed for over a year and received a major $2.54 million overhaul in renovations.

For some, the library was like a home away from home. Corey Stewart, 16, lives around the corner from the branch and liked to go there “just to get away sometimes.”

“I was pretty disappointed when they closed it down,” Stewart said. “But I look at it now and it’s just so beautiful. I always liked coming here, but now it will definitely encourage me to come here and not just to read.”

The renovations included construction of a separate Teen Zone, a private area equipped with a lounge, TV and computers where teens can be as noisy as they want without disturbing other readers.

“There’s a place for everybody here,” said local councillor Cesar Palacio. “There is a need for literacy in this community and this was an important step.”

The goal of the renovations was to bring back a sense of pride in the community.

“The building itself has been totally transformed,” said Mariella Bertelli, long-time employee at the branch. “It is more open, more welcoming. It has brought modern activity into a comfortable space.”

Bertelli has been employed by the Toronto Public Library since 1975 and worked at the Dufferin/St.Clair Branch in the late 1990s. She has seen all of the major changes the branch has undergone during that time.

The library was built in January, 1921. Between the years of 1925 and 1932, well-known artist George Reid and his successor, Doris McCarthy painted large murals lining the upper portions of the walls. They depicted scenes of families, communities and fairy tales.

But in 1964 the murals were covered up in a revamp project and were kept hidden from view for over 30 years.

“I knew about the murals because I read about them in a book,” Bertelli said. “We all knew it wasn’t going to be easy to restore them. But they did and now it provides a sort of awareness of our heritage and I like that very much.”

Another important feature of the new Dufferin/St.Clair Branch is the KidStop, an interactive early literacy centre. Designed with an enchanted forest theme, this kid-friendly area provides children and their parents or caregivers with a space to learn pre-literacy skills in a hands-on environment.

Dial-a-Story, for example, allows children to listen to a tale in over 10 different languages.

The only other KidStop is located at the S.Walter Stewart Branch, but there are plans for others to open at the Thorncliffe branch in June 2009 and Cedarbrae in 2010.

The renovation is part of the Toronto Public Library’s ongoing building revitalization plan. In 2008 the Jane/Dundas, Cliffcrest and S.Walter Stewart branches were all renovated as well.

The Jane/Sheppard, Kennedy/Eglinton, Bloor/Gladstone and Thorncliffe branches have planned renovations and reopenings in 2009.

“We are very proud of our libraries,” said Chief Librarian Jane Pyper. “And it is our goal to make everyone aware of their homes away from home.”