By Matthew Strader
A library is a community.
Within its walls, as well as outside.
Because a public library is often a mirror to its community. A reflection of the people who populate it, the decisions it makes, the information it consumes.
“The library is the community itself,” said Diana Rothbauer, the Branch Head of Woodview Park Library in Emery Village.
“We’re a small pocket in northwest Toronto and often, we’re not looked at as having our own identity,” Rothbauer said. “But you only have to visit. It does. Our area of the city has a really diverse nature to it; whether age brackets, we get seniors to youth, or backgrounds, we have customers from Africa, Europe, Asia, South America. And one thing the library does is act as a hub for everyone and bring that sense of community that stems from a safe place, and the sense of belonging our visitors feel. By engaging in what is happening in our community and the relationships we’ve built with our customers they know that this space is for them.”
And the library takes pride in reflecting that.
The Woodview Park branch opened in September of 1964. And it was one of the first community branches in North York, as well as one of the first rental and storefront libraries. Throughout the years, the complex has seen expansion, including in 2000 when they added an entire third section to the two unit complex to answer the needs of the community.
Today, the community is again reflected through the work of the staff and volunteers.
June was National Indigenous History Month in Canada, a time for all of the country to reflect and remember and learn. And during the news cycles of the past months that have seen the hard facts of residential schools come to light, Rothbauer said her staff immediately got to work on an educational and informative indigenous history display for their community.
“It was something my staff and I felt really strongly about,” she said. “Especially with what is happening with the residential school findings. We’re becoming aware of more cases, more horrors, so we wanted to honour those cultures. And part of this is showing we’re a community branch in tune with what is happening in the surrounding area. There is a proposed indigenous park in the Weston Road and Finch area, and we wanted to be sure to highlight that.”
Rothbauer said the display is meant to educate on the history, begin a discussion of residential schools, and promote the opportunity for the community to have such a park.
And an impact has already been felt and expressed. Rothbauer said a local youth, Sophia Maiolo, heard about the display and contributed some of her own artwork. Using a traditional aboriginal method, known as dot art, she created a great turtle to represent Turtle Island.
“The sense of belonging this library has with the community, is unbelievable,” Rothbauer said. “I can’t express it enough. We’ve had former employees come back as customers, had young children come back as adults with their children, even if they’ve moved out of area, because they have such a passion for this branch.”
During the pandemic the library has continued some programming, including an early-on program for ages 0 to 5 that is an interactive storytime for families, and they have engaged in senior call-outs, checking on the elderly members of the community they are aware of.
They have connected with area teachers in neighbouring schools to see if they can be a resource for them. She said some have taken the opportunity to borrow certain books and access online databases. And the library has created database bookmarks for certain age groups to help out, which teachers have responded well to.
And database usage and awareness is an exciting positive for the library out of the coronavirus year.
“It is one thing that has been a huge bonus,” Rothbauer said. “We’ve tried to let everyone know the vast resources we have, which is our databases. It is big because the library pays for these resources, and normally they are quite expensive. Some are ancestry, some are databases for high school and university students. It is great now that people have realized the databases we have, and we believe they will continue to use those.”
And another initiative she wanted to credit her staff for was the creation of, and distribution of grab bags for their customers.
“Because we were curbside for so long, we’ve been doing grab bags, books of certain subjects, specific topics, authors. We did our best to make them artistic and colour them in, and we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from clients. They really enjoy that.”
Rothbauer said the library expects to be near fully opened on July 5, and it will be exciting to see the community back.
“It will be a huge thing,” she said. “People can actually come in and browse our collection. They haven’t been able to do that for seven months. They can use the computers, photocopy, print, and very important for some, come into the library use our WiFi and sit and study. There will be some limitations because we’re only allowed 25 percent capacity, but it’s a start.”
And clearly, a start is all this little but accomplished branch needs.
Give them an inch, as they say, and they will clearly go an extra mile.