The Most Attractive Resort in Town: Public Library Service in West Toronto Junction, 1888-2009 by Barbara Myrvold. Toronto: Toronto Public Library Board, 2009. 2nd revised and expanded edition, paper, 82 p., 126 illus. Available for sale at $20 at http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/local-history-publications/most-attractive-resort.jsp .
Originally published in 1989 with co-author Barbara Forsyth to record the 80th anniversary of the Annette Street branch (1909-1989) of Toronto Public Library, this updated 2009 version is a welcome addition to histories of community library service in Canada. The book title derives from a quote by the Women's Christian Temperance Union when the West Toronto Junction Mechanics Institute was formed in 1888. The WCTU obviously hoped the influence of book reading and social amusements provided would divert young men from less uplifting pursuits in this growing community of 3,000 people. Self-improvement is an important theme in library history and there are frequent references to this trait throughout this book.
The expanded version includes much more detail, more images, and an updated chapter on post-1989 activities--almost fifty additional pages more than the 1988 edition. The period before West Toronto's annexation in 1909 by the city of Toronto is covered in rich detail. The nuances of bylaws, biographies of board members and civic politicians, buildings, Toronto Junction's growth, streetscapes, and local businesses provides are included within the context of wider socio-economic developments. Annual plans to balance budgets based mostly on membership fees and other contributions give us a picture of how the library was managed and staffed. Like many other Ontario communities, Toronto Junction's service had its roots as a Mechanics' Institute until 1895 provincial legislation transformed MI's into public libraries with various types of management and financing provisions. As the Junction grew rapidly at the turn of 1900 library supporters decided to partake of the Carnegie program of grants for a suitable building.
An entire chapter is devoted to plans and activities revolving around how a Carnegie grant of $20,000--a handsome sum for a Canadian town--was obtained and expended. Along the way, Toronto Junction passed a bylaw to establish a "free" public library, i.e. one eligible for an annual statutory tax levy of about $2,000 (a Carnegie requirement); the town disappeared as a separate municipal entity after annexation by the city of Toronto; and considerable time was spent procuring a site and architectural renderings and construction of a new library. By the time the building (designed in the popular classic Beaux-Arts style with interior layout for closed book stacks and no separate children's area) opened, it had become Toronto Public Library's "Western Branch," a neighbourhood resource in a large city rather than a standalone civic agency. This was not the "end of history" but rather a new beginning, one unforeseen when the pursuit of Carnegie money commenced.
Barbara Myrvold guides us through the Junction library's next century as the Western branch (renamed Annette Street in 1962) developed its new identity within a larger city system. For this period, there is less detail; in part because many of the source materials used to build the first part of the library's history no longer existed--there are no separate board or council minutes for the Junction; less space is devoted to activities in Toronto's daily newspapers; and no personal accounts by local residents who served in various capacities in a local municipal environment. As the sources for history change, so does the history for institutional histories such as this one! There are still "facts" and "events," the stuff of history, for the author to illustrate on a larger canvas using different sources at hand. If there is little written about censorship it is because this theme is broader and does not appear to have significantly affected the Junction's reading public.
After 1909, the library's history is portrayed through various strands of administrative activity, functional library services, and general societal trends. As the ethos of Victorianism declined in the first part of the 20th
century, the library's "mission" changed from didactic moral uplift and
self-improvement to providing activities, programs, resources, and
information guided by community surveys and analysis of users and
non-users. After the Ontario government eliminated age restrictions in 1909, children's services became a primary focus of work in libraries and Toronto under the aegis of Lillian Smith, who developed a model of services that was one of the best in North America and the British Commonwealth. In the 1920s, TPL's efforts to bring "the right book to the right reader" extended branch work to recreational adult education programs. As the demographic makeup of the Junction changed from its British
origins to a more diverse mosaic, multilingual collections
(originally termed foreign language) expanded in the late 1950s in many TPL branches.
In the 1970s, as "Toronto the Good" became more cosmopolitan, TPL embarked on an extensive renovation program for many branches, turning them into neighbourhood "people places," and Annette profited from a complete remodeling and addition to the original building in 1979-80. In the 1980s, a local history collection was established in conjunction with the local historical society. In the 1990s, a computerized circulation system, catalogue stations, and access to the Internet were important improvements as libraries moved from book places to information providers. As the challenges of the digital library era brought into question the idea of the need for physical resources, Annette Street celebrated its centennial in 2009 after the branch--open about 50 hours per week--had busily circulated 168,132 items in the previous year.
Added to an informative text are more than a hundred black and white pictures that highlight people, buildings, events, design plans, collections, equipment and furnishings. Special attention is paid to architectural details present in the Carnegie building and the subsequent modest updates in 1962 and complete renovation in 1979-80. The author shows that the Annette branch was a successful instrument for serving and promoting its surrounding community of about 10,000 people. The Most Attractive Resort is peppered with hundreds of footnotes that makes it useful for other library history researchers. Overall, this is one of the best micro library histories produced in Canada to date and it can be used to document broader studies.