For those with neither the time nor Toronto Transit Commission tokens to explore Toronto's 99 library branches, allthelibraries.ca lets visitors scroll through illustrations of them all. The site's creator, Daniel Rotsztain, hopes his drawings will inspire Torontonians to check out the city's libraries for themselves. For now, he shares the lessons learned over his two months surveying to the farthest reaches of the system.
What is this project all about?
It's a love letter to the city; it's a love letter to the library system. I really love Toronto, and I was in between jobs and I wanted to have a reason to explore every corner. I was sitting in a bar with some friends talking about our favourite library branches. Somebody said Lillian H. Smith; somebody said Bloor/Gladstone and I'd been to branches out in Scarborough. I was thinking, this is a system that is everywhere. I just kind of jumped on the opportunity and in two months went to visit them all.
So how long did you work on this?
It took about two months, from the end of August to the end of October, about three to four days a week. If it was a beautiful summer day and I had no plans, that was a library strong day.
How long did each of the drawings take?
The drawings took about an hour each. One thing I really like about this project is that public libraries have such a large range of architectural styles, so we have beautiful heritage buildings like the one in Yorkville, but then we have more simple public architecture like the Bendale branch in Scarborough. I took the opportunity to document buildings I wouldn't have otherwise noticed.
What were some of your favourites?
I've mentioned Runnymede a lot, because it's just exquisitely beautiful. It's like Harry Potter-Gothic Ontario. A lot of people have really precious memories of there and then the modern addition is really beautiful. Another one I really like is New Toronto; it has this really funky sculptural detail on the front, and when I was drawing that one a lot of people talked to me. It was a very friendly area and everyone spoke highly of the librarians in that branch.
What about some of the ones that weren't as fun to draw?
One of the biggest challenges was the mall library. There are six of them in the city, and how do I draw a library that's in a mall? Do I draw the outside of the mall? Do I draw the storefront? The drawings that I produced are not as neat as the other ones because they're kind of like just a partial element of the building.
What surprised you the most working on this project?
That every branch, no matter where it is in the city, is totally busy and bustling. People of all ages are using the libraries all over the city. People say the book is dead, but the library is not dead and I think that the library is going to be a very important place for 21st century cities. It's that third place. It's not home, it's not work. And you don't need to pay to be there.
Did you debunk any misconceptions about libraries?
In the last few years the librarians went on strike, we've had funding cuts. One of the things that I've learned about the library is that it is one of the most excellent systems in the amalgamated city and that there's so much renewal. So many branches are being renovated and they're done very beautifully and kind of evenhandedly all throughout the city.
Did this help you move forward in your career?
I call myself 'the urban geographer,' and that's my life's work. I love geography and I love Toronto specifically and this project has helped me get a voice in letting people know that Toronto is more complicated than downtown versus the suburbs.
Daniel Rotsztain's prints are available at allthelibraries.ca/prints.