Libraries: It’s Fun, It’s Free, It’s Educational! Toronto Public Library – more than just books

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by Theresa Wojtasiewicz

“I wish I’d known about this place sooner.”

These are words often heard by Magdalena Vanderkooy, Manager of Malvern District of the Toronto Public Library. I spoke with Magdalena at length about what the Toronto Public Library (TPL) has to offer, especially for newcomers to Canada. Here’s what she told me:

About TPL

With 99 branches and 11 million items, the Toronto Public Library is the largest and busiest public library in North America, and ranks second in the world.

About TPL’s services

TPL is a lending library, which means those who are members have the opportunity to borrow books – for free. You can keep them for up to three weeks (sooner if you are a fast reader!) and then come back for more. The library is a public space, so you can also stay in the library to read or study. TPL has computers for public use – again, for free – that have high-speed access to the internet. Computers in children’s areas have filters on them and “Kidspace” to direct children to useful internet sites. As well, TPL has collections of audio/visual materials such as CDs and videos/dvds, also available for members to borrow (videos/dvds have a one week borrowing limit).

If you need to ask the librarian for more information but you are not yet comfortable speaking English and if there is no staff at your branch who speaks your language, TPL has a “language line” – a telephone interpretation service you can access (call) from the library to help you with your enquiries.

About TPL ‘s collections

TPL has collections of books and videos in 40 languages throughout its branches, as well as newspapers and magazines from all over the world. If you are looking for a book or video in your language and can’t find it at your branch, the librarian will be happy to transfer it (have it brought in) to your branch.

TPL also has “special collections” – reference collections which you cannot borrow, but can use on site. Among them are the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Speculation, the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Literature, and at the Toronto Reference Library, the Arthur Conan Doyle collection (he was the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories), as well as reference materials on many other topics.

About TPL’s programs

TPL has programs for both adults and children who are newcomers to Canada. If you need to improve your English language skills, TPL, working with the Toronto Board of Education, offers courses in English as a second language, as well as conversation and citizenship classes. TPL also has ESL materials you can borrow that cover everything from Basic to Level 7 of TOEFL. These are in great demand, so you will have to ask the library staff to place a “hold” on them (a “hold” means to save them for you to use next). As well, the Toronto Reference Library has ESL materials which you can come in to use on site at any time.

If you are working towards getting your papers in the trade or profession you trained for in your country of origin, TPL has materials to help you upgrade your skills, prepare for tests, and sample examinations in a number of different areas, such as engineering, medicine (doctors and nurses), dentistry, electrician/electrical engineering and many others.

For children, TPL has “English Can Be Fun”, a program held in the summer for children to improve their English language skills outside of school. Also for children is a telephone-accessed service called “Dial-A-Story”. Every day there is a different story, in 8 languages (Cantonese, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French and English) that your child can listen to – and you can, too!

About joining TPL

All you need to get your membership card is one piece of official identification, such as a passport or driver’s licence, and proof of address, such as a phone bill or a letter addressed to you that came through the mail. Don’t forget to sign up your children for a card as well – they can borrow books too!

About late fees

These apply only if you bring back your materials after the due date. For children’s items, the fee is 10 cents a day per item, for adults, 30 cents a day per item. You can avoid paying late fees by asking your librarian to extend your borrowing time (called a “renewal”), calling the renewal line or using the website to renew your materials.

The public library is a great place to take your children, especially since the library is open after school hours and on Saturdays. Encourage them to have and to use their library card. And, while you are there, check out the services, programs and materials the library has to offer that can help you settle in Canada. If you want to improve your English language skills, if you need to learn more about how to find employment in Canada, or if you are just looking for a good book to read, the Toronto Public Library is the place to go. It’s fun – it’s educational – and it’s free!

For more information about the Toronto Public Library, branch locations and hours of service, visit or call 416-393-7131 (TTY – telephone service for the hearing impaired – 416-393-7100)

Renewal line – 416-395-5505

Dial-A-Story – call 416-395-5400. Every day has a different story!

The Merril and Osborne Collections are both located at the Lillian H. Smith Branch at 239 College St., one block east of Spadina.

Toronto Reference Library is at 789 Yonge St. (one block north of Bloor)

The database of newspapers from around the world can be found at – click on “TPL catalogue”

Wherever you live, there is probably a public library near you. Take a few hours and visit it. What you’re looking for could be just around the corner!

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