Cities with unusually good libraries

I think Vancouver is on the list. I remember actually attending the opening ceremonies for the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, when I was in elementary school. The building is rather elegant, I think, and they have a good selection.

Oxford obviously counts, though only from the perspective of students. The same may be true of Toronto. How is the public library system there? I am sure U of T has good libraries, even if one looks like a gigantic concrete turkey.

The reading room of the New York Public Library is one of the most appealing spaces I have ever read in, plus it is free and their archives are gigantic.

Ottawa’s central public library, on Metcalfe, doesn’t have either the physical attractiveness or the comprehensive catalogue of some of those other offerings. Perhaps that is something Ottawa should change, particularly given the number of people here who try to stay well read on their topics of personal expertise. It would add a lot more to the city than some new suburban road or sports venue might.

A better library would also be a nice place to meet bookish people.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

6 thoughts on “Cities with unusually good libraries”

  1. Ottawa has the 5th largest collection, item-wise, in Canada at 2.1M items. The usual suspects are ahead of us (TO-11M items, Vancouver-2.3M , MTL-6M, though that is their combined total of ~1M English and ~5M French, which also includes French books in the Quebec provincial library, not just the Montreal Public Library system) and curiously Calgary also at ~2.3M. Ottawa is not far off either Vancouver or Calgary however.

    What to do with the main branch is an argument I’ve had with my wife before, we are both heavy Library users and I’ve volunteered at the OPL before.

    She is all for a new downtown branch but I don’t know if we need a nice new branch architectural “showpiece”. I think if we have the money, we should spread it around into 3 or 4 branches… (which would include a new functional downtown branch though not one as grand as Vancouver’s) and another new one in the east and one in the west. The south already has a nice branch at Centrepointe, though an argument could be made for a nicer branch further south into Barrhaven to serve the growing communities there.

    The library would be much more useful to a greater number of people if there were better local branches than one good main branch. Not that if they build the one new branch would I be upset, but I don’t think that is the best use of the OPL monies given its mandate.

    Granted I am more of a get my book and take it home type, nor would I frequent the main branch downtown, but I think any money the library gets should be used to improve their collection first and foremost, as the library’s primary purpose should be about getting as many books as possible into as many people’s hands as possible’s hands.

    While neither are stellar, we also have U of O and Carleton’s libraries here, plus the National Archives (which can lend you stuff) and its a nice building if you like the architectural style that predominates Wellington St.

  2. Toronto has 99 branches, and I’m told the second-highest circulation in the world. I don’t think it actually has a central branch, but the Toronto Reference Library is the closest thing ( and it’s a fantastic space. I spent a summer telecommuting from there.

    The “turkey” you are thinking of is U of T’s Robarts Library, and you can’t access the stacks unless you are a U of T student.

  3. I quite like the public library on Metcalfe, but I don’t have much to compare it to, since I haven’t been to any in the larger cities.

    Perhaps you could email them some suggestions on how to attract more people.:)

  4. I am a big fan of the municipal libraries. I had a libray card before a place to live when we moved to Vancouver.

    I am in favour of many small branches of libraries like in Vancouver or Toronto. They are wonderful places to read. The staff are often so helpful. I expect that when I retire I will sped a fair bit of time in them. Already I enjoy beginning a book in one to get a real good start. Ours in Edgemont Village even allows people to bring in coffee.

  5. I also believe in the importance of good libraries for the public (which is a category which sometimes includes university libraries) – and that a good library is a good place, or a good space, for people to read – but also mingle, meet, perhaps take a coffee.

    I’ve never actually been to the Toronto Reference Library, but I’ve heard good things about it. I’ll have to check it out this summer.

  6. A bit of a tangent but Ottawa has recently started lending ebooks and downloadable music (including access to the entire Sony music catalog).

    It’s DRM heavy (uses Adobe for ebook and Overdrive DRM software for music) but the neat thing with the music is that it’s yours to keep. I think they’ll give you 3 MP3s a week. The ebooks and other music downloads (above and beyond the 3 per week) expire after a loan period but generally come in the ePub format which is more universal compared to the Kindle format.

    Though I prefer a physical book myself, I’ve managed to skip the long queues for physical copies by opting for the ebook in a couple cases.

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