Friday, July 15, 2011

My gratitude to Toronto Public Library

I arrived at Toronto during the bitter winter of  January of 2004 as a landed immigrant. We lived in a rented apartment in downtown Toronto and spent the first six months, searching for jobs. As most job searches were online, we were mostly at home, without television, without much social life and without much entertainment(we did not want to spend our savings on entertainment, until we landed a job).

We soon became members of the Toronto Public Library(TPL) and I consider the Toronto Public Library as one of the best things to have happened  in my life! I love reading and this library has indulged me!
  Canadians born and brought up in Canada take their wonderful public libraries for granted and do not appreciate them as much as people coming from poorer countries do! (or people coming from countries where more than half the books ever published are banned due to religious or political reasons)

In India, at least in Bangalore, there were no good public  libraries and I had to buy the books I wanted to read and most books were simply too expensive. After coming to Canada, I have read hundreds of books without having to buy the books or pay for reading them.
At the TPL, I discovered so many fantastic books authored by a variety of authors. I have also bought used books at the TPL for dirt cheap prices for my collections.
 I have discovered less known books by famous writers such as the earlier, less popular works of Erle Stanley Gardner.
 I have borrowed travel books (such as rough guide to Havana) which were of immense help for planning trips.
 I have borrowed books on interior decoration and had great fun fantasizing about my dream house.
 I have borrowed books which have fuelled my fantasies such as books on building tree houses, books on lost cities, sea shells, antiques, Viking treasures, etc.
At the TPL, I have even accessed  books about India, which I could not get in India! (such as a books about old bungalows of south India and a book of Rabindranath Tagore's art work).
I have accessed rare out of print books which would not have been possible in India.
Again, this is something which Canadians, Americans and maybe Europeans take for granted but I LOVE, the fact that I can search for the book I need on the library's webpage, place an order online, and borrow when the library calls me on my home phone and informs when the book has arrived at the library branch  close to my home! This sort of easy hassle-free access to books is unheard of in India.

When I see the millions of books for all ages, of all types; when I see the presence of library branches all over Toronto; when I see  the activities of the library during summer holidays and all year round, for kids and adults, I feel sad that the children growing in India(and elsewhere) do not have access to this wonderful treasure of information and entertainment. I do try to help some kids in India  by buying up tons of used books at Goodwill and new ones from Indigo and lugging them to India...but a private person on a limited budget can only do so much!

A friend in Toronto borrows about  20-30 books at a time for her 10 year old daughter, who devours the books in no time and gets more. This girl has a gift for writing and I think the TPL has contributed significantly  to the development of her love of reading and creative abilities!

I also love the 100% access of the TPL to all people. There are so many barriers to information in so many countries, and coming from one such country, I appreciate this free access to information to all in  Canada (through books in the public library and other places such as the internet and government agencies  too).
 I have seen homeless people in libraries in downtown, browsing books and I feel so glad to see them in the library! They may be smelly and dirty, but their concentration while reading the books, their desire to read books, is something I really admire. (They would have been denied entry into Indian  public libraries, though in theory, the public library is open to all).

In Afghanistan, girls are denied education as women are not allowed to study;
 In the Middle East countries and communist  countries, thousands of books are banned and simply not available in the country's book shops or libraries;
 In several third world countries, only the rich can afford to buy and read books: there are hardly any decent books in public libraries of India ; there are no decent libraries in rural communities in several poor countries.
 I remember how bored and irritable I felt in some places where I had no access to books...while visiting  people whose houses did not have books(though they were well off!)and it was tough for me to pass time there; I have been  stuck in remote villages in India without books (or television) and was bored out of my gourd there!
All these observations of other parts of the world make me admire all the more, the public libraries in Toronto(Canada); I  admire the government and the people responsible for these great libraries.

To me, this free access to information is a part of democracy, a part of a civic culture. I keep repeating free access to information because I have seen so many people denied information, books and  education in other countries due to various reasons...
Women do not have access in rural India, girls drop out of schools at puberty for various reasons....You will find it difficult to find a piece of paper in some remote parts of India, let alone books.....
the rich or elite have access to information through the internet, resources such as people, mass media and  books while others do not have this free access .....
Armed with information,  the rich progress and without information, the poor remain stuck in the cycle of poverty.

I have also obtained free passes from the TPL to visit museums such as the ROM, Bata museum, the AGO, etc. This is a great money-saving benefit of the library. I have enjoyed reading the magazines and newspapers at the library. I like the friendly library staff ; there was  one  librarian whom I met  when I was new to Canada. He was friendly and  I would speak to him  about myself and my job search, which was my biggest worry at that time! I really value the encouraging words I got from him, during the few minutes it took to check out the books.

I hope the Indian (and other places too without good, free, accessible libraries) Government realizes the tremendous impact of  good well stocked  libraries on the lives of the Indian people. I hope the Indian government spends on the libraries.......I hope but I doubt very much!

1 comment:

Sunil Mallenahalli said...

As per my Knowledge our India Gove is slowly providing opportunities to people by providing esay access to Library's. Also we Bangalorians not getting enough time to going Libraries, we mostly addicted to this IT, BPO & Eng Services work.


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