A variety of books at the Fairview Library on Friday, March, 8, 2019. (RSJ/Nikki Hashemian)
By Nikki Hashemian
On a Friday morning, the Fairview Library seems quiet. On the first floor people are working on their laptops or readings magazines by the checkout. On the second floor, it’s the children/teen level where it seems more laid back. Andrea Lau picks up another book off the floor and then walks around each aisle looking for anything else that needs to be put back where it belongs. It can get quite messy at times, but it’s the librarians job to keep everything in order. But that’s not the only thing Andrea does. Sitting at her desk in the centre of the room, she checks the schedule for the day: Income Tax Clinic at 10 a.m., Excel Basic 12 p.m., Paint with Me 2:30 p.m., and Family Time at 5:00 p.m. Andrea’s job usually involves answering questions from the general public, reading stories to groups of children, organizing scavenger hunts, visiting schools to promote the library and give out library cards. It’s clear Andrea loves her job by the way she describes her responsibilities, in fact, her enthusiasm is quite refreshing. The role of the librarian has definitely changed over the years, needless to say that’s because the role of the library has changed itself. “I think there’re a lot of stereotypes about a librarian. It goes back to the nineteenth century, a strict lady always shushing people who’s not really approachable. But now it’s different, we have more responsibilities and we help make people feel welcomed here,” Andrea said.
The library isn’t only about borrowing books anymore – instead, it’s about offering a variety of classes and finding ways to help the community every day. Especially with new technology coming out, people are wanting to learn how to use the latest computer softwares. The Fairview Library located in Don Valley holds an important role for the community. It’s not just a quiet library across a busy mall anymore, it has a lot to offer. Years ago, if you needed help on filing your taxes or you couldn’t figure out how to properly use a computer, you would go to the community centre to enrol in a class. Now the community just goes to the library to get free help on anything. There are resources for anyone in a variety of fields from technology, art, languages, or education. Nowadays, the community centre holds classes in dance, art or singing but there isn’t a lot of resources to help people. And maybe that’s for the best, the library is simply ‘free’ and people are attracted to that. No one is pressuring you to buy anything, it’s more of a comfort space for the community. Not only has there been more workshops and classes added but the Fairview Library went through a major reconstruction a few years ago to make the library more accessible. Putting in more windows to brighten the place up, new tech stations, floors added and a theatre. It’s a new and improve way of using the library.
The system of the library has been altered over the last ten years. “The library has to keep up with the changes in the tech world. Ten years ago we didn’t have a digital innovations hub, where people can learn to use Photoshop, editing, Excel and 3D. People can listen to audio books and music,” Andrea said. From comedy, poetry nights and magic shows, to jewelry making, citizenship and entrepreneurship classes, ESL, homework help and weekly film screenings. The library is more than just reading books, it’s a space to get help and grow.
The third floor of the library is the adults section, the endless questions Alisa L. (Alisa kindly asked not to provide her last name) gets on how to use the printer never seems to bother her. “I really enjoy interacting with people. There is no obligation to help anyone, when someone really needs you, they just ask. I feel helpful,” Alisa said. Alisa is an Outreach Librarian, she has worked in a library for ten years, starting out as a high school student shelving books but now things are a little different for her. Today she works at the reference desk. Alisa answers questions, gives book recommendations, and tech help. “Everything is about accessibility with technology and how to use things properly,” Alisa said. Her main responsibility is sitting in on meetings with different organizations and works with them to create programs for the library. “A librarian doesn’t only handle books, there’re programs within the library we’re responsible for.”
The variety of rich programs in the library is what helps the community on a daily basis. Whether it’s for someone who needs help or if they just want to interact with locals. Every day after school the students around the Don Valley community make their way to the library. Students walk into a room located a few metres from the main entrance, known as the Youth Hub. The room is divided into different sections depending on one’s interest. In one corner students gather to play video games projected onto the wall and board games. A few make their way to the snack table where chips and drinks are being served, and others make their way to the arts and craft section. As a group of students begin their homework, it’s clear they’re struggling but helping one another. One girl tries to understand her math homework while her friend next to her can’t figure out why understanding themes in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet will help her in life. Still focusing hard on the numbers presented on the page, her friend next to her explains the question carefully. For a moment, she gets tears in her eyes from frustration but begins to slowly understand. “No! Stop! I’m going to die” a group of boys yells at the screened video games. She looks at them annoyed but tries to focus again.
Afterwards, a supervisor walks into the room wearing jeans and a dress coat. It’s the day where he’s responsible for looking after the kids in the room. He grabs a juice box from the refreshment table, and makes his way to a chair where he’ll play cards with a group of girls. After he loses multiple games, he realizes he rather read a book. Still drinking the same juice box, he makes his way to another table where a student is reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He grabs The Great Gatsby and begins to read. It’s easy to think where these kids would go if this room didn’t exist. Where they would get help on their homework or spend time with their friends? Where would they go if this particular room of resources didn’t exist, because at one point it didn’t.
“The library is a big branch filled with many opportunities, we’re always changing and trying to improve. It’s not just about the books, although the books are still the core of everything,” Andrea said. “People come for the books and programs now. People are often surprised about the range of things available now. And it keeps getting better.”