Posted by: bluesyemre | June 20, 2018

Risotto, robotics and virtual reality: how Canada created the world’s best #libraries


Toronto Reference Library is the largest public reference library in Canada and one of the three largest libraries in the world. Photograph: Alamy

As libraries across the world battle for survival, one system has embraced the digital age – and in Toronto, books take a backseat

In the lobby of the downtown branch of Toronto’s reference library, a bearded man in a red shirt doffed an imaginary top hat to wave me through the gate, bowing exaggeratedly and saying: “After you, madame.”

The building is unassuming at street level – brown brick, a grid of square windows – but pass through its doors and the white galleries billow upward like a hyper-intelligent car park flying through space.

In the reception, a poster reads “Newcomers to Canada Settlement Information”. Staff help new arrivals find information on citizenship, English and French classes, housing, employment and healthcare, as well as free guided tours of heritage sites across the city. A few steps away is the Innovation Hub, a “maker space” where a young woman explained to me how to use a 3D printer. This branch has three.

Public libraries throughout the western world are struggling. Britain has closed hundreds since 2010, reduced hours in others and replaced many paid librarians with volunteers. In Belgium, an advocacy group called Public Libraries 2020 aims to “challenge outdated perceptions” of libraries – in part by cajoling politicians to set foot inside one. In North America, staff per visitor has fallen across the board since 2012, and circulation and visits are dropping. The “disruption” of Silicon Valley – in which Uber replaces taxis, Airbnb replaces hotels and Netflix replaces video stores – has many governments asking: why pay for physical book repositories when you can get so much reading material online?

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