A couple of weeks ago, my daughter had her first school field trip: to the local library branch down the street. This is pretty impressive since I can only recall my son doing the same and ONLY field trip in senior kindergarten at the same school. She received her first library card which makes her an official patron of all the services the Toronto Public Library has to offer.
When I was in Paris, I had a heck of a time trying to find the local library in our neighbourhood. Google-searching kept rewarding me with Bibliothèque nationale de France, the mother library of France, which is equivalent to the National Library & Archives of Canada. A note (encouraging parents to spend time reading with their kids) was placed in my boy’s school agenda with the local library listed. Hooray!
As Paris is host to over 2 million people, I just assumed that its libraries were run similarly to Toronto’s. Yes, there was the walk-through security system at the doors to ensure you weren’t stealing any library books, free access to computers to use the internet and library catalogue, and of course, the FREE library card which could be used at any of their branches. But to my surprise, Toronto’s libraries turned out to be more accommodating. 1] Children are allowed to eat their snacks in most Toronto libraries; 2] Toronto library patrons can sign out their own books/CDs etc; 3] most branches stay open longer than the Parisian branches I visited; 4] Toronto patrons can return their library materials at a DIFFERENT branch. My attempt at returning books at a different branch in Paris was met with bewilderment. “How could we possibly accomplish transferring books from one library branch to another?” Hmm, well, Toronto can do this and it has horrid traffic congestion and one of the worst commuter times in the world. But admittedly, we don’t have ancient, narrow, cobblestone lanes and crazy, one-way street systems. So I was really ticked to find out that I had to make a special subway trip back to a library branch in the 14th. Well, I suppose it got me out of my neighbourhood. But holy cow, I love my neighbourhood…!
But I digress.
Just like in the mairie (town hall), librarians in the two Paris branches I visited had little grasp of the English language. And my poor comprehension of conversational French was confirmed when the kids and I got lost in the underground maze (think parking garage of an old apartment building where attacks occur) that led from the lower level library to a hidden elevator to which we were directed. I held off getting William a library card for two weeks for fear of filling out the application form completely wrong. Browsing through the “English section” of the library for children consisted of 4-5 narrow shelves of British pulp from Maisy to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Eyewitness nonfiction books. And reading to my children in “American”(-sounding) English or bad French, in a reading area with other parents and staring children was a bit unnerving. Despite all that, I still appreciated the Paris bibliothèques and enjoy frequenting the Toronto libraries even more now.