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A Scavenger Hunt Through All of Toronto's Public Libraries

Two art projects invite readers to discover all 100 branches of the TPL system.

Image Toronto Library Passport
Toronto Library Passport

The Toronto Public Library system reached 100 branches in May, when the Scarborough Civic Centre location stocked its shelves. A new guidebook sets bibliophiles off on a scavenger hunt to discover each of the outposts.

Read a mystery in the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection—fashioned after Sherlock Holmes’s study—at the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street. Ogle the stone totem poles flanking the entrance to the Runnymede branch on Bloor Street, reminiscent of the style of artists who aimed to carve out a uniquely Canadian aesthetic. Or sneak past the winged lions and sharp-beaked owls standing guard outside to pick up a dystopian tome at the Lillian H. Smith branch.

Toronto Library Passport

Designed by the Toronto-based graphic designer and web developer Noah Ortmann, the 36-page Toronto Library Passport booklet challenges readers to use library resources to accomplish little tasks, and to record their impressions of each of the spaces.

Ortmann tells CityLab that the Toronto Library Passport began as a birthday gift for his girlfriend. The project gained momentum after he tweeted a photo of the booklet to the TPL, which led to coverage in national newspapers. Now, the first print run is nearly sold out.

“One of my goals was to get Torontonians to become tourists in their own city and to engage (or re-engage) with the library,” he says.

The slim volume also contains branch hours and, for tardy returners, a heads up about fines.

Illustrator and cartographer Daniel Rotsztain is also showing the library branches some love. He sketched all of them, and the drawings have been bound as a new coloring book.

A photo posted by Scout (@iheartscout) on

Rotsztain describes his project as a “love letter” to the public library system, and the city itself. On his website, Rotsztain muses that he hopes the project helps capture the diverse character of the city, as reflected in its many types of literary shrines.

“Toronto’s libraries can be found in heritage buildings, storefronts, malls, strip malls, and community centres,” he writes. “By choosing to draw every library in the city, I am creating a record of a wide range of Toronto’s eclectic architecture, including styles that aren’t often documented or appreciated.”

Though the projects weren’t commissioned by TPL, the system “tries to support the artists who create them,” explains Brian Francis, manager of communications, programming, and customer engagement for Toronto Public Library. Francis says that some of Rotsztain’s work was emblazoned on commemorative tote bags handed out to visitors at the Scarborough branch opening. There are also 12 exhibition areas across the system that open up space for local artists.

“We help showcase some of the work that they’ve been doing, and give this artwork a home,” Francis says.

Library guide, $10 at The Spacing Store; Coloring book, $16.95 at Indigo.

About the Author

  • Jessica Leigh Hester is an associate editor at CityLab. She writes about culture, sustainability, and green spaces, and lives in Brooklyn.