When Daniel Rotsztain started documenting several of Toronto’s 100 libraries in his sketchbook, he never anticipated that this endeavor would evolve into the All The Libraries coloring book that it is today. As the latest addition to our Creative Library, we spoke to Daniel, who is doing his Masters in Landscape Architecture, about the project (he miraculously completed it in two months!), how he explored the city through the lens of the library system, and how Toronto, as a cultural force, has finally found its way.
What inspired you to start this project? Did you intend to draw all of the libraries from the project’s get-go?
I was inspired to do the project because of my love of public libraries and my love of Toronto, so it happened organically. As a freelancer, I make use of libraries all the time because of their free wifi and ample information sources, so I would visit more and more out of interest. I would take the subway there and see a different part of the city with each new library I visited. I was thinking about my favorite libraries and thought, there’s so many and they’re all so different – I should visit them all. It was one of those moments where you know you have a good idea. In terms of drawing them, I wanted to make a blog of my experiences. As an illustrator, drawing is what I can give to the world.
There is incredible diversity in the architecture of Toronto’s libraries, what does this say about the city’s history?
The fascinating thing about this project is that the concept of a library is quite simple; it’s a building with books, and now, with Internet. But there are so many different architectural expressions, and by seeing the libraries built in different eras, it tells a different story about the city. What the city was, what the library needed to be for the city, and what people’s ideas of public space and a city building was.
The Sanderson Library at Bathurst and Dundas, where BRIKA caught up with Daniel.
How does that translate for Toronto’s libraries?
The oldest libraries have grand, big staircases and strong front entrances, they’re basically like fancy bunkers that are not very accessible. The city was waffling on whether or not they were going to fund public libraries, so they needed to be big, fancy, and in your face. As you move on in time, you get to the utilitarian, public architecture phase, where Toronto was exploding in population. Libraries during this time were more concrete, ‘we’re going to spend our money wisely’ type. Then there are libraries in malls and strip malls – I found it really interesting that the library could adapt to new settings as the city shifted from streets to malls. Now, they are building libraries that are basically glass boxes. That to me says that the library wants to be an extension of street life, to be open and vibrant places for people to hang out.
How does the library as an institution relate to people’s personal histories?
These landmarks, however grand or humble, are so important. I can tell when I talk to people about this project – when they talk about their childhood branch, or their connections to that space, or bringing their kids to the same branch they went to as kids –their eyes light up.
How do you think the architecture of Toronto’s public buildings fares on the global landscape of world-class cities?
I think that Toronto is a city that is always a bit humble in its expression of architecture. Every movement in the modern architecture world has happened in Toronto, but it’s more subdued here. If you compare Toronto’s Yorkville Library with the New York City Central Library, the latter is a grand statement of Beaux Arts architecture, whereas the former wants to be in the spotlight less. And the same goes for its Art Deco architecture, where it defines cities like Chicago and South Beach, Miami. In Toronto, there is so much Art Deco – it’s evident in background buildings that have the decorative windows and brickwork, but they’re not showy. To me, though, that’s one of the appeals of the city – that it makes room for all these different styles, and they all work together even though they’re totally different.