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Wanted: A home for old books

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Inside the JPL circa 1965. OJA/BLANKENSTEIN FAMILY HERITAGE CENTRE PHOTO
Inside the JPL circa 1965. OJA/BLANKENSTEIN FAMILY HERITAGE CENTRE PHOTO

Although the Albert and Temmy Latner Jewish Public Library of Toronto closed about eight years ago, the library still exists in ghostly form. Picture rows of bookshelves in a darkened room, permanently locked and as silent as any librarian might wish for, and you are likely not far wrong.

All of the former library’s books and resources are apparently still gathering dust in an off-site storage facility, according to Dara Solomon, director of the Ontario Jewish Archives and spokesperson for the now-defunct library, which was operated by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.

“They’re in storage on Magnetic Drive [near Dufferin Street and Steeles Avenue],” Solomon said. “The movers relocated the library and took all the books out of the boxes and set them up on the shelves.”

Tasked with finding a new home for the books, Solomon has been unable to find any takers. “No one is interested in taking on older books,” she said. “I haven’t been able to find any interest in them.”

The library dates back to the late 1930s, when Spadina Avenue bookseller Ben Zion Hyman established a tiny independent library in a storefront along Spadina. By 1941 the library had gone public and moved into the Chambers, a set of rooms in the College and Spadina area.

It subsequently operated out of premises on Markham Street and Glen Park Road before moving in 1983 into its final home at 4600 Bathurst St.  Known as the Albert and Temmy Latner Jewish Public Library, it possessed some 30,000 volumes, according to a 1983 article in the Toronto Star.

Today the Frank and Anita Ekstein Holocaust Library fills the location where the former library used to reside.

For some reason, despite the Latners’ largesse, Toronto’s Jewish community never saw fit to develop the Jewish Public Library into a first-rate institution. By comparison, Montreal’s venerable, 101-year-old Jewish Public Library is sustained by a $5-million endowment, holds more than 150,000 items, and features a large children’s library, archives, multimedia centre, and antiquarian books collection.

In any case, Toronto is not exactly bereft of Jewish bibliographic resources and treasures: the University of Toronto’s Robarts Library houses one of the best Judaica collections on the continent.

Since the rise of the Internet many public libraries are moving away from books into electronic resources like ebooks and online databases. Times have changed and the public no longer seems to need or crave printed words as once they did.

Toronto’s Jewish Public Library has closed permanently with no prospect of revival, Solomon confirmed. It was closed “due to a lack of resources and a decline in circulation of books being taken out,” she said. “That’s a universal problem that libraries are having.”