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By Norah Franklin

This summer, curators Maiko Tanaka and Sarah Todd will explore the familiar institution of the library within the more liberating walls of the Toronto Free Gallery. The exhibition, aptly named the Toronto Free Library, will revolve around a collection of the community’s favourite books. Lenders will be encouraged to write a few sentences on cards in the inside covers of their books explaining the ways in which the contents have affected them. These cards will also be used to record the names of borrowers who “check out” the books while they are on display.

Nostalgia for the pre-digital library is part of the inspiration for this manual record-keeping. “I really miss the old kind of library catalogue, where there [was a card] in each book with a name and date stamp on it, and you could see who took out the book before you,” says Todd. “Now everything is all digital so that information is hidden.” Tanaka hopes that visitors to the library will be able to connect with the lenders and with one another when they read the cards. “I think it sets up a situation where one can imagine their neighbourhood, or wider Toronto community, through the books people love. [Patrons] might not know who donated the book they are reading, but they might feel some kind of connection or relation to this person in an intangible way.”

The exhibition will be organized through a librarian-in-residence program. Each week, a different visual or performance artist will engage with the collection, responding to the question: “What would a library be like if you were the librarian?” The artists will have creative control in their interactions with the library and freedom to reflect upon what it means to be a resident librarian. They may also choose to program a reading series that relates to their experiences of the space and the collection.

Tanaka and Todd are excited about this opportunity to expose the relationship between the visual and the literary. “We come to books primarily for a literal ‘reading,’ but there are so many tactile, visual and design elements of books that are so fascinating,” says Tanaka. “Instead of a literary response, we’re asking artists for a visual response to books, libraries and the people who use them.” The curators are also looking forward to watching the artists grapple with the questions that arise from their task. Todd understands the project as an opportunity for participants to work with archives, information, collections, systems of organization, accessibility, education, social engagement and the public. Although she sees galleries as less structured spaces than libraries, she is interested in the relationship between these two institutions.

Sarah Todd is a curator and writer based in Toronto; she is currently working as the programming coordinator at XPACE Cultural Centre and as a gallery assistant at InterAccess Electronic Media Art Centre. Maiko Tanaka is a Toronto-based independent curator with a background in Religious and East Asian studies; she is a curatorial assistant at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery at Hart House. The Toronto Free Library will run from June 19-July 26 at the Toronto Free Gallery (www.torontofreegallery.org), 1277 Bloor Street West.

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