This week in our biggest-ever Uniform Project, photographer Sarah Blais tiptoes into the world of books to get the back cover on what librarians are wearing–and, of course, reading. (Luckily, only one patron shushed her during these interviews.)
At the University of Toronto, there are over 40 libraries. Downstairs at Robarts Library is Kathleen Anne Scheaffer, who coordinates events and instruction of academic and social nature in order to engage members of the community. A crucial book in her life was Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse: what she took from it was that in order to be enlightened you’ve got to experience life, not be afraid, and get back to what really resonates for you — that is your happiness. Right now her number one read is Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, which she calls one thousand pages of “amazingness” (it’s currently free on audible.com).
When it comes to attire, Kathleen takes what she can find, and makes it work; this usually means jeans, a shirt, and a jacket, depending on the weather. She eschews new clothing, saying she doesn’t want to support an industry financially that she doesn’t agree with ethically. Her glasses are from Value Village, her ring is from a local in Cambodia, and her necklace was passed down from her Grandma. Kathleen has a tattoo of the numbers 1-4-3, which back in the day meant “I love you” via pager.
Debbie Green is the head of reference and research services at Robarts and has been working there since 1991, but has been a librarian since ’81. She helps students with troubleshooting, copyright issues, and research topics, no matter how esoteric (think: “What are the names of the three little maids in The Mikado?” or “Was there a securities industry in Czechoslovakia prior to the Velvet Revolution?”). She feels her job is a perfect fit for her.
Debbie’s “uniform” includes a nice skirt, lots of layers, and something comfy, while keeping it all classic. Her shoes are Fluevogs, her skirt and shirt are from Comrags, and the scarf was a gift from another librarian. Her current top books are The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst and Seven Years by Peter Stamm.
Diane Granfield is head of learning services at Ryerson University Library. She once dressed as Joni Mitchell at a Halloween party, and now she wears the red flared pants she bought for her costume all the time, even at work. It’s important for Diane to keep things comfortable, local, and funky, attire-wise. She shops at Common Sort and Studio Fresh in the east end, e-Bay occasionally (that’s where she got her Frye clogs), and Queen West now and then. Her bracelet is made up of charms representing banned books, including To Kill a Mockingbird,Annie on My Mind, and Howl. Some of her favorite books include Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and her current read, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, a graphic novel about coming out and growing up in a family-run funeral home.
The next stop was Toronto Public Library in Yorkville, where 35-year-old Elsa Ngan has worked for her; she’s been a librarian for 12. She dresses for work in pants, cardigans, sweaters, and turtlenecks. Her favorite place to shop is RW & Co., and if Anthropologie has a sale, she is there. In Montreal she shops at La Maison Simon, but no matter where she is shopping, she tries her best to keep things fair trade.
Elsa studied history in undergrad and has always been interested in women’s experience during the cultural revolution in China. Her favorite book, Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls, is a story about two poster girls in Shanghai during the thirties that are forced to marry overseas as a result of their fathers gambling problems. Elsa says the satisfaction of her job comes from helping teens develop their interests and seize opportunities through library services.
Just across the street is the Toronto Reference Library, where Lisa Heggum works as the children and youth advocate. Lisa’s mom worked in a library, so she spent much her childhood within them, but never expected to be working at one; she’s been with the Toronto Public Library since 2003. Her involvement with the community includes the Local Music Project, which hosts free concerts with local artists (Great Lake Swimmers, Final Fantasy, The Sadies, and recently Hooded Fang, among others) and tons of workshops that give learning opportunities to the public in the realm of music.
At work, Lisa goes from jeans to dresses but makes sure everything is comfortable. Here she’s wearing Fluevogs, a dress from Zilito on Queen, a Preloved, and a necklace her mother-in-law gave her. Lisa is married to a poet, and has two musically inclined kids, both under 5. One of Lisa’s favourite books is Mysterious Thelonious by Chris Raschka, a jazzy book she’s read with her kids a million times; the other is the late ’80s young adult novel Weetzie Bat. The book had a lot to do with her becoming interested in teen literature. “Being a teenager is such a challenging time in people’s lives,” she says. “And reading a great book can help you get through it… the thought of being able to connect teens with an amazing book: that’s exciting to me.”
Cameron Ray, 35, is a youth services specialist at the North York Central Library and was listening to Courtney Love on the way to meeting me. His essentials are jeans, cardigans and band tees, but today he’s wearing a tee his friend Melody made him (it says “nerd bird” on it). Cameron shops at Club Monaco, Banana Republic, stores on Queen St., and Get Outside (where he got his Superman Converse). His necklace is self-made, the bracelet is Tiffany’s (designed by Frank Gehry), and his glasses are Tom Ford.
Cam has always loved books, so much so that he has three tattooed on his arms: Barbarapapa, the ’70s book series that taught him how to read; Ramona, whose sassiness he admires; and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. Cameron loves how Roald Dahl has so much respect for the kids, not for the adults, and says James had a big impact on his life in grade five. Did you know that the Rhino in the story is based on Joseph Conrad’s hell in Heart of Darkness? This is why it’s good to go the library.