You can digitize your old photos for free, participate in book clubs, use the Internet or learn computer programs, take a course or get home delivery of large-type books. The public library isn’t what it used to be – it’s way more! Check it out!
Toronto Public Library Central Reference Branch Toronto Public Library Central Reference Branch

“Shhhhhhhhh,” is a sound you’re not likely to hear anymore at your public library. Oh sure, there still are silent spaces for folks who want to read or research in peace. But your public library is now a community hub – a secure, non-judgemental space where you can explore so much more than the printed word.

And if you think you’re a book-buyer, not a borrower, guess what – my friend Cath Biss, the CEO of the Markham Public Library, recently told me that people who buy the most books are those who also borrow books! So you’d be in good company if you started thinking of the library as your library for seniors.

Seniors can learn how to use a 3D printer at the Toronto Public Library

3D printing at the Toronto Public Library

To be honest, I hadn’t been in a library for years when I began this blog post. But wow! There are loads of things going on that make your public library a great place for seniors.

I was startled by the rich resources that I found, for example, at the Reference Library of the Toronto Public Library.

More about those resources later, but did you know about the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, where rare books and recordings are available? Or the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, one of the foremost troves of his writing and of works about him in the world? Or the piano practice room with two 88-key electronic piano keyboards (headphones required and provided), where you can play to your heart’s content without disturbing a single neighbour? As I said, more to come. By the way, Oakwood Village Library and Arts Centre has one too. And the Parkdale Library has an upright piano in a meeting room.

By the way, the Reference Library is just one branch. The Toronto Public Library has more branches than any other library system in North America. A library card is free to Toronto residents. (I’d recommend using public transit if your destination is the Reference Library, It’s a block north of Bloor on Yonge. Lines 1 and 2 of the subway meet below the Hudson’s Bay Centre and there’s an exit onto Asquith, with the library across the street. Driving and parking is difficult and expensive.

1. You can reserve scanner time and convert all your old photos – even slides – to digital files. Free!

I can’t tell you how many boxes of old photos my wife and I have. Some are prints, but many hundreds are colour slides. We’ll never see them again because we no longer have a projector. But we could, if we converted them to digital files. Then, we could see them on our computers and share them with family and friends by text or email. Suddenly, old and cherished experiences could become new again! Best of all – it’s free! There are 36 branches that have flat-bed scanners. They can handle your printed photos and your slides.

2. Book clubs and author talks can make the printed word come alive.

Where can book lovers meet and discuss? Toronto Public LIbrary’s website tells all. Find out where book clubs get together and where authors present and discuss their work at various branches. You can do the same for libraries in the York Region system, such as Markham Public Library. A Markham Public Library card is free if you live in York Region, $60 per person if you don’t. Many Toronto Public Libraries are very TTC accessible. The York Region Libraries can be a bit more of a challenge to access via public transit but many have parking.

Senior at a computer at the Toronto Public LIbrary

Computers are available for seniors at the Toronto Public Library – take a course, catch up with what’s going on and more

3. Even with a computer at home, you may find the library’s internet service really convenient.

Say you’re listening to a precious piece of music at the library and it makes you wonder about the composer’s life. It’s easy to sit down at one of the library’s computers and start researching the composer on the Internet. That might lead you to borrow a book about the composer that you’d never have known of. Really – something such as a great photo book of a singer-songwriter-rock star’s career, for example. It’s all at your fingertips.

4. Take a free course. For example, finally learn how to use Microsoft(R) Excel for your personal bookkeeping.

Seven of the Toronto Public Library’s branches have enhanced Learning Centres. Those centres have more advanced computers and software. You can book up to two hours at a time.

So how, you wonder, does that make for a wonderful library for seniors? Well, if you’re like me, you may stumble through a rudimentary use of Microsoft Excel at tax time, but we both may be missing the opportunity to better manage our life with it. There a myriad of Word, PowerPoint(R) and Excel courses at various branches of your library. Or you can learn how to get even more creative with your photos by modifying them, in Adobe(R) Photoshop. If you really want to step into today and tomorrow’s tech world, you can learn how to do 3D printing and become a new-age sculptor. Or prototype a product concept

All the courses are free. And even after you’ve taken a course, if you need help, somebody on the library staff is ready to help.

5. If it’s difficult to go to the books, many books will come to you.

If you’re homebound for three months or longer because of age or disability, contact any branch of the Toronto Public Library to learn more about Home LIbrary Services. Basically, if you can’t leave your residence, the Library will deliver up to 20 items a month and pick them up when for return. These include regular print hardcovers and paperbacks, large print books, magazines, CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, and DAISY talking books. The service is free.

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6. Download your favourite music – free!

I remember how painful it was to give away my LP records and CDs when I moved to an apartment and simply had no space for them. Now I’ve learned another reason that the Toronto Public Library is a great library for seniors. Using Naxos Music Library, we can download great music spanning medieval to modern – classical, jazz, electronic, world music and more – and find expert educational content too.

You’ll find Naxos and more, including ebooks and magazines, at

7. Learn how to transfer your skills to a new small business.

You may have a great idea for a new business, one that would you use the skills and wisdom you accumulated in the work world in a new-to-you way. There’s a big difference, however, in doing the job surrounded by a company’s other resources – such as bookkeeping – and having to carry all the cans yourself. At the Toronto Public Library, there’s a roster of courses that will help you get through the transition. There even are mentors – Entrepreneurs in Residence and Newcome Entrepreneurs in Residence!

8. Enjoy your hobby or game and make new friends at the Library.

Chess…knitting…getting creative with Lego…a game of euchre…there are 30 pages of hobbies, crafts and games available at various branches of the Toronto Public LIbrary. Not all are for adults or seniors, but they’re worth a look. When you consider them – and the book clubs, author talks and learning opportunities, you may have a hard time staying home!

Toronto Public Library accessible.

9. Being disabled doesn’t disable you from accessing the wonders of   the library!

If you need library materials in alternate formats, such as braille, Toronto Public Library or its associates in the Centre for Equitable Library Access offer a wide range of choices for for folks with visual impairments, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities. You can see what Equipment is available at different branches. All branches are wheelchair accessible.

10. When it comes to money, there’s kind of a free lunch at the library –  free courses, from how to access Service Canada to low-income retirement planning.

    As I wrote at the beginning of this blog, your library for seniors is a community hub, a welcoming space where you can find so much of what you want and need in life. Books, yes. Reference material, yes. But also information and help with coping with some of the day-to-day realities. Like money  as we age. Check out Personal Finance Programs at the Toronto Public Library.

11. There’s a Balzac’s cafe on the Reference Library’s ground floor!

How civilized! If a good coffee or other beverage and a sweet treat are what you need while you’re enjoying the Toronto Reference Library, you don’t even have to leave the building.

A friend with thousands of books at home is now an ardent library user!

As I was writing this blog, I called my friend. He’s an ardent holder of a Toronto Public Library Card and a writer himself. I’ve got a Vaughan Library card and the temporary Toronto Public Library card I needed to put this piece together.

So, when was the last time you had a library card in your wallet?

Maybe it’s time to catch up on everything at your pubilc library and find out first hand that the public library is a great place for seniors!

All photos courtesy of the Toronto Public Library

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