Whether it’s the the Tooker Gomberg Memorial Library, the Toronto Tool Library, or the Fresh Fashion Library, CSI loves a library.
We also love comics (or at least I do). So when we had the chance to make CSI Regent Park the home of the Canada Comics Open Library, we were beyond thrilled. It opened on March 12 of this year. We chatted with President and Librarian Rotem Anna Diamant to find out how it’s going.
Can you tell us a bit about opening the Canada Comics Open Library? What have been the best moments so far?
Before moving to CSI, we had held our big launch event at The519 with the entire collection as a one-day popup, comics workshops, and a panel discussion on storytelling, and we were in the process of planning a year of popup libraries and events until we had a branch location in Toronto. In the meantime, the collection was in storage and for those months felt underused. We were incredibly excited to move the collection into such a vibrant community space and finally have it be accessible to the public ongoing. It is a really special collection with a variety of narratives from diverse creators covering a wide array of subjects, and everyone involved with the project is a volunteer— so it is a big labour of love.
We were thrilled when Denise reached out and mentioned that they were looking for a project to include in the community lounge, and our accessibility goals aligned really well. We had a whirlwind move-in and the CSI community has been very welcoming. Comics can be an accessible introduction to a new language, culture, or pathway to other mediums for storytelling for all ages, but they can also be perplexing narratives, challenging to piece together, lend themselves to multiple interpretations and require more than one reading. We hope to create a space that encourages learning, creativity, and skill-sharing surrounding the medium, and inspires people to tell their own stories through comics as well.
Comics are often misunderstood, because certain creators are underrepresented in the media and mainstream industry (for example, women and marginalized creators), and the lack of access to comics in general due to their cost or the difficulty of finding zines or comics made by independent creators, so it is wonderful to see people walk up to our shelves and see all these diverse narratives. We can see the shift in perspective that happens, and people opening up and sharing their own stories with us. It has also been great seeing kids in the community feel comfortable grabbing comics from the kids/young adult section and reading them on the couches and filling us in on their opinions— they do not hold back!
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Can you tell me more about your unique cataloguing and display system?
In the physical library space, we catalogue comics primarily by subject to try to make comics more accessible to those new to the medium, and for anyone to be able to see the incredible scope of narratives out there! We also showcase underrepresented narratives and marginalized creators through our sticker system that highlights BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) creators, queer comics, and narratives that cover the subject and experiences of mental health, physical health, and disability. We also have a display area that gets changed up each month to showcase unique experiences told through comics; for May, we had a display for Asian Heritage Month, Jewish Heritage Month, and for Muslim, Arab, and MENA comics. For June, it will be a Pride display, and a display for Indigenous history month showcasing narratives by indigenous creators. Ideally, we hope that anyone will be able to look at the shelves and see themselves represented!
In terms of digital cataloguing, we also provide an OPAC, or an Online Public Access Catalogue, which provides searchable information on our collection. Because we are a special collection dedicated solely to comics and graphic novels, we are able to catalogue a little differently. We do this by representing comics and graphic novels as a medium all in itself. In this way, all comics are catalogued by their primary subject from a taxonomy we created, and include extensive meta tagging. We hope this will enable all sorts of research and allow visitors from diverse backgrounds to discover new works, search in terms that are familiar, and capture things like the language of self-determination within marginalized communities. We will be working to improve the catalogue over time, and we welcome community feedback.
What is your biggest hope for the Comic Library? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
We really want the library to grow to be a well-used community space and resource both to those new to comics and to more experienced creators and readers. Our big goal and hope is the creation of accessible non-profit comics libraries in many different cities across Canada, including rural communities or spaces where there is traditionally less access to comics than in a vibrant comics city like Toronto!
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How has being a CSI member (or at CSI) impacted your work so far?
It has been great meeting people from such diverse backgrounds and work experiences that offer unique perspectives on the library project. Because we are a new organization, it has also been great moving into a space that already has an established community. We enjoy being in the loop on the non-profit and social enterprise community in Toronto, and we have already met several amazing people embarking on unique journeys. Most recently, we participated in the Regent Park Neighborhood Association cleanup day, and had a great time both cleaning up and introducing CSI and Regent park community members to the collection.
How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in the Comic Library’s work?
Visit us anytime during staffed hours to sign up for membership and get access to the collection and future events! Another amazing way to support us is by sharing the project! We are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
You also can visit our Volunteer Page for more information on Volunteer roles:
We currently have a waitlist for volunteer librarian shifts (which is amazing!) but we will be looking for volunteers for future events, and especially would appreciate advice from those experienced in the areas of fundraising, development, and outreach.
Since we are currently 100% volunteer-run, we also created a Patreon where anyone can support us by donating $1 or $5 a month. On our website, you can also donate to the project using PayPal.
Donations help us keep the organization running to provide both events and services as an independent non-profit special collection library.
We have received a lot of support from people who donated comics and graphic novels from their private collections; if you have some comics to donate, all of our book donation info and our wish list can be found on our donation page.
If you have another idea for us, would like to partner with us for an event or project, or have a different way you’d like to help out, please do get in touch!
BONUS QUESTION: What graphic novel have you re-read more than any other?
I’m not sure which would win!: One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry, a brutal and beautiful memoir of childhood, told in an amazing scrapbook aesthetic with loose drawings, and filled with hilarious and thoughtful observations about growing up; or, Meat Cake and other comics by Dame Darcy, which are really fun feminist retellings of fairytales and folktale themes with very grotesque characters drawn in a beautiful dainty Victorian style.