A half century amid the stacks (Carlingwood is 50!)

Submitted by Paul Tyler – 

Located near the busy intersections of Carling and Woodroffe Avenues, and surrounded by eight distinct, densely populated neighbourhoods, the Carlingwood branch of the Ottawa Public Library comprises one of the largest branch user-areas in the City of Ottawa. Even on the library’s slowest days, Ottawa’s diversity can be experienced firsthand, where branch visitors pursue a wide range of interests and activities well into the evening, utilizing the library’s three floors.

Originally built to meet the needs of a rapidly growing Woodroffe population, the Carlingwood branch first opened within the Carlingwood Shopping Centre in 1957 with a collection of 5,000 books. According to the Ottawa Journal, “The branch is the result of the Bookmobile service, which was first instituted in Ottawa in 1950. The great demand for this service was such that the library decided to open a permanent branch in that area.”

This is what it looked like at the Carlingwood branch of the Ottawa Public Library in 1966.
… and here is a view of the library today. There are a number of different activities planned at the Carlingwood library on October 1. There will be a ribbon cutting of a new mural, a musical performance by local band Hey Buster at noon, and at 3 p.m. the Capital Blend Quartet will perform. For event details go to biblioottawalibrary.ca. Photo by Andrea Tomkins

Within a few years it was obvious that a nook-sized branch could not satisfy the area’s ravenous need for reading material and a new “ultra-modern building,” as the Ottawa Citizen noted, was built with the intent of serving a population of 100,000. The new Carlingwood branch was opened to the public in August 1966 with its official opening as a regional library on October 13th of that year. According to the Ottawa Times Weekly, it didn’t take long for the branch to become the “busiest public library in town.” Having an initial collection of 30,000 books, it soon grew to 70,000, and now visitors have access to well over 200,000 items, including OPL’s digital collections.

It is the cathedral-like design of the building that one first notices when entering the building, with its high windows and alcoves, its gothic arches, and its mezzanine, all serving to highlight the library’s function as a community meeting place and allowing an immediate view on to its collection. The building offers a window into grand vision of the Ottawa city planners of the day who built not just one, but three west-end braches in the space of two years.

One of the library’s key features is the eye-catching, bird-like, bronze sculpture suggesting the idea of flight. It was commissioned for the opening of the library and created by Montreal artist Gordon Smith. Installed above the original entrance, hanging high overhead, it was meant to greet the public as they entered their new building. It is fitting that a new outdoor mural by artist Claudia Salguero will soon be unveiled during the celebration of Carlingwood’s 50th anniversary in October. Much like the original intent of the sculpture, the mural will welcome area residents, and can be viewed on the west side of the building by people driving along Woodroffe Avenue. Claudia’s new mural serves to highlight the diverse and active population that still frequents its local branch.

Since opening Carlingwood has always been one of the city’s most loved and well-used branches. The Ottawa Citizen wrote in 1960 that “west-end residents out-read their downtown library members by almost two to one.” Whether it’s the frenetic pace its children’s area, the hum of teen activities, its popular adult programming, or simply a cool space to read a book on a hot summer day, the Carlingwood Library remains one of the most widely used public resources in Ottawa’s west end.

Paul Tyler is a Public Service Assistant at the Carlingwood branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

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