9 Montréal libraries that go beyond books

Isa Tousignant

Bookworms welcome: the network of public libraries in Montréal is vast and amazing. Beyond the books, though, some of these places stand out either for their jaw-dropping architecture, cool creative programming or extra je ne sais quoi. Here are 9 Montréal libraries that go the extra mile.

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The biggest of them all

A true jewel on the Montréal cultural scene, the Grande Bibliothèque is the biggest of the BAnQ network (there are 10 Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec centres throughout the province). It shines like a beacon on Berri Street on the corner of de Maisonneuve. Much more than a library (but with 3.5 million items to be borrowed or for on-the-spot reference use, what a library it is!), this edifice won awards for its striking architecture. The interior is filled with spaces for reading, watching, researching, listening to lectures and art viewing, with exhibition spaces throughout. Plus the free programming for the whole family is endless.

The picturesque offshoot

Housed in a beautiful beaux-arts building on Viger from the early 1900s, the Old Montréal BAnQ has a stunning interior with white spiral staircases and wrought iron filigree. In addition to storing documents dating back to the 17th century, this library has lots of tables for quiet study where you can soak up the beauty—and the hushed atmosphere. Interestingly, over 8,500,000 images are preserved here, from the archive collections of amateur or professional photographers from throughout Quebec.

The park-side attraction

Westmount Public Library is a picturesque red-stone building amid the green vastness of Westmount Park, one of the prettiest play parks in the city. It’s also flanked by a small botanical garden, well worth a look. This library is a paradise for kids, with weekly story-times, craft workshops, book clubs and special activities like a LEGO club and a children’s memoir writing workshop, to teach kids how to record their own memories in narrative form. And did we mention the Gaming at the Library event?

The community centre

The Parc Extension Public Library is kid-friendly library that includes toys, comfy chairs and lots of multicultural publications to reflect the neighbourhood communities. What makes it stand apart even more is that it’s attached to the William Hingston Complex, a hub of never-ending activity where you can join in a basketball game, do yoga, learn a language, follow a cooking class or watch a play. And there’s an indoor pool next door!

The LEED certified jewel

It turns heads! The syunning, minimalist Bibliothèque Marc Favreau in Rosemont is one of Montréal’s first libraries to have an LEED certification. It’s a clean, bright, ultra-comfortable place to find a nook and read the day away. The fantastic reading room has wraparound, floor-to-ceiling windows and a fireplace in the middle – a warm heart in the centre of the edgy design of featuring lots of metal and glass.

The hipster haven

Named after one of Mile End’s most famous authors, Mordecai Richler Public Library is located at the heart of this hip neighbourhood and acts as a meeting point for its community. Located in the old Church of the Ascension built in 1910, the space remains striking for its arches, wooden beams and stained-glass windows. The collection specialized in comic books and boasts a wide collection of material in Chinese and Spanish, while the programming centres around family-friendly fun: yoga for kids inspired by animal books, evening craft hours and film screenings presented in association with the NFB.

The tiny, artsy getaway

It may be small, but it’s mighty! The Robert Bourassa Public Library is nestled in the middle of residential Outremont, right across from the Fire Station. Aside from boasting great natural light and a collection specialized on gastronomy and the history of art, it’s particularly special because its walls feature art on loan from the Galerie d’art d’Outremont, next door. The small gallery is worth a visit in itself, hosting wonderfully curated exhibitions by Montréal’s top contemporary artists.

The cultural meeting place

Speaking of art galleries, the Côte-des-Neiges Public Library is at the heart of the Maison de la Culture Côte-des-Neiges, a cultural complex featuring a big contemporary art gallery as well as 80-plus shows a year including theatre, film, dance and conferences. The building features the first green roof ever built on a city building, and was awarded an honourable mention by the Corporation des architectes du Québec for the quality and harmony of the building’s design. Come and get comfy to peruse their huge collection of detective novels and thrillers, including a large section of Scandinavian authors, fantasy and science fiction.

The piece of history, refreshed

A real show-stopper of historic Montréal architecture, Maisonneuve Public Library is located in the old town hall of the former municipality of Maisonneuve, and now stands as a landmark in the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve neighbourhood. A major renovation and enlargement project is planned for 2020, but it won’t damage the original building and the coats of arms than decorate its marble floor – what it will do is add 230 seats, a lounge, a coffee shop, and public plaza and rooftop garden! We can’t wait.

Isa Tousignant

Isa Tousignant, blogger

Isa Tousignant is an art and lifestyle writer based out of Montréal’s eclectic Park Ex neighbourhood. She is Contributing Editor for Canadian Art magazine and freelances full-time for a wide variety of magazines and brands. She’s also a jewellery designer and passionate about animal costumes and their role in contemporary art.