Ottawa Trans Library opens in Hintonburg – Apartment613


On a blistering afternoon in late May, an Apt613 editor was walking through Hintonburg when he saw something interesting, prompting him to share a photo with fellow contributors. That photo showed a small black frame placed against the lower portion of a large glass window, which read “Ottawa Trans Library” and the opening hours. I picked up that story right away (thanks, Ryan).

“I try to make space available for groups to use in whatever way they can,” said Tara Sypniewski, local bookworm, trans historian and founder of the Ottawa Trans Library, which recently appeared on the corner of Somerset Street West and Spadinalaan. “You want to meet and, you know, stir up rebellion? You are welcome here!”

Tara Sypniewski, founder of the Ottawa Trans Library. Photo: Josh Soucie.

Sypniewski was a founding member of Gender Mosaic, a local transgender support and social group founded in the late 1980s. Sypniewski says she misses the sense of community she and her comrades felt, as well as the momentum they built when Gender Mosaic was first established.

“I’ve been involved with the trans community since the 1980s, and sometimes it gets tired of it,” Sypniewski says, “But it’s part of me, this social justice itch that won’t go away.”

Sypniewski had flirted with the idea of ​​opening a library prior to the pandemic, but COVID-19 bookmarked that chapter. When the pandemic restrictions were lifted, allowing group activities to resume, she felt it was the right time to get to work. After all, she had already pledged to open a transgender library on her blog and community website, Trans Ottawa, which she created in 2017 to “record the history of transgender people in Ottawa”.

“Once I’ve done that,” Sypniewski says, “I feel like I’ve already committed to something.”

Sypniewski expresses a genuine, righteous desire to put local transgender pioneers in the spotlight. She created a page on her website titled “Canadian Trans Activists,” which features a non-exhaustive and rapidly evolving list of people who have worked tirelessly to change the country’s attitude toward the 2SLGBTQ+ community as a whole.

“The number of times I’ve heard Canadian transgender people thank American celebrities… It drove me crazy,” Sypniewski said. “Those aren’t the people you should be thanking!”

Books in the Ottawa Trans Library. Photo: Josh Soucie.

The library specializes in literature by, for and about transgender people. Sypniewski says one of her purchasing criteria is “trying to avoid books that the other public libraries have unless they’re really important.” The library’s current collection is divided into several categories, ranging from information about the transition process to transphobic titles. Above all, Sypniewski says she hopes clients leave with a greater sense of cultural continuity.

“I have books from the 1950s that are about non-binary people, so they’re not new,” Sypniewski notes. “I’m big on history and it’s good to know where you come from and the historical attitude. Knowing these things makes you feel a little more connected to others.”

After high school, Sypniewski studied English at Carleton University, where she claims she devoured piles of books. She was unemployed for a few years at the time, trying to figure things out, “because it was a bit suffocating in several jobs.” She says she always turned to reading as an escape. In the 1980s, Sypniewski was hired at the Nature Museum and it wasn’t long before the library became its sanctuary.

“While I never trained as a librarian, I grew up in a time when you could really learn on the job,” says Sypniewski. “I started at the bottom, and I did pretty much every job in the library well. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the collection. People would always come up to me and just bypass librarians because I did everything in that library, you know?’

Sypniewski chose to open the Ottawa Trans Library in Hintonburg because of its promise of visibility. In fact, she lived in Hintonburg some 40 years ago. She says the neighborhood has evolved over time, but it still feels like home.

“Although it’s a bit gentrified, it has the same feel as it did 40 years ago, and I love it,” says Sypniewski. “My life tends to go in circles, and it was time to return to Hintonburg.”

The Ottawa Trans Library. Photo: Josh Soucie.

At first she intended to just act as a librarian while trans people used the space in whatever way they could think of, but she’s since come to the conclusion, “That was kind of naive. put together, that there is a certain responsibility for the space. […] Now I realize there are many hats to wear.”

Since it has only just opened its doors, the Ottawa Trans Library is looking for volunteers and local 2SLGBTQ+ groups to use the space. “I learned a long time ago that one of the best indicators of future success is that good people work with you,” Sypniewski says. If you are interested in volunteering or hosting an event at the Ottawa Trans Library, be sure to message Sypniewski using the contact form on the Trans Ottawa website.

In addition to lending books and providing space for community events, Sypniewski also hosts a trans-friendly book club and the occasional board game night. She says similar events used to be held at the Art House Case, but she acknowledges that not everyone likes to meet in pubs and cafes. With the opening of the Ottawa Trans Library, Sypniewski hopes to have created a safe space for the trans community in Ottawa.

After all, she says, “libraries have always been communal spaces.”

Ottawa Trans Library is located at 1104 Somerset St. W and is currently open Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:00pm to 7:00pm and Sundays from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Visit their website for more information and to participate.


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