With Richard Togman
As told to Matt Prokopchuk, Photo by Shannon Lepere
Dr. Richard Togman chuckles as he calls himself a “bit of a Canadian nomad.” Originally from the Toronto area, the new CEO of the Thunder Bay Public Library comes into the job having gone to school and worked in several communities, including Vancouver, Ottawa, and Waterloo. Togman has a PhD in political science, helped launch Rent Panda locally (he is also its nowformer CEO), and formerly served as a member of the library’s board of directors. Togman spoke with The Walleye about his priorities for the local library system, his favourite place to grab a sandwich, and his most treasured possession. The Walleye: Thunder Bay’s library has received a lot of positive attention for its social justice initiatives and being a welcoming place for people at risk. Will that continue to be a focus under your leadership? Richard Togman: Yes, for sure. I mean, I think the library needs to serve the whole community, and there’s a big section of our community that is more at risk, is low income, suffers from discrimination and marginalization, and the library is one of the really few, truly safe places where those people feel welcome. And I definitely want to continue that; everybody is welcome in the library, no matter your income, background, race, ethnicity, or religion. It’s really a place for the entire community, and so serving that full spectrum of community needs is something the library will continue to do. TW: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? RT: So, one of the things I actually really like about Thunder Bay—most recently previous to Thunder Bay, I lived in Vancouver—is they’re both really outdoors-oriented cities. Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, I didn’t get a tonne of experience in the camping world, but that’s something I really enjoy. So just getting outdoors, hiking, camping, canoeing, and really taking advantage of the natural beauty of the Thunder Bay region is something I love doing. Also the winter sports here are incredible, and definitely something I didn’t get to take advantage of as much in Vancouver— snowshoeing, and [having] that kind of comfort with the minus 35. You get on your warm jacket and get out there. It’s something that I love about Thunder Bay. TW: Our cover story is focusing on sandwiches. Any particular favourites? RT: I have the fortunate amazingness of my wife being very heavily involved in the food scene and being the OMAFRA [Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs] representative locally, so I definitely get all the inside scoop on where the best food is and some of the amazing restaurants and spaces. She leads the way in kind of cultivating my food senses. So I’ve got to say the sandwiches at Nomad have definitely been a highlight. She introduced me to those and those are a real treat. TW: You’re heading up the library—what’s the last book you read or are currently reading? RT: That’s a good question. It’s a little bit funny because definitely as a book nerd and now fully living that as the library CEO, I’m usually reading three or four books at a time. I recently read a book on the 1960s and 70s radicals in the United States, organizations like The Weather Underground, something I didn’t know a tonne about before and that was really interesting. And I actually just picked up a Kurt Vonnegut book that I’m about to head in to, so yeah, I really get to live the book dream here at the library and expand my book selection. TW: What are you currently binge watching? RT: I got into The Umbrella Academy. Netflix knows me a little too well, so it kept advertising that to me and I heard mixed reviews from some friends— some really liked it, some didn’t. But, yeah, those algorithms got me down pat, so I’ve been binge watching The Umbrella Academy lately. TW: What is your most treasured possession? RT: Quite a few things. Honestly, the first thing that came to mind [came from] one of my grandmothers. She’s 99 now and not in the best of health, but she’s always someone I had a strong relationship with, and she had a very difficult life— she was born in Europe and went through Auschwitz and the concentration camps during the war. A couple of years ago, she gave me a birthday card that wished me a happy birthday, and wished that I would measure time not in years, but in joy. So that was really something that was deeply meaningful for me. I’m not a big card person, but that I held on to and have at my desk at home as something really inspirational from someone who’s gone through an unimaginable experience, but came through it really optimistic and joyful about life. So I try to keep that in mind: not counting down the days but measuring my time in the joy and happiness I have. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.