The U of T library system is celebrating its 125th birthday this year. Two of the university’s past Chief Librarians and the current Chief Librarian joined Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr for a celebration at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library on October 12. U of T has also put together an exhibit on the first floor of John P. Robarts Research Library running from October 6 to January 8, 2018 that tells the stories of how U of T developed the expansive library system it has today.
Dr. Robert Blackburn, the Chief Librarian from 1953–1981 who oversaw the building of Robarts, attended the commemorative event held by the university and spoke about the emergence of Robarts.
Carole Moore, another former Chief Librarian, spoke about the transformation and revitalization of Robarts; current Chief Librarian Larry Alford talked about the future of the library system in light of the current expansion that Robarts is undergoing.
The event also featured cake and little book-shaped cookies, or ‘bookies,’ as Jesse Carliner, Communications Librarian in the Office of the Chief Librarian, called them.
Other sections of the Robarts exhibit feature information on the libraries’ public services offered by the libraries over the years, as well as how the libraries have changed students’ access to information. The exhibit sheds light on key moments in the system’s history.
While libraries have actually been a part of the university for more than 125 years, the anniversary is commemorative of when the first library building, University Library, was opened in 1892. The building was a product of donations following the fire at University College that destroyed the college’s entire collection on Valentine’s Day in 1890.
University Library featured men’s and women’s reading rooms, as well as a fireproof stack room to keep a disaster like the UC fire from happening again. Since then, the library system has expanded and grown to include libraries such as EJ Pratt Library, Robarts, and the former University Library that reopened as the Gerstein Science Information Centre.
When Robarts was scheduled to open back in the 1970s, it was initially intended to be accessible only to graduate students, faculty, and fourth-year undergraduate students. The Students Administrative Council (SAC), the precursor of the University of Toronto Students’ Union, considered this to be unacceptable and staged a sit-in on the second floor of Simcoe Hall, posting a massive sign in the window that read, “Open the stacks.” The administration listened to the SAC, and when the library opened in 1973, it was available to all students. This is why Robarts has elevators that only go up to certain levels, because the library was architecturally designed for exclusive use.
While Robarts was initially intended for graduate students, the library’s current renovations, the Robarts Common, intends to create 1,200 new study spaces for all U of T students and is scheduled to open in 2019.
Blackburn has chronicled the history of U of T libraries. A report in his book describes libraries as the heart of U of T, where “the lifeblood of scholarship flows to all parts of the university.”