U of T library system turns 125

Librarians celebrate with cake, ‘bookies,’ stories from the past

U of T library system turns 125

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.”

Reviewing the contents of Toronto’s Little Free Libraries

If you’re looking for Simon Cowell biographies or Canadian erotic fiction, look no further

Reviewing the contents of Toronto’s Little Free Libraries

SINCE 2009, the Little Free Library non-profit organization has been making miniature book depositories for people to place on their front lawns. The books are scattered across various Toronto neighbourhoods and use the ‘take a book, leave a book’ honour system. Last week, we took a magnifying glass to these tiny literary collections and examined the books that Torontonians are reading. Out of this examination of seven little libraries came two deductions: Torontonians are fascinated by Americans and by themselves. 

One thing that becomes immediately obvious when looking through the library collection at Brunswick and Bloor is that Torontonians love reading about distinctly Canadian things. Canadian Sayings, Exploring the Canadian Arctic, The Canadian Mother and Child, and Canada Geese and Apple Chutney were among the works found across the various libraries.

Notable Canadian novelist Robert Kroetsch once argued that the Canadian identity lies in the country’s sheer diversity, yet judging by these works, it looks like the essence of the established Canadian identity is more homogenous. If one were to read all of those books (many of which are quite thick), one would practically qualify for Prime Minister. 

As much as Torontonians love reading about Canada, a library at Howland and Bloor demonstrated that they are equally fascinated by our neighbours to the south. Judging from the large number of American literary classics in these little libraries, it seems that many Torontonians have turned to quintessential American author Tom Clancy for literary pleasure.

Executive Orders and Locked On — both of which can be found in multiple libraries — give the impression of an impending war between the two nations. I eventually came across The Americans Are Coming by Herb Curtis, only to find Quilt Making and Collecting sitting right next to it. 

Aside from Canadian and American litereature, the books in these libraries also cover a diverse variety of subject matter. Grammar Smart, Gestures, The Fabulous Girl’s Guide to Decorum, Writing Children’s Books, Adultery for Adults, and Hustling can all be found in these libraries. If read consecutively, this unique set of combined skills would offer the reader the opportunity to be the world’s most empowered, best-selling gangster. 

The Library at Palmerston and Dupont, however, was a little dissapointing. Some classics were available while others were missing. Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex was there, as well as Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. What I initially thought to be A Streetcar Named Desire sadly turned out to be A Sheetcake Named Desire: A Piece of Cake Mystery. Needless to say, it only went downhill from there. The Intimate Life of Simon Cowell, Vampirates: Tide of Terror, and Star Trek Voyager: Unworthy are others that exist without the slightest hint of irony.

A little library at Roxton and Bloor and one on Clinton suggested that perhaps Canadians are a repressed people — sexually repressed, to be exact. This is a major theme in Canadian fiction and has been explored by many celebrated authors, none of which were found in the libraries (apologies to Sinclair Ross). The theme is instead reflected in some of the alternative works found in these libraries: Bedrock, One Night Denied, and The Lust Garden

So what does all of this tell us? Well, it either tells us that Torontonians are an introspective, complex people, or that they have a lot of books of which they’d like to get rid.

Apparently, they’re trying to understand themselves in the most existential sense by assessing their reality and fundamental human nature through works like Exploring the Canadian Artic and The Lust Garden, respectively. That level of intellectual exploration can be exhausting though, so perhaps they unwind with books about Simon Cowell and mysterious cake. Who can blame them? When one is repressed, works that focus on adultery, quilts, and geese become essential.

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