The new exhibit in the TD Gallery Space at the Toronto Reference Library is a relatable and refreshing take on the often intimidating world of Special Collections. Though rarely discussed, the Toronto Public Library actually has significant holdings in Special Collections. Totalling over four million holdings, the Special Collections cover a wide breadth of topics, from Canadian History to Science Fiction and Fantasy. There are numerous Special Collections across the TPL System, including: the Merrill Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the Baldwin Canadiana Collection, the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, the Special Collections in the Arts and, of course, the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. The Toronto Public Library has been faithfully collecting historic and quirky items since 1884. Sidenote, I have had a tour of most of the Special Collections and am proud to say that I wrote about some of these items before this exhibit came out.
By placing the items in alphabetical order, the exhibit allows for the familiarity of the alphabet book-like format to capture the imagination of its audience. There is also an impressive breadth of items on display, as the exhibit is not bound by any specific theme. The world of rare books and special collections can be frustrating and intimidating to novice users (trust me, I would know, I’m an archivist!), and this exhibit is a wonderful peek into the holdings of the TPL. Where the exhibit is especially brilliant is how the format and the exhibits work in tandem to reach audiences of all walks of life, without alienating anyone. The alphabet, paired with topics as diverse as Arctic Exploration, Zero Gravity and Sherlock Holmes is sure to capture the imaginations of younger and older viewers alike. That is not to say that the displays are infantile, or meant simply for children. There are an impressive array of rare and first edition books, such as The Hobbit, Dracula and Metamorphoses. But the exhibit does not rely on bibliographic or visual items alone; I was delighted to find significant historical artifacts from Upper Canada and Toronto. No matter who you are, you will see something that will interest or delight you.
All in all, Special Collections: A to Z is one of the finest exhibitions ever put together by the Toronto Public Library Team and is sure to capture the imaginations of anyone who attends!
What did you think of the new exhibition at the Toronto Reference Library? Let me know in the comments below!