100 Libraries

"A library is also a place where love begins." – Rudolfo Anaya

Tag: Special Collections

Review, Special Collections: A to Z

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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 HobbitDracula 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!

012 North York Central Library


North York Central Library is probably one of the most diverse collections in the Toronto Public Library system. As a caveat, I must advise that no amount of writing in this post will do this library justice. It is a massive, six floor complex attached to the North York Civic Centre (seven if you count the study floor on ground level). This branch opened in 1987, replacing an earlier branch, the Gladys Allison Building. The name North York Central Library is in reference to its proximity to the pre-amalgamation North York Civic Centre. Immediately surrounding the Library is Mel Lastman’s Square, where you will find community events and farmers markets in the summer and skaters in the winter.


IMG_6476If the interior of the Library reminds you of the Toronto Reference Library, this is no accident. The library was designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects, the same architects that designed the Reference Library. The vast expanse of the Library incorporates six floors with six separate collections, separated by an open atrium. A word of warning, staring down the middle of the library is not for the faint of heart. On the First Floor, you will find the Children’s Collection and the Teen Zone. The wide array of children’s holdings is surrounded by an inviting wall covered in fanciful creatures and colours. My favourite was the moose above the reference desk. The Second Floor is home to both the Fine Art and Literature and Language Collection, as well as the Art Gallery on the opposite side of the atrium. On the Third Floor is the Society & Recreation Collection and Library Administration. The Fourth Floor houses the Business and Urban Affairs Collection and the Collections Development Department. The Fifth Floor is devoted to Science and Technology. Finally, the Sixth Floor is home to the Gladys Allison Canadian Room and Canadiana Collection.

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Sadly, I did not get an opportunity to explore all of the floors at length. I did, however, stop to see the Canadiana Room and Collection. The Canadiana Room features many genealogical resources that are otherwise unavailable to many family history enthusiasts in the Greater Toronto Area. This includes national censuses from other provinces, Early Upper Canada Land registries and other genealogical data. These are all made available through the many volumes littered around the floor, as well as on microform (microfilm and microfiche). Afraid of microform readers? ScanPros got you down? Have no fear! The reference staff on the floor will teach you how to use both the collection and the microfilm readers.


As a special bit of trivia, the Canadiana Collection also features a large ornamental lion from the Golden Lion Hotel (go figure). His name is Henry and he is on permanent loan to the Novotel Hotel, which is just behind the Library.


This is a library that definitely deserves more time towards its exploration. Every floor is an adventure in and of itself and I will definitely have to go back.


10 Fascinating Items from the Special Collections of the Toronto Public Library

There’s a general perception that libraries only contain books, but libraries have been branching out to electronic acquisitions and digital media. But collecting non-book holdings is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the Toronto Public Library has a number of Special Collections spread out across the city with some surprising items that you may not have expected. Therefore, I present ten items that I find fascinating that you may not have known were at the library.

10. The (One-Time) World’s Smallest Book – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

This book was printed by a Japanese publisher in celebration of their anniversary and features images of the Chinese Zodiac with Japanese and Chinese letters representing their sign. It was certified the smallest book by the Guinness Book of Records but has since been replaced by subsequent smaller books. Still a sight to behold though, and the Osborne Collection has a 20x magnified version displayed next to it.


Courtesy of Tokyo Times

9. German Pop-Up Valentine Card – Private Press and Fine Printing, Marilyn & Charles Baillie Centre for Special Collections, Toronto Reference Library

This Pop-Up Valentine Card is part of a collection of Fine Art Ephemera at the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections on the Fifth Floor of the Toronto Reference Library. There is a aristocratic man courting an aristocratic woman, and they are surrounded by an idyllic scene of lush flowers and a small folly made in the gothic style. Puts our modern attempts of romance to shame, right?

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

8. Toronto City Hall Competition Invitation – Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre, Toronto Reference Library

The City of Toronto decided to build a new City Hall to establish itself as a global city (which it is arguably still trying to do) in 1957. To find the design, it launched a global competition for architects to supply their visions to such an important structure. The result was the Toronto City Hall we all know and love (which coincidentally contains a branch of the Toronto Public Library). Take a gander at the flashy introduction written by then mayor Nathan Phillips. Can you imagine an introduction written in this century that uses the word “undulating” so liberally?

City Hall and Square

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

If you want to learn more about the design competition of City Hall, the Toronto Public Library has a great Virtual Exhibition that you can check out here.

7. A 17th Century Horn Book – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

Horn Books were tools for children to learn how to properly form their letters. The translucent screen above the letters was made out of horn, thus the name horn book. The back was also replaceable with a set for upper case and lower case letters, as well as numbers. Children were expected to trace their letters and numbers in order to prepare for school.

This is a horn book from the 16th century. The clear part is made out of horn so children could trace their letters and learn to write.

6. Pop-Up Theatre Book – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

Another pop-up item, but one that was meant to delight children as a mini-theatre. This item features an ornamental façade with major and minor characters and has interchangeable scenery in the background for various settings.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

5. Sherlock Holmes Card Game – Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, Toronto Reference Library

This may appeal to the board game or Sherlock enthusiasts out there. Parker Brothers released a Sherlock Holmes Card Game where it appears that you try to collect as many Robber cards and Sherlock Holmes cards as possible. The game promises “never a dull moment” and the Victorian women appear to be having a great time, so maybe Parker Brothers should capitalize and reprint the game?

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

4. Aesop’s Fables from the 14th Century – Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Lillian H. Smith Library

Arguably the oldest item in the Osborne Collection and potentially even the entire Special Collections. These are a handwritten recount of Aesop’s Fables in Latin, with small illustrations to accompany the text. The fables are written on vellum which is parchment made of dried animal skins and is therefore very durable and has been preserved to us today.

The oldest item in the collection, a vellum Aesop's Fables from the 14th Century.

3. Royal Genealogy Board Game – Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, North York Central Library

Some people in the 18th Century must have loved all things Royal Family. The instructions are far too complicated for this passive observer, but it’s a good reminder that everything can be a game if you try hard enough.


Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

2. Land and State Books (Slavery Ledgers) – Baldwin Collection of Canadiana, North York Central Library

Land and State Books were used by men in Upper Canada to keep track of their property and land holdings. Since slaves were considered property, these books are very useful resources to discover attitudes towards slavery, what the life of a slave was like and to estimate how many slaves lived in Canada within a given time frame. The Toronto Public Library curated an excellent virtual exhibition of Early Black History in Freedom City.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

1. John J. Audobon’s Birds of America – Marilyn and Charles Baillie Centre for Special Collections, Toronto Reference Library

Without a doubt one of the biggest collection of ornithological prints in the City, the images were originally printed in four volumes. Throughout the late 1980’s, it was decided that the volumes were suffering too much wear and tear and so the images were removed from their bindings and put in special boxes. For those of us who are uninitiated in the handling of fine prints or just don’t have time to make it to the TD Gallery, you can see the items here.

Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

Have you seen something at your local library that you think deserves a place on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

003 Toronto Reference Library


And here we are at the Toronto Reference Library. This whimsical building was designed by Japanese Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama. There’s a lot to do and see here, so let’s dive in.

Upon entry, you are faced with the difficult choice of going to Page and Panel or Balzac’s Coffee. I am a tad biased, since Page and Panel is probably one of my favourite stores in Toronto, so let’s focus on that.


Page and Panel is affiliated with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, which is an annual comic arts festival held at the Toronto Reference Library. There are quite a few exotic wares in this shop, including a selection of book related ephemera, Studio Ghibli books (My Neighbour Totoro, anyone?), manga and anime gifts. For the bibliophiles in your life, this is the perfect place to buy book themed merchandise. I digress.


There’s also the infamous Arthur Conan Doyle Collection. The Collection consists of items relating to Doyle’s writing, not simply his Sherlockian exploits, though those are a big feature. There are the issues of The Strand where Doyle originally published Sherlock Holmes but also his work on prehistory, faeries and spiritualism. Also included in the Collection are things that you wouldn’t expect, like TOEFL books that reference “Elementary, my Dear Watson” in their phrases and a certain literary beagle. The Friends of Arthur Conan Doyle also put on lectures, quiz nights and other outreach programs relating to Doyle and his works. Recently, they had a lecture by David Arquette, who was playing Holmes in Toronto.


Of course, no description of the Toronto Reference Library would be complete without referring to the wonderful events at the Reference Library including the Book Lover’s Ball, the Eh List and a whole host of other programs.

I attended The eh List! event with André Alexis on January 11, 2016 at the Toronto Reference Library. For a recap of that experience, please click here.

001 Lillian H. Smith Library


“The love for a good story, well told, lies deep in every human heart.” – Lillian H. Smith

IMG_6286The Lillian H. Smith Library was founded in 1922 and named after the first professionally trained children’s librarian in the British Empire. Lillian Smith was 25 when she joined the Toronto Library system due to a growing demand for the children of the city. Housed within the collections of this library are The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books and The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy. All of course guarded by the two stone gryphons at the front doors.

In fact, Smith was instrumental in bringing the Osborne Collection to Toronto. Edgar Osborne was a British Librarian who moonlighted as a children’s book collector. After some time, he managed to collect over 2 000 items which represented three centuries worth of children’s reading materials. Upon meeting Smith, he was so impressed that he committed all of his collection to Toronto. Those 2 000 items have now grown to a tripartite collection represented by 100 000 items.


IMG_6279I have often found that children’s books allow writers, illustrators and creators to be the most innovative, and the Osborne Collection did not disappoint. There are a number of interesting children’s books and childhood items in the collection including a horn book, a vellum copy of Aesop’s Fables from the 14th century and (until 2002) the world’s smallest book.

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There are circulating exhibits in both the Merril and Osborne Collections and the curators of the collections often run seminars including “Ask a Curator” on Saturdays.

(Oh and for all of you “Where the Wild Things Are” fanatics, there’s a small celebration of his work at Lillian H. Smith right now as well.)

002 Yorkville Library


Yorkville Library was built through a grant by Andrew Carnegie, as one of the infamous Carnegie Libraries. As such, Yorkville Library is part of a rich legacy left behind by the magnate, along with being part of a series of 2 509 libraries in the world.


This library was opened in 1907, relocating services from an earlier Northern Branch. The site was designated a heritage site in 1973 and  expanded in 1978. The branch was designated a heritage property in 1973, receiving its Toronto Historical plaque in 2007. One of my favourite features is the gallery like quiet study space at the back of the building.

Of note in this library is the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Collection. Although it is disseminated widely throughout the general collection, you can find a variety of books, magazines and audio visual materials on topics relating to the LGBT community.


Although it’s a smaller library than the massive Toronto Reference Library, the setting offers a more intimate atmosphere.


et pour mes lecteurs français, il y a une collection excellente des livres français au coeur de la bibliothèque Yorkville!