The famous librarian Dr. Ralph Shaw (1907-1972) recommended that a library board should be established to provide Metropolitan Toronto with a reference library. The reference collection would be drawn from the reference and circulating departments of Toronto Public Library’s Central Library.
It would be located in the TPL’s existent Central Library until a new facility could be built. This is why the Central Library built with Carnegie funds is referred to as the old Toronto Reference Library. On April 4, 1960, an addition to the Central Library for book stacks and a reading room officially opened.
The Metropolitan Toronto Library Board was founded in 1966. In A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library, 1883-1983, Margaret Penman wrote the Metro Toronto Library Board was “to provide reference services to the metro area, promote interlibrary lending, and provide co-ordinating services to local library systems.” The Central Library collections and other special collections were transferred from the Toronto Public Library Board to the new Metro Toronto Library Board.
In 1972, the Metro Toronto Library Board acquired a site on Yonge Street on which to build a new reference library. Two years later, the Metro Toronto Library Board selected Raymond Moriyama to be architect of the new Toronto Reference Library.
On November 2, 1977, theNew Metropolitan Toronto Library (now called the Toronto Reference Library) opened at 789 Yonge Street at Asquith Avenue, near the center of Toronto. This was the same year the old Toronto Reference Library closed and the University of Toronto assumed control of it for use as a student union and bookstore.
The 400,000 square-foot new library building hadover fifty miles of stacks. Its modern design and sweeping ten-storey atrium led Canadian Architect magazine to call it “one of this country’s most important 20th century buildings.” In 1994, an addition to the Toronto Reference Library opened.
In 1998, the seven library boards in Metropolitan Toronto united into a single library system called the Toronto Public Library (TPL). The Toronto Reference Library is often referred to as the system’s Research and Reference Library. The TPL Board meets in the Toronto Reference Library and the office of the City Librarian is located there, making it the de facto central library.
On February 26, 2001, the Digital Design Studio opened. In 2003, the Computer Terrace opened. The next year, two New Learning Centres opened.
In 2006, the Browsery Collection opened. On January 8, 2007, the Toronto Reference Library went from being open fifty-four hours per week to being open sixty hours per week.
Today, the Toronto Reference Library is one of the most-visited public institutions in the city of Toronto and the province of Ontario. It is unique as the only public reference library in Canada.
According to the TPL Foundation, “No other public institution does more to support the lifelong learning ambitions of its residents. The Toronto Reference Library’s multilingual collections, community programming, Special Collections and staff expertise have resonated with users since its doors opened.”
Every year, more than 1,400,000 visitors – children, students, scholars, writers, artists, immigrants, seniors, historians – use its vast resources. They rely on the Toronto Reference Library “to help them create art, write books, complete school assignments, conduct research, improve literacy skills, e-mail grandchildren, learn English, create resumes, find jobs and start new businesses. They flock to the Library’s author readings, performances, debates and appearances by great minds and leading cultural figures. Throughout its history, the Toronto Reference Library has contributed to the cultural, economic and social well-being of the City of Toronto.”
The Toronto Reference Library is undergoing a revitalization project to be carried out in three phases without the facility’s closure, over a period of five years, and at a cost of $34,000,000. It is being funded by the City of Toronto, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Canada, and the TPL Foundation. The TPL Foundation is currently undertaking “re:vitalize – Toronto Reference Library Campaign” in support of the revitalization.
The TPL states, “Through its revitalization program, the Toronto Reference Library is creating a dynamic interface between the library and its community, connecting the library’s interior more directly to the street, and the public to the services inside.” All the renovations are being designed by Moriyama & Teshima Architects.
As part of the revitalization, the Toronto Reference Library opened the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon on September 17, 2009. According to the TPL Foundation, it “has quickly emerged as one of the city’s premiere venues for high-profile cultural programming.”
The Glass Entrance Cube will be three stories tall and visible from all approaches. It will feature a glass wall running the entire length of the Yonge street façade, a new café and Library Retail Store at street level, an “expanded and revitalized Gallery Space that will better enable visitors to engage and interact with the library’s Special Collections,” and an expansion of something the TPL and TPL Foundation call the “Browsery.” The latter “will include a new information centre – a 12-screen Global Connect wall with information feeds from all over the world.”
The new rotunda will bring together the whole of the Toronto Research Library’s Special Collections in one place. The TPL states, “A spectacular 2-storey Rotunda will be constructed on the library’s 5th Floor as a new home for the library’s 1.9 million item Special Collections. Reminiscent of the great reading rooms of libraries past, the rotunda will bring prominence and increased accessibility to the library’s vast and inspiring Special Collections.”
The consolidation, for the first time, of all the Special Collections in a single space will provide “more opportunities for students, artists, and historians to explore, uncover and rediscover Canada’s and Toronto’s historical and cultural records.” The increase in the prominence and accessibility of the Special Collections will benefit the public.
Currently only 8% of the library’s collection is on permanent display. While accessible, most of the collection remains closed to the public due to space limitations and conservation controls. The TPL states, “This revitalization will triple the number of works on permanent display.”
This project is an effort to conserve and protect these valuable works. “Enhanced conservation features, including specialized lighting, climate controls and custom building materials, ensure preservation of the collection for future generations.”
There will also be changes on the second and fourth floors. The TPL states, “The revitalization of the Reference Library will see innovative reconfiguration of study and research spaces on the second to fourth floors of the building. Subject departments will be refocused, rethought and realigned, making reference information and resources more accessible and usable. Individual and collaborative study spaces will be flexible, adaptable – even portable – to better facilitate exploration, discovery and information exchange. And custom furniture, open spaces and dramatic sight lines will allow for quiet reflection or serendipitous discovery.”
The second-and-fourth-floor renovations will include“collaborative learning environments such as the Learning Theatre for group presentations, or the Funky Café for small-group meetings and project collaborations.” There will be fifteen “free-standing translucent study pods which will ensure secure, comfortable and quiet study for groups of two.” Modular, portable furniture will allow users to adapt the space to differing needs.
“Idea Gardens,” located on each floor of the Toronto Reference Library, will function as spaces for reflection and inspiration. Examples include the Living Wall and the Idea Wall.
The renovations will include the installation of new and innovative technology to optimize “connectivity and collaboration.” The TPL states, “New communication tools, more research stations and refurbished listening and learning labs will connect the public to library resources, and marry the library’s new spaces with technology to enable individual and collaborative study, discovery and information exchange.”
This includes the acquisition and installation of 140 new internet-enabled computer workstations to expand access and serve growing demand. There will be forty “interactive audio visual learning stations… outfitted with the latest interactive learning technology and will be available for ESL language study and music research.”
On the main floor, the aforementioned twelve-screen Global-Connect Wall will offer up-to-the-minute news and business information from around the world. Throughout the building, a series of large-scale digital display devices, called Communications Tech Trees, will provide way-finding and program information, and will showcase multi-media art installations and the Special Collections. The TPL states, “Increased digital displays and projection throughout the building, enhancing the Library’s ability to communicate and connect the public with resources, programming and collections within the building.”
Currently, the Toronto Reference Library is open from 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Fridays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.
Happy Thanksgiving, Eamon and Nina Maureen!