Originally published on Torontoist on February 16, 2007.
Next time you visit the library, take a look at the carpeting and furniture. Does it make you want to linger with a good book or run through the checkout as fast as possible?
The Toronto Reference Library, which celebrates its 30th anniversary in November, was breaking itself in when today’s ad appeared. Judging from the number of people seen sleeping there, the carpet colours may be too easy on some readers’ eyes. Architect Raymond Moriyama’s design, with carpeted walls, easy-to-browse open shelves and the 70s see-through elevator, lends a comforting, cozy feel, turning short trips into lengthy stays, especially in winter. Moriyama’s firm is still involved in the building, contributing to its renewal plan.
The Reference Library’s roots date back to 1830, with the establishment of the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute (originally named York, until the city changed its name in 1834). Modeled after similar groups formed in Great Britain during the 1820s, its aim, according to Robertson’s Landmarks of Toronto, was “the mutual improvement of mechanics and others who become members of the society in arts and sciences by the formation of a library of reference and circulation, by the delivery of lectures on scientific and mechanical subjects embraced by this constitution from which all discussion of political or religious matters is to be carefully excluded.”
Originally located on Colborne St, the Institute moved to the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide in the mid-1850s. By 1858, the library consisted of 4,000 books, available to 800 paying members. A city bylaw passed in 1883 established a free public library system, which the Mechanics’ Institute was folded into. When the library opened to full public access the following spring, the rush of people wishing to use it quickly led to increased staff and multiple copies of popular titles.
In 1903, the city received a Carnegie grant to build a new central library and several branches, including Yorkville, Queen/Lisgar (now used by the city’s Public Health department) and Riverdale. When the new Toronto Reference Library opened at St. George and College in 1909, it contained nearly 100,000 books. The Institute building remained a branch through the late 1920s, the was used as offices by the city’s public welfare department until it was demolished in the late 1940s.
In 1967, the Metropolitan Toronto Library Board was established to handle the reference library and special collections acquired over the years. Moriyama presented his design in 1970, with construction underway by 1975. The old library was sold to the University of Toronto and now serves as the Koffler Student Services Centre, which includes the main branch of the U of T Bookstore.
Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.