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Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library

September 20th, 2008 by May

One of the reasons I decided to go to school Full time in person and not by distance is the opportunity to join associations for further exposure to the industry and of course, networking.

One of the activities set up by the SLA Student chapter this week was a real highlight: a tour of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

While the library is open to the public, due to the nature of the material, the public would not necessarily have gotten such a nice detailed tour. Unlike other libraries in the University of Toronto system where you might need to be a student of faculty etc., the public permitted to use the materials. The librarian had pulled aside some very interesting material for us to examine, detailing the showcase of the history of the book.

From a cuneiform clay tablet from Ur, Paparus, a copy of the Torah in scroll form, up to books such as illustrated medieval manuscripts on vellum, to printed Gutenberg (not a bible, but a dictionary) on quality linen and vellum. We got to experience the refinement of both print and materials over time, and even some key pieces in the collection such as those in Anatomia. But the extra highlight was that the prize copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare from 1623 was there. We got to see the not for public use (unless there’s really good reason!) copy. (There is a 19C reproduction that you can request to see, which in itself is a rare book).

Yes, I got to touch with my own hand, the ‘rosebud’ copy of the book. Very exciting, and honestly the cool factor was huge in that extremely geeky way.

And it’s truely amazing how well the antique books have held up over time. Some of the first linens are in better condition and whiter than cheap books today even from a few years ago.

The library itself is a beautiful space which does give one a great sense of awe when you walk in. [geek admission]I was just giddy with excitement [/geek admission]. I wasn’t so sure about if I would enjoy the tour and information, but I had a whole different sense of it the moment I walked into the hall.

By the end of it, I was certain, (and so were all my fellow students) that we wanted to work there. Alas, that’s less likely. But it’s there for us to enjoy, and I’m determined to request to see some of their material. Who knows when I’ll have chances to enjoy access to facilities like this in the future.

When I was in undergrad, I never knew this library existed. We were way too isolated from the rest of the culture and resources available to us on campus in engineering. I hope to see more of the facilities as I get the chance to do so this time around.

In the meantime Toronto, enjoy this little gem while you can. And for those of you not in Toronto, they even have a virtual tour online.

No, you cannot browse the stacks, but the collection is online, and you can request access to books. Just fill in the forms, and reserve a time, materials will be pulled out for you to use in the reading room. How civilized.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Kelly Sep 21, 2008 at 10:43 pm

    Oh, I’d so be getting my geek on too. For a completely different reason, but jeesh — to be able to examine the illuminated manuscripts… to see the early printing and typefaces…

  • 2 Angela Wu Sep 22, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    I never knew this library existed, either.
    too bad. I seldom go to Robarts, been in Gerstein a few times. Only have borrowed a few books from the engineering library at SF. And now three years gone.
    Conclusion: I did not use our school’s resource wisely.