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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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What university library is the length of a Canadian football field from goal post to goal post?

Answer The University Toronto's Robarts Library is among North America's top five university research libraries and has almost 10 million volumes.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

The Conservative premier John Robarts toyed with the idea of a provincial library as a centennial project, but then, fortunately for Toronto, chose the Ontario Science Centre instead. The government, however, was interested in having the Toronto library also serve provincial needs.

President Claude Bissell was quite happy to oblige, and three more floors were added to the plans. It would now be a sixteen-storey building, including two underground floors. When Robert Blackburn asked the New York architect Dan Toan how the extra floors would affect his design, he replied that it would "improve the hell out of it."

No official ceremony was held so that further controversy would be avoided.

Construction of the building began in 1968. As with the building of University College in the nineteenth century, no o fficial ceremony was held so that further controversy would be avoided. There had been and continued to be vocal opposition from local residents and citizens' groups opposed to what often came to be called "Fort Book." Moreover, undergraduate students successfully protested against being denied access to the library stacks. The library was officially opened in 1973 at a cost of over $40 million.

Robarts Libarary
The Robarts Libary, nearing completion in 1972

Blackburn, writing in 1989, said it was "still the largest academic library building in the world." Each side of the equilateral triangle is 330 feet long - the length of a Canadian football field from goal post to goal post - and it can provide space for 4,000 persons at any one time. At the time of its opening in 1971, the School of Library Science - to be constituted a faculty the following year - was one of the two or three largest in North America. That year, a PhD Program was added to its two-year master of library science program.

In 1971, the main library was named after the recently resigned Premier Robarts. It probably should have been named the Bissell library, but the board was in no mood to name it after the person who was primarily responsible for getting rid of the board of governors. Still, it was the province that put up the money, and the library is designed to serve provincial needs.

Bissell graciously says in his memoirs that the project "went ahead with
[Robarts'] support and could not have been built without it." The
library school building is named after Bissell. By the end of the century, the Toronto library system contained over 8 million volumes.

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