History of Toronto Public Library

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York had been home to mechanics’ institutes from 1830, prior to the establishment of the Toronto Public Library in 1883 (Toronto). Seven library boards joined in 1998 to become the Toronto Public Library, North America’s largest public library system.

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On December 9, the Toronto Library is established as a private library for members. The library was taken during the American occupation of York in April 1813. However, in November 1813, the commander of the United States fleet, Isaac Chauncey, restored two cases of the library’s books with an apology to the trustees. The city of York, as well as the York Mechanics’ Institute, are both renamed Toronto. The Institute had a library and gave lectures on everything from philosophy and music to chemistry, electricity, and the mechanics of building design.

The Toronto Mechanics’ Institute’s library and newsroom were relocated to the top floor of the new Central Fire Hall (behind the County Court House), which is situated on the north side of Courthouse Lane (now Court Street), west of Church Street, and between King and Adelaide streets. The library expands its multilingual collection by purchasing German and French literature. Spanish and Italian literature were accessible by 1900 to meet the needs of entering immigrants, and a range of other European languages were added in the 1910s. In 1916, Cataloging Department Head Winifred Barnstead said, “By getting a Hammond typewriter, the College Street Branch was able to make and send out special catalogs in Modern Greek, Yiddish, and Russian scripts.”

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The Toronto Public Library’s Dundas Street Branch opened in January 1890 in leased facilities on today’s Ossington Avenue, north of Queen Street, with furniture and volumes from the Parkdale Mechanics’ Institute library, which was annexed to Toronto in 1889. Temporary branches of the Toronto Public Library are situated in stores and other leased buildings in Deer Park and Wychwood in 1911, Northern and Earlscourt in 1913, and Beaches and Eastern in 1914. Prior to annexation, some of these communities had their own public libraries.

The Toronto Public Library establishes a library at the Central Neighborhood House to enhance its services to inner-city youngsters. Other settlement houses, such as St. Christopher House in 1920, University Settlement House in 1921, and Memorial Institute in 1931, quickly established children’s libraries. The Canadian Catalogue of Books is a collection of “books about and by Canadians published in Canada.” For the next 28 years, the Toronto Public Library will continue to collect and publish this forerunner to Canada’s official national bibliography. The Canadian National Library took over supervision of the bibliography and renamed it Canadiana in 1951.

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Oakwood (1933) established an ineffective public library organization, and the Don, Islington, Long Branch, Runnymede, and Scarborough Bluffs association libraries collapsed, followed by the Birch Cliff library in 1944. The Toronto Public Library’s outreach to hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions begins with Thistletown Hospital for Sick Children. The R. H. McGregor School in East York established a children’s library on November 7, 1944. A library was built in 1950 on the northeast corner of Coxwell and Mortimer avenues. The Township of East York Public Library Board was established in 1946. The Mount Dennis Library, which operated a tiny branch in rented premises above a business, was purchased by the Township of York Public Library Board. On September 9, 1946, a second branch was erected on leased premises near the junction of Oakwood Avenue and Vaughan Road. The Greater Toronto Area got its first bookmobile service in February 1948. In 1951, the Northcliffe Main Library on Eglinton West added the Jane Street and Mount Dennis branches.

East York Borough was formed through the merger of Leaside and East York Township. The East York Public Library Board was formed in 1946 when the public library boards of the ancient Township of East York and the Town of Leaside merged (est. 1944). The firm had five branch offices by 1997. The Toronto Public Library has united seven library boards in the Greater Toronto Area. It is North America’s largest library system, with 97 locations servicing 2.3 million people. The critically damaged Toronto Public Library’s first City Librarian was Josephine Bryant. Burrows Hall will be the first branch of the new Toronto Public Library Board.


With the completion of the library’s online integrated catalogue, users will have unified access to nine million books, periodicals, CDs, CD-ROMs, and other objects in a hundred languages. Through a number of gateways, digital collections, and research databases, the Virtual Reference Library gives Internet users access to basic information on a wide range of topics.


Source: https://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/about-the-library/library-history/

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