Robarts Library

From Academic Kids

The front of Robarts Library
The front of Robarts Library

Robarts Library is the main humanities and social sciences library of the University of Toronto. It is the third-largest university library in North America, after Harvard and Yale. The library is named after former Ontario Premier John Robarts.

The library's main building is a large brutalist/futurist concrete structure designed to look like a peacock. The library is designed to look like a giant peacock when viewed from the south (see top picture) with the small tower in front designed to be the peacock's neck and beak, while the library stacks in the background are meant to be its extended tail. It is considered by some to be a great architectural achievement, but others consider it to be hideous. It has many nicknames including Fort Book, the Bunker, and the Turkey.

Rear corner of Robarts Library
Rear corner of Robarts Library

Its design was conceived in the 1960s by Toronto architects Mathers and Haldenby, in collaboration with the New York architecture firm Warner Burns Toan & Lunde, who specialize in precast concrete buildings. Construction of the 14-story library was completed in 1973.

The library was initially designed for graduate students only, but following massive student protests, undergraduate students were also granted access. The library's initial design was for the shelving system to revolve, to allow for faster collection by library staff, who would then send books downstairs for pickup. After Robarts was opened to all students, the rotating system was mothballed, although the tracks used by the revolving shelving system are still visible.

Robarts Library is home to the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, which contains a priceless collection of manuscripts and first editions.

It is also the home of Cheng Yu Tung East Asian Library, which holds a collections of over 380,000 volumes of materials in Chinese, Japanese and Korean, and of the Old English Dictionary Project.

The library was featured in an episode of the popular television series Friends. Robarts Library is shown briefly during a scene transition and is implied to be the outdoor view of an unknown New York hospital where actress Jenifer Aniston's character Rachel is a patient during the birth of her first child.

Also of note, there is an urban legend spread amongst University of Toronto students that the library, after many years, is "sinking". There are many versions as to why, but alas, it is in sound structural shape.

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