The University of Toronto has a number of rare book libraries and special collections, but the Fisher is the big kahuna. With six glorious levels of stacks, the library holds over 700,000 volumes in its St. George location, and it holds thousands more in its Downsview storage. Unfortunately, you can’t browse any of these shelves; all materials must be requested in advance, and librarians do the retrieving.
The Fisher regularly appears on lists of beautiful libraries, and rightfully so. While the space may not be entirely conducive to book preservation, it’s hard not to gape when you walk in for the first time. The lights are dim, the air is warm, and everyone speaks in an overly-hushed tone, although they don’t really need to. I’ve spent many days working in the reading room, pencil in hand (pens are never allowed in rare book libraries), crouched over 500-year-old manuscripts. I’ve also spent many hours poring over the regularly updated exhibitions that are available for public viewing. And I’m one of the lucky few to have been on a tour of the conservation room, where materials are brought back to life by expert conservators. I just can’t seem to get enough of the place, I guess.
So if you’re ever on the U of T campus, make sure you pop in to this haven for a couple of minutes. Feel free to bring a camera too, and get a picture of yourself “kissing” the Shakespeare bust in the atrium.