News / Toronto

Rare Books Library gets exterior makeover

U of T first year engineering students part of project that brought a solution to fix the 40-year-old building.

U of T’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, which houses some of the rarest and oldest books in the city, is getting a makeover.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

U of T’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, which houses some of the rarest and oldest books in the city, is getting a makeover.

A Toronto building that’s home to some of the world’s rarest and oldest books is undergoing a major renovation.  

The project at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library will address a wintertime problem where condensation – a threat to fragile yet valuable books – forms inside the concrete walls.

“The original insulation and glazed windows at the top of the building are failing from age,” said John Toyonaga, bindery manager at the library. The problem at the 40-year-old building has grown worse over time, especially when temperatures drop below freezing for extended periods of time.  

Inside the Thomas Fisher rare books library.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

Inside the Thomas Fisher rare books library.

“Keeping that water away from the collection is a priority,” Toyonaga said. “It’s a precautionary measure before it can lead to all sorts of problems.”

The library features over 800,000 books and manuscripts, including copies of Shakespeare’s first folio, letters by Plains of Abraham General James Wolfe and even the oldest copies of Canada’s national anthem.

Six students from the Engineering Strategies and Practices class were assigned to the project, and came up with a proposal that would fix the issues without moving the books. For the entire renovation process, workers are using preformed concrete casings reflecting the original material.

A geometry book printed in the 14th century in France.

Eduardo Lima/Metro

A geometry book printed in the 14th century in France.

“It’s going to look great but it will be exactly the same look as you saw it before,” he said, noting it was also necessary to do the renovations only from the outside to keep the library open during the process.

Since the building is a designated heritage property, the university must keep it in the same form, said Toyogana.