History of the Library

The John M. Kelly Library is much more than a building that houses the library collection of the University of St. Michael’s College. It is a rich resource for students, faculty, and researchers; home to several important research collections; a quiet place where students can study; and even a meeting place where students can chat with their friends over a coffee.

Image shows the current library under construction.
The current library under construction, 1968: facing southwest. The building opened the following year.

St. Michael’s College Library

The main part of the collection found today in the John M. Kelly Library dates back to the founding of St. Michael’s College in 1852 by Rev. Jean-Mathieu Soulerin, C.S.B., under the direction of the Basilian Fathers. From that time, small, personal collections of books could be found in various locations around the College, including the priests’ quarters in Hay’s Building next to St. Basil’s Church. In 1892, Rev. Jean Crespin, C.S.B., compiled what is thought to be the first catalogue, listing 3401 volumes, including periodicals. Calendars from the early 20th century describe a student library in the basement of Clover Hill (now Odette Hall).

The organization of the present collection dates back to 1929 when scholarly works were collected from the book rooms around the campus and gathered together in the library of the house at 10 Elmsley Place (formerly next to Gilson House). The house, built in 1862, contained a beautiful two-floor studio-library with arcaded windows, rich wood furnishings, and a winding staircase leading to an enclosed balcony stack. The house was designed for portrait painter Andrew Dickenson Patterson. It was then lived in by Sir John Stephen Willison for 22 years until his death in 1929, and thus the library was referred to as the Willison Library. The impetus for the establishment of this library was the formation of the Institute of Medieval Studies in 1929. The library functioned as a graduate and research reading room until 1936 when the Institute moved to the building on Queen’s Park Crescent, at which time the Willison Library was devoted to serving the undergraduate community.

In 1939, the Library of Congress classification system was adopted and the library began to outgrow its space at 10 Elmsley Place. At that time, the collection numbered about 12,000 volumes, some housed in a separate storage library, and the library served approximately 255 male students. By 1954 it had become a co-educational facility serving 616 students with around 37,000 volumes in the Willison Library and several large, though unorganized, departmental libraries.

When Carr Hall opened in the fall of 1954, the library was relocated to the third floor of this multi-purpose building. Within ten years it had also taken over much of the first floor. Increasing financial support meant that by 1960 the library was more adequately staffed and better equipped to keep up with the demand from a growing student body. Yet the space in Carr Hall, which had only been intended to house the collection until a new library could be built, was now inadequate for this thriving undergraduate Arts and Science library with around 58,000 volumes.

St. Basil’s Seminary Library

The St. Basil’s Seminary Library, founded in 1894, represents another part of the current collection in the John M. Kelly Library. Support during the library’s early years, including gifts from private libraries and bequests from deceased priests, led to distinguished acquisitions. The Seminary relocated several times over the years, making it difficult to establish a significant library collection. In 1951 the Seminary acquired its present building at 95 St. Joseph Street, and now had adequate facilities for a library. The collection of around 10,000 volumes was classified using the Library of Congress system and began growing quickly, especially in the areas of philosophy, religion, and periodicals. An additional wing was added to the Seminary in 1958; this provided the library with enough shelf space for only another ten years. The increasing openness in seminary life and demand for this collection (now about 24,000 volumes) to be more widely accessible, along with the duplication of materials and services between this library and the St. Michael’s College Library, made a new library arrangement desirable.

Library of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (PIMS)

The library of the Institute of Mediaeval Studies began in the house at 10 Elmsley Place with the Institute’s formation in 1929. It moved into the Queen’s Park Crescent building in 1936. From its beginnings, this collection was strong in specialized research holdings. It was also unusual in its reliance on microfilmed material, which, together with the aid of modern photography, allowed students to immerse themselves in medieval studies in Toronto almost as well as they could in Europe. The Institute’s library received several significant grants in its early years and continued to receive modest support, even during the depression years. By the early 1960s, the collection had grown to around 36,000 volumes and was outgrowing its space. The heavy use of the library’s reading room and changing technological needs meant that its facilities were becoming inadequate.

A New Library Building

The three main collections on campus, related in origin but with different objectives and separate budgets, were all outgrowing their facilities by the 1960s. The St. Michael’s College Library at Carr Hall in particular not only needed more space, but a more flexible space that would allow the library to meet the changing academic and technological needs of students.

In the early 1960s there was also a policy recognition that the St. Michael’s College Library was no longer a minor supplement to the larger University of Toronto library, but was now playing a more significant role in undergraduate education. In 1964, the University of Toronto implemented an annual subsidy for St. Michael’s College Library and the other college libraries to supplement book funds for first and second year material in Arts and Sciences. Along with growth in student use of the library, cooperative relations with other libraries both locally and nationally were expanding, resulting in even greater demand for services on St. Michael’s campus. Finally, there was a significant degree of duplication among the three libraries, both in their services and their collections, especially between the St. Michael’s College Library and the St. Basil’s Seminary Library (now also called the theological library). Some staff and students were using all three libraries for their research needs, and a single library would not only be more convenient but also more economic in its operations.

In 1966, college librarian Fr. J. Bernard Black, in consultation with Margaret McGrath (head of reference), Fr. Harold Gardner (St. Basil’s Seminary librarian), and Fr. Donald Finlay (PIMS librarian), began to plan for the new library. Rather than inheriting problems from the past to correct in the modification of an existing building, these librarians were starting from the beginning with a new building. This allowed them, as Fr. Black said, to “reflect what we think a library should be, not what our other ones have been”.

This also meant that careful preliminary planning was required. Fr. Black’s first step was to engage Stephen McCarthy, University Librarian at Cornell, as an outside consultant. McCarthy came to St. Michael’s to study the existing facilities. He submitted a report in August 1966 that formed the basis for the preliminary plans for the new building. In December of that year, the President of the University of St. Michael’s College, Fr. John Kelly, established a building committee which would appoint an architect, develop a building program, and act as the responsible authority for the college during construction. In January 1967, St. Michael’s purchased an acre of land at 113 St. Joseph Street from the Sisters Adorers of the Precious Blood where their convent had existed. In February the Faculty Advisory Committee on the Library Building, chaired by Fr. Black, approved the building program.

Once planning was well underway, the St. Michael’s College Library and the St. Basil’s Seminary Library agreed to merge their collections once the new building was complete. The Seminary would retain title to all of the books transferred but would relinquish control over their use and not build up a competing library of its own. In accepting the books, St. Michael’s College Library would take on the obligation of keeping the combined collection up-to-date. At this time, the college library also received the original collection of the Basilian fathers, around 1000 volumes from the pre-Confederation library of the college; this collection is now called the Soulerin collection after the college’s founding father.

Design of the New Library

The Faculty Advisory Committee on the Library Building identified several qualities they deemed desirable for a new library building (based closely on models of planning for academic and research libraries at the time):

  • simplicity of the overall building plan to achieve maximum ease of communication within the building
  • flexibility in function to allow for future re-arrangement
  • expansibility to allow for growth
  • attractiveness in décor and atmosphere
  • economy of operation with efficient patterns of work flow and low capital costs

The committee accepted the design of architect John Farrugia, and construction began in 1968. The new St. Michael’s College Library opened its doors in July 1969.

Built out of reinforced concrete, the building itself is 102,500 square feet. The bold design of the windows breaks up the monotony of the walls and the window overhangs prevent glare. Because the building has a totally modular design, the space inside is extremely versatile and functional. Each floor is essentially a large cube, and within each cube are smaller cubes. These basic modular units are known as bays, and are self-contained units defined by the weight-bearing columns. Walls within the form are not weight-bearing but anchored to the floor by a removable track. The space for the collection is not divided according to subject, but was designed to be versatile enough to change with the growing interdisciplinary nature of education. The building has no basement because of the porous soil conditions, but the columns were sunk to a depth to allow for further building.

The John M. Kelly Library

When the new building opened in 1969, the Library of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies was relocated to the fourth floor. All of the other library collections on the campus, including the theological library (as agreed in 1967), were incorporated into the St. Michael’s College Library. In the first five years of its life, use of the library more than quintupled.

In 1973, William McElcheran’s sculpture in front of the library was unveiled.

In 1978, the University of St. Michael’s College Library was renamed the John M. Kelly Library in honour of Rev. John M. Kelly, C.S.B., president of the University from 1958 to 1978.

Librarians of the University of St. Michael’s College

Early lists of faculty do not designate a librarian. The first mention of an organizing librarian is the President of the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, Rev. Gerald B. Phelan in 1929, assisted by Rev. Robert J. Scollard, C.S.B..

Chief Librarian of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies

1929-1932 Rev. Gerald B. Phelan
1932-1951 Rev. Robert J. Scollard, C.S.B.
1951-1962 Rev. John F. Stapleton, C.S.B.
1963-1966 Rev. Harold B. Gardner, C.S.B.
1966-1993 Rev. Donald F. Finlay, C.S.B.
1994-1996 Mr. John Magee (Acting)
1998-2008 Rev. James K. Farge, C.S.B.
2008-2011 Mr. Jonathan Blake Bengtson
2012-present Dr. Greti Dinkova-Bruun

Librarian of the St. Michael’s College Library

1933-1954 Rev. Robert J. Scollard, C.S.B.
1954-1961 Rev. Frederick A. Black, C.S.B.
1961-1967 Rev. James Bernard Black, C.S.B.

Librarian of the Seminary library

1951-1959 Rev. Robert J. Scollard, C.S.B.
1961-1962 Rev. Harold B. Gardner, C.S.B.
1962-1967 Rev. John F. Stapleton, C.S.B.
1967-1968 Rev. Harold B. Gardner, C.S.B.
1968-1969 Rev. Robert J. Scollard, C.S.B.

Chief Librarian of the University of St. Michael’s College

1967-1985 Rev. James Bernard Black, C.S.B.
1985-1993 Rev. Donald F. Finlay, C.S.B.
1993-2004 Ms. Louise Girard
2004-2007 Mr. Jonathan Blake Bengtson
2008 Mr. Dave Hagelaar (Interim)
2008-2011 Mr. Jonathan Blake Bengtson
2012-2013 Prof. Domenico Pietropaolo
2014-2022 Ms. Sheril Hook
2022-present Mr. James Roussain (Interim)