Doors Open: 20 Great Library Facts

Blossoms on the trees in front of Osgoode Hall with tall buildings in background

It’s that time of year again! As the crabapple blossoms begin to open, Osgoode Hall prepares to welcome the public to another Doors Open Toronto on May 25 & 26. This year’s theme is 20 Something to celebrate the 20 years that the Toronto community has opened its numerous doors to the public.

Osgoode Hall is one of Toronto’s top attractions, welcoming 10,521 visitors at last year’s Doors Open. We are also celebrating the 20 years that we have participated in this wonderful event.   

In honour of 20 years of Doors Open Toronto, we have complied a list of 20 interesting facts about the Great Library.

20 Quick Facts about the Great Library

  1. The library covers three floors and over 20 rooms in Osgoode Hall.
  2. The library’s three principal rooms were built during different stages of the building’s construction: the Reference Office in 1847 (as a courtroom), the Main Reading Room in 1860 and the American Room in 1894/5.
  3. The library’s collection in 1829 consisted of 264 mainly British books.
  4. The library today provides access to approximately 120,000 print volumes and thousands of databases of digital legal information from a variety of countries including Canada, UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand.
  5. Our oldest book dates from 1531 and is a book of Roman law, written in both Latin and Greek.
  6. Last month (April 2019), library staff answered 1,838 questions either in person, by e-mail, phone, or chat.
  7. The library’s Main Reading Room is a triple cube, measuring 40 feet high by 40 feet wide by 120 feet long.
  8. The Great Library got its name in the days when Osgoode Hall Law School was still located at Osgoode Hall. The name “Great Library” was given to distinguish the larger practitioners’ library from the smaller students’ library.  
  9. The floor of the Main Reading Room is covered with cork tiles, installed in 1948. These were thought to absorb sound.
  10. The American Room was the first room in Osgoode Hall be fitted for electric light, though it was converted to gas when it was discovered that the arc lighting (also used for street lighting) was so bright it blinded the patrons.
  11. The Great Library stamped all of its books with a gold-leaf Law Society crest up until 2008.
  12. The letters VR seen in the etched glass windows of the Main Reading Room refer to Queen Victoria, the monarch at the time the room was built.
  13. The most viewed post on the library’s blog, Know How, is Greatest Legal Movies. Coincidentally, the library has been used in several movie shoots, including Flash of Genius (2008) and The Time Traveller’s Wife (2009), both of which feature scenes shot in the Main Reading Room.
  14. The architects Cumberland and Storm, who are responsible for designing the central block of Osgoode Hall (including the Main Reading Room), also designed University College at the University of Toronto.
  15. The Great Library has a staff of 17. Some have worked here for over 30 years; some for just over 6 months. 
  16. There are 16 Corinthian-style columns in the Main Reading Room. They are purely decorative and are not meant to hold up the ceiling as they are made of wood and are hollow.
  17. The Great Library was named one of Toronto’s the Most Beautiful Indoor Places by BlogTO.
  18. The WWI memorial in the library’s Main Reading Room was installed in 1928. However some of the names of fallen soldiers listed on the monument were added afterwards – two as recently as 2015. One of these names was missed when the list was originally copied and the other was added because he died during the war but not in battle.
  19. One of the first shipments of books for the library was lost at sea on its way to Canada from England in 1833. 
  20. A ghost researcher has been seen twice in the Main Reading Room. In the mid-1960s George Johnston, the head librarian, saw someone get up from a desk and walk through a wall. More recently a cleaner saw a man in the library after hours. As he approached to tell the man the library was closed, the man disappeared.

If you still need more convincing to visit us this coming weekend, watch this YouTube video shot during last year’s Doors Open highlighting the stories and experiences of Osgoode Hall visitors and volunteers.

For more information, see Explore Osgoode Hall at Doors Open 2019.