Inspiring Yet Pragmatic: Toronto Reference Library

When I was a tourist and potential immigrant to Toronto back in 2001, I spent several hours at the Toronto Reference Library marveling at its astonishing size and the range of its collections.


I remember riding the glass elevator facing the curved glass, watching the inner canyon expand to reveal the silent opera-stage of readers as I rose to the top floor. I have visited Toronto Reference Library many times since 2001, and I never tire of this elevator ride.


From the upper ramparts, the library seems like a dollhouse for miniature patrons. However, many riches can be discovered close to the ground, such as the main floor itself, the steps leading to the podium, and calming pools encircling the feet of two staircases.

The main floor is also home to an extensive computer bay, BookEnds South and the TD Gallery. Photo taken in 2013.

On the second floor, Humanities and Social Sciences shelves reside next to the classy Bram and Bluma Appel Salon.  Additionally, this floor offers a breathing green wall, space-age study pods, and plenty of globes in the maps section.


Currently, a major renovation is in process at Toronto Reference Library, which lends an exciting feeling of flux and change to the third floor. With cabinets temporarily uprooted and wide stretches of floor space cleared, new opportunities to see the library’s fundamental lines and shapes reveal themselves.


Not only does the third floor contain materials related to Business, Science, and Technology, it also provides scope for gazing at the massive cosmic waffle of the skylight ceiling (symbolizing the creative tension between pragmatism and idealism).


Wooden seats shaped like reverse Z’s on the third level appear appropriately businesslike, but they also offer front row tickets to the perpetual theatre of Yonge Street.


The windows of the fourth floor link scholars of Languages and Literature to the world of skyscrapers in a dramatic way. Further inspiration can be found in the amazing diversity of languages available for study on this floor. The following is only a sample of the breadth of the multilingual collection at Toronto Reference Library: Arabic, Czech, Danish, Hungarian, Latvian, Bengali, Croatian, Finnish, Marathi, Romanian, Slovak, Afrikaans, Albanian, Amharic, Armenian, Basque, Esperanto, Frisian, Irish, Malayalam, Maltese, Somali, Swahili, Telugu, Welsh, and Yiddish.

Once again, I bless the renovation for creating islands of expansive floor space upon which light can play. Photo taken in 2013.

The fifth and highest floor, host to Arts and the Picture Collection, also evokes wonder with its lofty perspectives of the city. I am especially fond of the Picture Collection, for it reminds me of rewarding hours spent gathering images for a friend’s eulogy and a memorial collage project.


Toronto Reference Library, you deserve a standing ovation for delivering inspiration, information, and peace in the heart of downtown Toronto. Thank you for welcoming me here at the turn of the 21st century.

Join the conversation


  1. What a wonderful description of the Toronto Reference Library – thanks Catharine! The renovation is complete now and hundreds of people use the library every day. There’s always something interesting going on.

  2. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment, Karen! Thank you, too, for updating me about the renovation.

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