The Library

Since its inception in 1963, the Robertson Davies Library at Massey College has developed special collections in the history of the book focusing on the technical aspects of the book arts including the history, practice and technique of printing, illustration, typography, graphic arts, papermaking and binding from the late 18th century through to the mid 20th century.

A small college cannot hope to have a large library, but if it sets to work along the right lines it may aspire to the possession of a fine one… A book may be a thing of beauty, and an example of a great craft which we must not allow to die. The means of craft and the aspiration toward beauty live on in our College library.

Robertson Davies, Founding Master (Principal)

The library’s holdings include examples of book production ranging from the 15th to the 20th century but focus on the 19th century as represented in its largest collection, the McLean collection, the base of which was originally acquired from Ruari McLean (1917-2006), a British book designer and published printing, typography and graphic design historian. The Ruari McLean collection is an excellent resource for the study of 19th century printing, publisher’s bindings, colour printing and other graphic processes of illustration and design, including wood-engraving, lithography and chromolithography.

5 girls in a library

In addition, the library houses a teaching collection of five working nineteenth-century iron hand presses and three clamshell presses supported with a vast range of wood type, metal type and ornaments, including many examples of wood blocks, lithographic stones, copper plates, steel plates and stereotype blocks. Classes and demonstrations in hand-printing and bibliography are held in the library’s Bibliography Room by the College Printer, and student Printing Fellows for the University of Toronto’s Book History and Print Culture Collaborative Program, the English department, the Faculty of Information and the Faculty of Music in addition to students from typography and design programs at colleges in the Toronto area.


Integral to the goals of Massey College in fostering a congenial intellectual environment and a forum for communication…

Tours & Programming

Our tours and programming include working on our 19th century cast-iron platen press, a Bibliographic autopsy and more.


The Robertson Davies Library has four small display cases for students in the BHPC Collaborative Program and Massey Fellows to mount exhibitions.


The Library’s collections centre around the history of the book and the technical and material aspects of the book arts…

Printing Fellowship Program

In order to preserve and pass on skills in letterpress printing and the care of its collection of nineteenth-century hand presses…

Library at Massey College

History & Visiting Hours

In 1981, the Library was named for the Founding Master, the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, who had a particular interest in printing and the book arts and strongly supported the development of a library at Massey College. A special area of the library houses copies of most of the editions and translations of his work.

The library is open by appointment only from 10am – 5 pm Monday through Thursday, closed on all University statutory holidays and over Christmas at the end of the Massey College Term. It is also closed over the summer from mid-June to the first week of August.

Researchers can access detailed catalogue descriptions of items in the library’s collections through searching the University of Toronto Libraries online catalogue. Those interested in consulting the collections are requested to call ahead to make an appointment at 416-978-2893 or email the Assistant Librarian & BHPC Coordinator, Julia Warren.

All items in the collection are non-circulating.


Integral to the goals of Massey College in fostering a congenial intellectual environment and a forum for communication among its members and a broader society, both academic and beyond, the Mission of the Robertson Davies Library is to provide collections, facilities and a welcoming space for study, learning, research and the exchange of knowledge and ideas for members of the Massey College community, students and faculty in the University of Toronto’s Collaborative Program in Book History and Print Culture (BHPC), and interested researchers from both within and outside of the University of Toronto.

The mandate of the Robertson Davies Library is to support this Mission through the following goals:

  • To advance the discipline of book history by stimulating and encouraging research, collaborating with colleagues in other specialized collections, supporting teaching programs by means of demonstrations and exhibitions and supervising graduate students engaged in practicum projects

  • To acquire through purchase and donation, develop, preserve, organize and provide access to specialized collections in the art and history of the book, printing, graphic processes of illustration, typography, letterforms, bookbinding, fine printing and graphic elements of design, with a particular focus on unique primary and secondary resources not acquired by the main U.of T. Library system and other campus libraries and those that support research and teaching in the material aspects of a book’s archeology and construction

  • To provide exhibit space that showcases and fosters interest in the library’s collections, and for Massey Fellows and students in BHPC to mount small exhibitions that allow them to learn more about the library’s collections and gain hands-on experience in handling, describing and exhibiting rare books

  • To occasionally supervise and mentor second-year graduate students through the Faculty of Information, iSchool’s course “Information Professional Practicum” or “Management of Corporate and Other Special Information Centres” to provide hands-on experience and an opportunity to develop professional competencies in managing rare book collections

  • To provide short one-on-one training sessions to researchers and members of the Massey community in the use of different computer applications and digital resources within the University of Toronto Library system and the Internet

  • To maintain, preserve and operate a working collection of nineteenth-century printing presses complemented with a wide range of wood type, metal type, ornaments, and examples of wood blocks, lithographic stones, copper plates, steel plates, stereotype blocks and other printing equipment that serves to illustrate, demonstrate and teach the history of printing technology, typography, book illustration and construction

  • To keep an open and working room with the presses operated by a skilled printer/craftsman who will create special keepsakes for College events and develop fund raising initiatives in support of the shop’s continuing operation

  • To apprentice yearly to the College Printer, through application, one student from the Book History and Print Culture Collaborative Program and one from the Massey Junior Fellowship in order to pass on and preserve skills in letterpress printing and the proper operation and care of the presses, to involve BHPC students in teaching with the presses, and to involve the Massey Fellowship in their potential use and preservation

  • To provide hands-on demonstrations on the printing presses for students in collaborating departments within the BHPC Program and others within the University of Toronto in support of graduate courses such as “Analytical and Historical Bibliography,” “Rare Books and Manuscripts,” “History of Books and Printing,” “Texts, Theories, and Archives,” “Introduction to Book History” and “Book History in Practice”

  • To provide hands-on demonstrations on the printing presses for students in undergraduate courses in the University of St. Michael’s College Book & Media Studies Program such as “Elements of Material Bibliography and Print Culture”, “The Newspaper in Canadian Society” and “Media Revolutions: Elements of Typography”

  • To offer fee-based printing demonstrations for programs and groups outside of the University including typography and design programs at colleges within and beyond the Toronto area

  • To provide quiet space for reading, research, studying or writing with a connection to the University of Toronto campus wireless network to access the Internet and all electronic resources and databases available through U.of T. Libraries and beyond

  • To provide at least two computer workstations with Internet access only for the use of visiting researchers and Massey Fellows

  • To provide office space for the administration of the Book History and Print Culture Collaborative Program, for the Director of the program and teaching faculty to meet with students, and as a base for teaching core courses in the program out of the Colin Friesen Room at Massey College

  • To maintain a collection of general interest newspapers and periodicals in the Junior Common Room and upper library for use of the Massey community

  • To house, preserve and maintain a small general reference collection in the lower library, a large general interest collection in the upper library and a small collection of religious titles in St. Catherine’s Chapel

  • To accept, preserve, organize and provide access to donations, when offered, from Pendragon Ink of translations of Robertson Davies’ published works

  • To act as general consultant in accepting, housing and preserving material in and for the Massey College Archives

  • To act as liaison in response to requests for access to and permission to publish from the Vincent Massey papers held in the University of Toronto Archives

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