The Robertson Davies Library

“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)

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.

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.

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.

History and 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 10 am-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 Librarian, P.J. MacDougall, at . All items in the collection are non-circulating.

Bibliography Room tours

Bibliography Room tours are supervised by the College Printer & usually led by a member of the BHPC (Book History & Print Culture) program at U of T, assisted by Bibliography Room apprentices and volunteers. The maximum number of visitors at one time is eight. Larger groups must be split into separate visits. Tours last about 50 minutes.

If the visit includes a printing demonstration with visitor participation, the charge is $100 per tour. If there is no printing demonstration with visitor participation, there is no charge.

Send inquiries to the College Librarian, P.J. MacDougall, at


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Printing Fellowship Program


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Collection Development Policy

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