If you every visit the University of Toronto campus, one of the first things you will notice on arrival is the big, ugly,gray, brutalist, peacock shaped library known as Robarts. It is the central library on campus containing 4.1 millionbookform items, 4.1 million microform items, and 743,000 other items (don’t ask me what a “bookform item” is because I don’t know, the point is that we have a lot of books). According to Wikipedia, “Its towering main structure rests on an equilateral triangular footprint and features extensive use of triangular geometric patterns throughout.” Basically Robarts is as brutalist as architecture comes, and did I mention that it is shaped like a peacock from the front? As a book enthusiast and library lover I can safely say that it is probably my least favorite building on campus (with New College following close behind). The interior mirrors the exterior in cold, right angles. The few widows that exist are tinted a strange dark yellow giving the entire building a mind numbing aura. I seriously don’t know how people study there. The layout is utterly confusing, and don’t even get me started on the maize that is the stacks section. Robarts has 16 stories several of which are devoted to the “stacks” section, where the books are housed on thousands of shelves (shelves that look very easy to topple over). Those floors are like labyrinths. The shelves are placed in no predictable order from what I can deduce , they form winding passages where S and X end up side by side (I’m sure there is some kind of method to the madness, though I have trouble seeing what it is). While I’m there, I half expect Minotaurs to pop out from behind
Proust or Derrida and say “you shall not pass” and start asking me riddles about brains or towels or whatever. Too bad the Greek Mythology section is all the way over in Z (for Zeus of course). Finding one book is a half an hour process at the least (for those of us who are not pro at book finding). I’ve also heard that Robarts is sinking. Apparently the contractors did not forsee the effect of the weight of the books on their massive fortress.
On a side note, I am excluding the Thomas Fischer Rare Book Library, which I find a wonderful place.
For me, Robarts is entirely utilitarian, I go in, I get my book, I leave. If I can get the book at one of our other 41 libraries I do. My personal favorite library is EJ Pratt on the Victory College Campus. The study rooms on the bottom floor have huge (non tinted) floor to ceiling windows that look out over a small garden complete with waterfall. It offers a comfortable, welcoming environment, something the concrete structure of Robarts sorely lacks. U of T is a beautiful campus, they should have a beautiful library.