Arguably one of the most fascinating libraries in Canada, the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library houses the Rare and Special collections of the University of Toronto. The library strives to preserve these collections while making them entirely accessible to the public – any visitor may request to personally view and handle the library’s holdings.
While it is nearly impossible to encapsulate the wealth of material stored in the library, which holds around 700,000 volumes and 3,000 meters of manuscripts, a few collections stand out. One of the more intriguing groups of books is a fantastic collection of “monster” volumes spanning from reprints of ancient works to 18th-century catalogs. These include Cicero’s Book of Natural History (you can view an edition from 1551) , Ulysses Androvandi’s Monstroum Historiae (1642) and Palfijn’s version of Licetus’ Book of Monsters (1708).
For those more interested in medical obscura, the library also holds a large collection of anatomical works, including that of the famous anatomist Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564). Many of these anatomical volumes have been made accessible as part of the library’s digital collection - the online Anatomia collection alone features 4,500 digitized images representing works dating from 1522 to 1867.
Other collections include a treasure trove of beautiful Alice in Wonderland editions, numerous historical printings of Shakespeare’s works, and a small cache of ancient papyrus writings.
For those who wish to visit the library, but are less sure of what materials they would like to view, the library also curates monthly exhibits to showcase parts of the collection. You can also follow the library on Facebook and Youtube for a glimpse at new acquisitions and upcoming exhibitions, as well as an extensive Flickr page filled with images of their current holdings.
Know Before You Go
Visitors interested in viewing books, manuscripts, and other materials--outside of those currently on display by the library--must submit formal requests on the website. Visitors must provide photo identification and fill out paperwork to obtain a reader card, which is necessary in order to have their material requests reviewed and granted by the library. A catalog of available items can be found on the library's website. It is not necessary to be affiliated with the University of Toronto; the library and its collection are available to the public.