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A Library at the Archives of Ontario?

I’ve never seen it. But I know it is there.

In fact, I’ve spent many hours over the last few months looking at treasures from the J.J. Talman Library at the Archives of Ontario. The name is new, but the library collection dates from the beginnings of the AO over a hundred years ago.

Gathered to compliment the archival holdings of the Archives, the library provides context. This works both for the archivists who have to figure out the manuscript records acquired by the AO and describe them in inventories and finding aids, and of course for researchers like me.

As a researcher, I want to see what was written about an event or a process as it was happening—or even before it happened. I want to know what the people I’m studying were thinking—or at least what society wanted them to think.

I also want the analysis of other historians over the years, the story 20 years after the event, 50 years later, and the perspective of today.

The Library has about 75,000 items—books, Ontario government publications, periodicals, microfiche and film, and pamphlets.

There ought to be a better word for pamphlets. There are about 12,000—rare, unique, often quirky. Advertising catalogues, tourist brochures, little local histories, sermons, political speeches, programs—all remarkable signs of their times.

You might well ask, “If the Library is invisible, how do I get this wonderful stuff?”

Well, start with BIBLiON: The Archives of Ontario Library Online Catalogue. It is about as simple and straightforward as it could be. I’d recommend the “keyword anywhere” option for most searches of the 24,000 titles included.

If you’re at the Archives, ask staff for a Library retrieval request form, fill it out, and the items will magically appear in the Reading Room. If you’re looking at BIBLiON at home, you can check off the items that interest you, then “show selected records”. Copy and paste them into an email. Clean the formatting up a bit, add a nice note to tell them when you’re coming, and send it off to You’ll get an email or a phone call when it is ready for you.

I mentioned 24,000 titles in BIBLiON. About a third of the collection. Much of the rest is listed in a series of 22 finding aids, some on paper and some online, but all shown here.  Finding aid L 23 for newspaper collections can be found online here.

There is, indeed, a Library at the Archives of Ontario. I’m sure of it.

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