Virtual Tour of the University of Toronto Music Library

Trevor Deck, Tim Neufeldt, Rebecca Shaw, University of Toronto Libraries

The University of Toronto Music Library is located inside the Faculty of Music’s Edward Johnson Building on the St. George Campus of U of T in the heart of downtown Toronto. The Edward Johnson Building is located near the corner of Queen’s Park and Bloor Street, beside the Royal Ontario Museum. The beautiful Philosopher’s Walk path meanders behind the Edward Johnson Building and Music Library staff and users are fortunate to look out on the crab apple blossoms lining the path every Spring.

Our Space

The University of Toronto Music Library collection began in 1921 when the University of Toronto took over operations of the Toronto Conservatory of Music, including its Music Library. In 1964, the Library, along with the Faculty of Music, moved to a new premises, named for the Canadian tenor and former Artistic Director of the Metropolitan Opera, Edward Johnson. The new building was constructed to meet the growing size and demands of the Faculty. At the time, the Music Library collection consisted of over 80,000 books, scores, and periodicals, as well as thousands of recordings. Nearly 60 years later, that collection has more than doubled. 

The Music Library’s first home in the Edward Johnson Building was on the third floor. It moved again in 1992 to the new, Rupert E. Edwards wing, added on the faculty’s south side, to accommodate the evergrowing collection.

Our People

We are fortunate to have four music librarians, a music archivist, and six library technicians. I represent the most recent new addition to the team, coming on board in September 2019, while several staff members have worked at the library for multiple decades. Our longest tenured staff member, Jay Lambie, began working at the library in September of 1985.  

The Faculty of Music consists of 899 full-time equivalent students as of 2019. There are 35 different programs within the Faculty of Music, ranging from diploma to PhD programs, and including jazz and classical performance, opera, composition, music theory, musicology, ethnomusicology, music technology, and music education. 57% of our undergraduate intake from 2019 were made of up of students from within the Greater Toronto Area, while 11% of new undergraduate students were from outside of Canada. 25% of new graduate students from 2019 were from within the Greater Toronto Area, while 25% were from outside of Canada. In terms of faculty, there are 34 full-time tenured faculty and 13 teaching stream professors, as well as many part time and sessional instructors. We also serve a wide range of community researchers. 

Our Collections

The Music Library is one of 44 branch libraries at U of T and is home to the largest music research collection in Canada, with over 220,000 books and periodicals; around 300,000 music scores; over 250,000 sound recordings; and extensive archival and special collections. The library supports teaching, research, and performance at the Faculty of Music, and the activities of the Toronto music-making community.

The upper, or main level, of the Music Library houses reference materials, journals, music literature, recordings, study space, printing services, circulation, reference help, and the Rare Book Room.

The Sniderman Recording Room, situated behind the Service Desk, is named for Sam Sniderman, the founder of the Canadian record shop Sam the Record Man. Although our audio collection has expanded beyond the physical restraints of this room, it still houses over 100,000 compact discs. We also hold over 150,000 discs in historical formats such as vinyl LPs and shellac 78s.

The lower level of the library houses approximately a quarter of a million music scores for every possible instrument and ensemble, books on music literature and music theory, and the Performance Collection.

Our Music score collection takes up most of the shelf space downstairs and grows by 6,000 titles per year. About 30 percent of this collection is now stored at the University of Toronto Libraries offsite storage facility and is available by request.

Special Collections 

The Music Library is home to several different special collections, including our rare books, archives, sheet music, and audio and video equipment.

The Harvey Olnick Rare Book Room is named after a former professor at the Faculty of Music. Professor Olnick was a significant supporter of the Music Library and developed the musicology program at U of T, which was the first of its kind at a Canadian university. The Rare Book Room includes a closed stacks vault that houses our rare books collection and some of our archival collections, as well as a reading room where users can access these non-circulating materials by appointment.

Our rare books collection contains over 2,600 volumes that exemplify the history of music, music editing, performing, and printing, and range from an early-fourteenth-century processional to various first-edition publications from the nineteenth century and beyond. We have a significant number of 18th- and 19th-century opera full scores, with a particular strength in French repertoire. Items are classified as ‘rare’ on a variety of criteria, including age, availability, physical and aesthetic value, and provenance. 

Our extensive archival collections document the creative activities of individuals from, and organizations associated with, the Faculty of Music. They include manuscripts, correspondence, programs, photographs, and recordings of Canadian classical and jazz musicians like Kathleen Parlow, John Beckwith, Talivaldis Kenins, Udo Kasemets, Phil Nimmons, and Rob McConnell, as well as the administrative records of significant Toronto-based performing arts organizations like New Music Concerts and Esprit Orchestra.

Our Sheet music collection contains over 50,000 titles, dating from 1800 to 1950, including a significant collection of Canadian sheet music, some of which has been digitized and is available online.

The Performance Collection, started in 1971, holds over 6,000 scores in compact shelving. This collection supports the performing activities of all the major ensembles at the Faculty of Music and the Faculty’s music education program.

A/V Equipment and Facilities

The Music Library also supports the technological needs of our students and faculty by offering a variety of equipment for loan, including digital cameras, Zoom recorders, tripods, lights, headphones, external drives, and various cables. Onsite, we have 20 computer workstations, three of which are outfitted with Finale and Sibelius. We also have 1 laptop available for short term loan with notation software.

Users can also make use of one of the 10 stations in our Listening Room, equipped with VHS and CD/DVD/Blu-ray players and headphones.

Throughout the library, we have various individual and group study spaces available, including a bookable study room and a line of carrels that graduate students can reserve each term.

Outreach and Instruction

The Music Library provides outreach and instruction in a variety of ways. The most public-facing form of outreach is through social media, with active Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts monitored by a small team of staff that targets current students, staff, faculty, and alumni. We also recently restarted blogging. Our “Notes from the Music Library” is updated twice monthly, with a surprisingly engaged audience. Our winter colouring pages entry, which was posted shortly before the winter break, had over 500 unique page views. 

Direct outreach to current stakeholders is primarily done through two channels: traditional reference help, and in-class instruction sessions. During the pandemic we’re holding our traditional reference hours over zoom, for two hours every weekday, and include an option for people to book one-on-one consultations directly with us at a mutually convenient time.

The Music Library also supports the research needs of its students through an embedded information literacy program. We deliver a set of three, course-integrated information literacy workshops for 1st and 2nd year undergraduate students, tied into their core courses. In addition to the formal scaffolded instruction, one-shot research sessions are also quite popular; we go into approximately 20 different graduate and undergraduate classes each year.


Overall, we feel very fortunate to have the space and resources that we do. However, as with many music libraries, we are continually running out of space. Luckily, we can rely on Downsview to house our materials that do not fit on our shelves onsite. As we speak to in our presentation, we are in the midst of re-evaluating decisions around what should be routed to Downsview and what we will showcase onsite. We look forward to engaging with our peers on topics such as this at the upcoming Music Collections Assessment Summit later this month.