The library opened in 1907 as part of McGill University, Macdonald campus. Two-hundred and fifteen students studied on-site at the time, paying $3.25 per week if they chose to live in residence.
In 1911, the Macdonald library boasted “one of the finest college libraries in Canada” with an aesthetically pleasing reading room and space for all interested in studying and reading. Although the collection focused primarily on textbooks and reference books, there was a collection of the ‘greatest novelists’ and academic materials. Due to a lack of funding for novels that year, the resourceful group decided to start an annual tradition – every graduate would donate a book of fiction upon leaving.
By 1962, an expansion was in order having outgrown the space for the increasing number of books and services available to students. Among the most notable changes – the north side of the ground floor saw large windows added letting in much more daylight.
John Abbott College opened its doors in 1971 in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, sharing the Macdonald library space.
JAC Media Services officially started that year as well but were not located in the current library right away. Then known as the A.V. Centre, the department was located on the second floor of Herzberg building, then in Stewart Hall, where Human Resources is located today, and back to Herzberg, where Shipping/Receiving is today. The Macdonald library moved to McGill’s Barton building in 1979 allowing Media Services to claim their permanent home in the library building where once was an assembly hall and Casavant Frères organ on the second floor.
The fully integrated library and media services became the heart of the College campus.
J.C. Spence & Sons Glass Artworks (est. Montreal 1856) manufactured the painted glass windows on the ground and second floors of the library. It is not known what year the windows were installed, but correspondence between the manufacturer and Macdonald College architects, Hutchison, Wood and Miller, took place from 1907 to 1908.
The main floor windows feature the coats of arms of Canadian provinces as well as the emblems of several universities including McGill and Laval. It is unknown why this particular theme was chosen for the panes. The preservation of these windows is an important phase of the current library project as they are a vital part of the building heritage.
The columns present throughout the main floor today are original from 1907. The decorative capitals at the top of the columns and crests were originally gold, with coloured details. During the renovation that took place in the 1980s, the columns and crests were whitewashed to look more neutral. The second floor crests and relief along the walls and windows were retouched in their original colours. These artistic details are also being carefully preserved.
During the fall of 2017, the most significant library renovations began in earnest. Priorities of this major project included:
- Providing inspirational study and learning spaces for both quiet study and rooms for group work.
- Increasing seating capacity and access to electrical outlets, (the goal was to create 60% more seating, and increase electrical outlets by 40%-allowing students to charge their devices).
- Designing teaching and flexible collaborative spaces thereby improving the student experience. An Information Literacy Lab would be added to help librarians teach students how to navigate library resources when doing research.
- Upgrading library infrastructure and ventilation systems: improved airflow was a must due to hot and humid summers, that can damage book collections. Improved lighting would ensure an optimal studying/reading environment.
- Enhancing the technological infrastructure, giving access to relevant, current technology.
- Consolidating operational units within the library such as a tutoring hub, with the following services working together: Peer Tutoring Centre, English Writing Centre and Centre d’aide en français. To have all three in close proximity would allow students direct access to either language or subject specific tutoring.
The primary vision for the library remains to promote critical thinking and lifelong learning. The renovations are bringing new life into this classic building while also rendering it fully accessible at every level with a central elevator.
Extensive demolition was necessary, bringing the building back to its original structure. The work is nearing completion with Germano Construction at the helm.
Point of interest:
– Steel girders were welded and bolted to support certain columns during the excavation to pour new, deeper footings.
– New plumbing was installed to receive washrooms on every floor, including gender-neutral washrooms in the basement and on the second floor.
Despite all these changes and improvements, the details that mark the history of the building are being meticulously restored; the beautiful ceilings, the woodwork and the painted glass windows will shine brightly upon completion.
The library is scheduled to re-open during the winter 2020 semester.