Hello! I’m Graham, a University of Toronto archival studies student currently on an 8-month co-op term in Special Collections & Archives. Today, June 2, is the 40th anniversary of the official opening of the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room. To celebrate the occasion, I would like to share a little bit about the history of the department. Mrs. Doris Lewis was the first University Librarian and to celebrate her contribution to the University of Waterloo,  President Burt Matthews opened the Rare Book Room in her name when she retired. Despite the official opening of the department in 1976, Mrs. Lewis and her colleagues had been collecting rare books and archival materials since the 1960’s. In fact, one of our core collections, the Lady Aberdeen Library on the History of Women, was donated to the library in 1967 by the National Council of Women of Canada. These books remain the foundation of our women’s studies collections to this day!

When the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room opened, the Library held 12,271 rare books and 7 archival collections. We have grown greatly in the last 40 years and now hold over 70,000 rare books and periodicals (which I am having the pleasure of appraising and describing) as well as over 5,000 architectural titles at the Musagetes Architecture Library. On top of this we now house over 280 archival collections that span 4,000 linear feet of shelf space!

We can thank Susan Mavor and Jane Britton for many of these amazing collections. Susan and Jane staffed the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room from its beginning, assisted of course by various staff members who have come and gone. When they started, Susan and Jane were charged with reviewing what had previously been collected and establishing the aims and goals of the department. Throughout the department’s history, some collecting directions have been abandoned, such as the history of the book and detective fiction; however, many areas have held strong from the beginning, including the aforementioned women’s studies collection, as well as architecture and the history of mathematics. The Doris Lewis Rare Book Room has also been taking on library and information studies co-op students since 1982. In fact, the first co-op student that they hired led to a 132% increase in titles catalogued. I hope to make a similar impact!

Today, there are 5 full time staff working in Special Collections & Archives, and we are lucky enough to have a UWaterloo co-op student as well (plus yours truly, a hard working co-op student from U of T). Last year, we welcomed over 470 on-site researchers and responded to over 800 research and information request emails. Recently, we have also been increasing our outreach and education efforts, providing instruction to over 400 UWaterloo students in the past 15 months (with a few high school and elementary students thrown in there). I personally consider myself extremely lucky to be doing my co-op term in a department with such a history of excellence and passion for our field. Here’s to the next 40 years of adventure in the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room!

Doris Lewis processing the Lady Aberdeen collection

Doris Lewis in 1966. From the Kitchener-Waterloo Photographic Negative Collection, image 66-2492, Lady Aberdeen Library Collection at University of Waterloo, October 27, 1966.

Doris Lewis speaking at the opening of the Rare Book Room

Doris Lewis speaking in 1976. Seated are (left) Murray Shepherd, University Librarian, and (right) Burt Matthews, University President. From the University Archives, image number 76-06-01, Doris Lewis Rare Book Room Dedication, Arts Library, 2 June 1976.

News clipping June 2 1976

A clipping from the Kitchener-Waterloo Record (now Waterloo Region Record), from June 2nd 1976, announcing the dedication of the Rare Book Room.

Student studying at a table in the rare book room

A student working in the Rare Book Room in 1983. From the University Archives, image number 83-11-40, Rare Book Room for Calendar, Nov. 20, 1983.

current staff 2016

Current staff at the Doris Lewis Rare Book Room. Left to right: Sue Plouffe, Danielle Robichaud, Jessica Blackwell, Graham Landon, Asiya Patel, and Nick Richbell. Not present: Martha Lauzon.

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