The History of McPherson Library
Photo: Students in Victoria College
Library reading room, Ewing Building.
(UVic Archives Photo 009.1116)
At the heart of any university is the library and McPherson Library stands true to that dictum. Although the University of Victoria came into existence on July 1, 1963 the history of the University and the Library date back to 1903, when the institution existed as Victoria College, an affiliate of McGill University. From 1903 to 1915 Victoria College offered first and second year courses in arts and science from facilities shared with Victoria High School. The earliest library collection comprised six reference books housed in the principal’s office at Victoria High School. In 1915, the University of British Columbia opened and Victoria College closed.
In 1920 Victoria College reopened as an affiliate of the University of British Columbia, a status it continued to hold until 1963. In 1921, when Victoria College moved from the grounds of Victoria High School to Craigdarroch Castle (the turn-of-the century Dunsmuir Mansion) the library occupied an upper room in the castle. In 1927, with the assistance of the Victoria Public Library, the small library collection was catalogued. In addition, the public library loaned material to the college to enhance its collection.
Victoria College, like all colleges and universities, felt the impact of the enrolment expansion that followed World War ll. In 1946, having outgrown its quarters at Craigdarroch Castle, the college moved into the Provincial Normal School. It was a landmark day for the library and the College when they moved into the newly completed Ewing Building.
In 1952, Victoria College Library had a collection of 10,000 volumes and 1 full time staff member. By 1956, the collection had grown to 35,000 volumes, supplemented in that year by the transfer of 4,000 volumes from the Provincial Normal School Library (upon the merger of Victoria College and the Provincial Normal School). The College library staff numbered six. In 1960, the collection comprised 60,000 volumes and the staff grew to thirteen.
With the establishment of a full-fledged university in 1963, it was evident that rapid growth of the library, in terms of collection, staffing, and facilities was required. In 1960, Dean Halliwell was hired as the Victoria College librarian and he was appointed the University Librarian in 1963. He remained in this position until retirement in 1987. Marnie Swanson, the present incumbent, succeeded Dean Halliwell.
Planning for the McPherson Library building began in 1960. Initially intended for the Landsdowne Campus, the library site was changed with the decision to concentrate the new university in Gordon Head. Construction began in 1963 with the cornerstone being laid down by Lt. Governor G. R. Pearkes on July 2, 1963. A ceremony chaired by Chancellor Judge J.B. Clearihue commemorated the transition from Victoria College to the University of Victoria.
Architects for the first stage of construction were R.W. Siddall Associates. Initially, the building housed the entire library collection with the exception of the Curriculum Library and the geography map library. However, by the time the library moved into its spacious new home in August 1964, it had expanded several times; the collection now included 150,000 volumes, and the staff had grown to 57, including 27 librarians. The library was named for Thomas Shanks McPherson (1873-1962). McPherson acquired major real estate in Victoria and upon his death on December 3, 1962, the bachelor philanthropist left a bequest of $2,250,000 to the university.
The 1960’s and early 1970’s were years of explosive growth for both the university and the library. By 1971, the collection had reached 500,000 volumes, 155 staff positions, which included 36 professionals. It was apparent that the library building would soon be inadequate to meet the demands for housing the collection, staff, and services required by the growing institution. An expansion occurred between 1972 –1974. Siddall Dennis Warner were the architects for this project. Noted British Columbian George A. Norris designed the white exterior pre-cast relief panels. Margaret Peterson designed the interior glass mosaic panel. With this expansion, the library was able to offer accommodation on its upper levels for various academic and administrative units such as the Faculty of Law.
By 1982, the collection had reached 1,000,000 volumes and included nearly 1,500,000 items in microform. By 1985, economic pressures had reduced the rate of growth of the library’s collection, which then numbered 1,200,000 volumes. The staff numbered 140 of which 34 were professionals. With the exception of the Law Library, the Map Library, and Curriculum Laboratory, all services were centralized in the McPherson Library.
The library has proceeded rapidly into the electronic age. Online databases now exceed 100 sources covering all disciplines. CD-ROMs provide further research potential. A virtual reference service providing real-time reference assistance over the Internet is one of the library’s new services. It enables students and faculty to get help with their information needs when they are not able to visit the library reference desk in person. An Information Commons area has been developed whereby access to traditional material and new electronic formats are integrated. Computer workstations provide access to electronic resources, the library’s online catalogue, the Internet, email, word processing, and other software applications. In addition, the library has a training classroom with 30 computer stations where librarians teach research skills to students and faculty.
In 2002 , one can see the library has 1,600,000 volumes and 1,900,000 items in microform. There are 12,000 current periodical subscriptions including 2,600 e-journals. The Music and Audio division currently holds 49,000 records, tapes, compact discs; 32,000 scores; and 6,500 films & videos. There are 137 on staff including 26 librarians.
Over a period of 40 years, McPherson Library has constantly strived to meet the needs and aspirations of the students, faculty, and community at large. With changing demands arising out of new technological advances in providing information services, renovation and expansion plans for the library are being developed which include an addition to the McPherson Library building.
This history was originally written by D.W. Halliwell, University Librarian Emeritus. It has been updated and modified by Ian Baird and Susan Macara. July 2002