The Most Magical Place on Campus: Visiting the Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library

There are few things that go together better than Robarts and Buzzfeed. We’ve all had that moment where your twenty minute coffee break turns into an hour of reading listicles and finding out which celebrity dog you are. Things got a little meta last week when I found myself staring at photo of Robarts, from inside Robarts, while reading 19 Totally Magical Libraries To Visit Before You Die. #1 on the list? The Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, which is located on the north side of Robarts.

photo of the rare books library in a buzzfeed article

credit: buzzfeed & flickr user hyfen

I’ve been meaning to check out the Rare Books Library since I first came to U of T, but for some reason have put it off for almost two years. I took that article as a sign that it was the time, and decided to turn my unproductive quiz filled study break into a mini adventure.

row of old leather bound books

I fell in love with the library at first sight. I felt like I had found a hidden oasis in the midst of Robart’s brutalist architecture. And I couldn’t even wrap my head around the thousands of books lining the walls in each direction.

DSC09218 copy

If you’re looking for a beautiful view of the library, try taking the elevator up to 4M, there’s a glass observation room there.

bust of shakespeare

While at the library, I checked out ‘So long lives this’: A Celebration of Shakespeare’s Life and Works, a collection of printings of Shakespeare’s works from the First Folio of 1623 to contemporary publishings.

The illustrated folios were absolutely beautiful, especially compared to the ebook format I usually read Shakespeare in.

The details on this 1914 printing of A Midsummer's Night Dream were absolutely beautiful.

The details on this 1914 printing of A Midsummer’s Night Dream were so gorgeous!

I wish I had more time to explore every nook and cranny and make a request to view one of the hundreds of first printings, manuscripts, and ridiculously old texts they have there. I definitely plan on taking another visit, and if you would like to do the same you can visit the library Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm on Thursdays.

DSC09233 copy

Confession: There’s a New Library in My Life

There are 44 UofT libraries, spanning UofT’s three campuses. There are libraries of all shapes and sizes, all styles and atmospheres. You would think this would be enough for me. You would be wrong.

Recently, I have been cheating on UofT. Maybe I took #TryItUofT too far; you be the judge. Consider this my confession:

Dear Robarts,

We have had a long and beautiful love affair. Just over three and a half years ago, I first decided to overlook your imposing and intimidating exterior and give you a chance. I grew to love you.

We have had some wonderful times together, haven’t we? Do you remember meeting my friends? We used to hang out and study together all the time. They grew to love you, too. We presented a united front during many a finals season. I came to see your beauty more and more as I got to know you better and better—your blossoming cherry trees in the summer, your amazing Toronto views, your Rare Book Library. I will never forget all that you have given me; you were always there to provide me with research materials and unlimited free WiFi. You have been my rock. I regret nothing. Please remember that.

We had our good times, yes, but after three and a half years of dogged commitment on my part, I have become more sensitive to your stone-hearted habits. Three and a half years of endless Starbucks lines, freezing my hands off in study rooms, and red-walled cages—I mean, elevators. I’m tired, Robarts. I can’t do it anymore. Things have changed.

I know you don’t want to hear this, but I’m seeing someone else. Continue reading

A Drake-themed guide to Robarts during exam season

Exams are upon us, U of T. Time to buckle down, catch up with readings, and hit up the nearest campus library for some serious studying. Robarts is the natural go-to choice for many students. Exams may make you miserable, but at least being around other people who are stressing out as much as you are is somewhat comforting. Also comforting is knowing that you’re making Drake proud by acing that calc exam. And always remember that if Aubrey Graham could go from a teeny-bopper D-list actor on Degrassi to a bonafide rap legend, then you can certainly power through these final weeks of the first semester.

Drake leaning against a large storage container and a stereo, using the stereo as a desk to write lyrics on a piece of paper.

Even Drake’s gotta constantly put in werk (Source: Instagram @champagnepapi)

Continue reading

Library Da[y]ze

As a student who ‘double-dips’ in both the arts and sciences here at U of T, I can tell you that sometimes a full library day is something you can’t avoid. My kitchen table is where I do the majority of my school work, but occasionally I need the focus and academic-y aesthetic a library provides. The many reasons students end up at the library vary, but I’m sure we all have one thing in common: we don’t really want to be there.

A picture of my kitchen table littered with notebooks, textbooks and my MacBook.

A typical Madeline-at-home work space.

I once made made a trip out to Queen’s University to visit some friends who studied there. It was during the impromptu library tour (it didn’t take long, they only have seven) that I was told if you were going to get anything done there, you must get a desk with an outlet not for your computer charger, but for the mini kettle that would apparently provide enough sustenance to read for hours on end with instant coffee and Mr. Noodles. And while I have never seen a person with a kettle at Robarts, I still think of this every time I pack up my bag for a full day of studying.

Continue reading

Once Upon A U of T II

Well, friends, I would just like to take this moment to congratulate everyone on what was hopefully a successful and memorable first month of school. 

If you’re like me, you’re still checking your schedule to remember what classes you have or somehow already wildly behind on your readings (I will catch up soon, I promise).

But if you’ve been keeping up with lecture notes like a responsible and functioning member of this academic institution, I salute you. You are an inspiration to us all.

Since school started, I’ve been frequenting many of the same spaces. While this gets monotonous, I personally employ the use of an internal Disney soundtrack in my head – a strategy bound to make any mundane task seem fun. So on a related note, here’s a second instalment of Once Upon a U of T, in hopes that when you enter the same places, you will remember these photos and your day will be a little happier-ever-after.

A photo of the path along the Philosophers Walk. I photoshopped Aurora from the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty walking along the foreground, along with a few friends including birds, bunnies, and chipmunks.When walking through a place designated the “Philosopher’s Walk,” it seems only obligatory to get into the mindset of deep intellectual thinking. The scenery certainly helps to facilitate this and the walk is often a peaceful and pleasant start to my morning. I’m really looking forward to when the leaves start to change colour – the Philosophers’ Walk is stunning to walk through at this time of year.

A view of Robarts, as seen from the sidewalk along St. George St. I photoshopped Rafiki and Simba into the angular edge at the top of the building, with sunlight beaming straight down on them.

Ah, Robarts. It really is the central hub of our school. And much like Pride Rock, Robarts also shares the same visual appeal of a giant slab of concrete. Nonetheless, there’s nothing like surrounding yourself with 14 floors of hard-working students to get you motivated to sit down and write that paper you’ve been putting off. Plus it’s open 24/7 during exam time!

A photo of the food made in the Green Beat. I photoshopped Remy the rat from the movie Ratatouille onto the top of the glass display.The Green Beet is a vegan cafe located in Gerstein Library, another personal library of choice. The food always looks delicious… but I wouldn’t really know because I’m one of those people who obnoxiously monopolize the microwaves that are also present to warm up my own food. But I’ve made a mental note to try the curried lentils sometime within the next month! The Green Beet is also a space where you can freely talk without having to leave the library… so you don’t feel guilty about leaving the library.

Occasionally, I head over to the UC Union Building, located beside the Commuter Student Centre, which organizes a (FREE) tea and cookies event every Monday-Thursday at 2:30, making this its own kind of Wonderland. The comfy couches and laidback atmosphere of the building are always a nice treat and escape from studying. 

The thought of a Disney villain in Hart House is not far off because that place is so confusing that it can be frightening trying to navigate it yourself. But fear not; this massive building houses a lot of cool student resources, including photography classes, cozy rooms for hanging out, and Sammy’s Student Exchange. Check out Taryn’s post on her exploration through Hart House! Better sneak in a few extra days out on the patio before the weather gets too cold!

What are some places you commonly hang out in on campus? Let me know in the comments or snap a photo of it and tag us on Instagram at @lifeatuoft!

Charles vs. The Turkey

Or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the S-Bomb

Chapter One

Turkey, Peacock, great-concrete-brutalist-monolith-of-doom… whatever you prefer to call it, I spent the first four years of my undergrad without studying in Robarts library. I had never felt the need. There were so many other spaces on campus that seemed less, well depressing. And even then, I rarely used the other libraries either. I was content, where-ever I was living (I’ve moved every year) to study in bed, on the couch, in the park, anywhere but the library.

There was something daunting about the size of the library, that you need ID to access the books, the mysterious 5th to 8th floors, the consummate concrete, the artificial lighting, and the air of agony of studying students, which made it seem all-too-like a prison to be a comfortable space to study.

And the triangles. All those triangles. The lights: glowing fangs. The library baring its teeth.

So I avoided Robarts. Then, in fifth year, a series of unfortunate events found me willingly entering Robarts, inviting myself into incarceration, into the belly of the beast (if a turkey can be considered a beast): 1. An article I needed was not available online, and 2. I don’t have internet access at home (I’ll talk about 2 a little more next week). As a result, I had no choice but to tackle the turkey, to pursue the peacock, to reconsider Robarts.

Photo out of a Robarts window. But not quite "out of" because it's dark and the inside light is reflecting. But, you get the idea.

The view’s not so bad, to start.

To be brief, it wasn’t so bad: an anticlimactic realization five years in the making. I even got used to the triangles. There’s little to say about UofT libraries at this point: you all know that they’re top ranked, full of great books, have plenty of study space, etc. That’s not new[s] to you, nor me. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the “s”-bomb…

Chapter Two

…that is, to “shh”. Starting to use the libraries means I had also to transcend my private notion of a study space: there were other people there. And people can be loud. If there is one thing that is misunderstood about the UofT libraries, it’s that they are not sound proof: study rooms are not sound proof. They are not meant for dance parties. They are not meant for rocketing laughter or full-volume conversation. They are not meant for catching up on Spongebob episodes. But sometimes people forget this fact. And that’s okay—people forget things. Still, it can still be infuriating. So, what is one to do?


In a future post, we might go into more detail about how to go about shushing; it’s not always easy to do. But, I’ve made a new habit of shushing, and have a few quick tips to tide you over until that later post.

  1. Make eye contact, or don’t. There are pros and cons to each. If you don’t want them to know you are the shusher, shush into your lapel or your book. But, if you want to guarantee maximum shushage, look them in the eye. Single them out. Let them know that shush is for them.
  2. Speak if you can’t shush. If you have to confront a study room, it can be a little weird to open the door just to utter “shh” and walk away. Use your words: it also means other people can hear you, and the shushees will know that everyone knows they got called out.
  3. Be polite, offer alternatives. It’s hard to quarrel with politeness. Say “sorry to intrude” or “thought you should know”, and suggest that they might like to prefer to move to the cafeteria or a common space to talk (a polite ultimatum). They might not know that they’re being loud, and may appreciate the note.
  4. Borrow Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows. This option might not be available to you, but if you want to make sure you’re holding on to your assertiveness while being polite, Peter Capaldi’s eyebrows can’t do you wrong. Be polite, but on the attack.
  5. Bask in the approving nods of other library patrons. You’ve conquered the noisesome enemy; you are a library hero. Rejoice!
Just Peter Capadi's Eyebrows.

I’m technically supposed to cite where I get the photos I don’t take or create, but I’ll admit that I’ve had Capaldi’s eyebrows on my harddrive for too long to remember.

Stacks on Stacks (of books)

In the immortal words of Arthur:

libray card gif

Truer words have never been spoken. Source:

As U of T students, we get a handy little TCard, which gives you access to numerous services on campus but also, as many of you may know, the TCard also serves as a… LIBRARY CARD!

It opens the opportunity to explore the thousands of books in the 44 libraries on campus!

The U of T libraries offer so many facilities and services both online and in person that it’s a student’s dream! But this post is dedicated to one of my favourite things to explore on campus: The stacks!


What a beautiful sight

For those of you who don’t know, the stacks are basically the main area where the books are held. My first time navigating the stacks was a little overwhelming, but it’s not as complicated as that long call number on the books may indicate!

For example, I recently really wanted to read the English version of the Mahabharata (an ancient Indian epic) but I couldn’t find a copy anywhere. On a whim, I decided to try our own library. Spoiler alert: they had it!!

It didn’t take much effort either! In a few easy steps, I had my book.

1) Search for the title you want, or keywords. I used the website catalogue, but you can often find them using the catalogue in the libraries. You’ll see what the libraries have on the results page. Each book result has the library it’s located in, the call number of the book and also whether the book is checked out or not. Being the nerd I am, I did a tiny bit of background research to see which version I wanted.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.30.40 PM

2) Note down the information you need to find the book: the call number and the library it’s located in.

3) Find out where in the library the book is located. For example, if the call number started with PR, it would be on the 13th floor of Robarts Library. This information can be accessed online or will be on display in the libraries (Fun fact: The inside of the elevators at Robarts have one of these signs).

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 11.31.01 PM

*Just for Robart’s

4) Use the last few numbers to exactly find your book of choice! 

See, U of T? Easy peasy! So next time you want a reference textbook for that assignment on viruses, a copy of that $200 textbook for that course you have to take or just a modern translation of an ancient epic, don’t hesitate to try out the stacks!

Just don’t let the power get to your head.

dw evil

With great power comes great responsibility. Source:


Alumni Benefits


I’m still getting used to the idea that I am an alumna of U of T, even though I officially graduated three weeks ago. Maybe it’s because I’m spending the summer here at this magnificent blog, but I don’t feel quite ready to cut loose and never walk across Front Campus again.

Thankfully, U of T does a lot of things to help with the transition from upper-year student to successful post-graduate. This week, I investigated the ways that you can stay involved with U of T and use it for support as you move forward in your life.  You can even get discounts and free things! Who doesn’t love free things?


My general reaction to free things. (via

Stay connected to U of T

To start, you keep your U of T email account for life, though it changes from a address to a account. Any emails sent to your old address will forward to the new one for two years, giving you time to let all of your contacts know about the change.

You also get a free subscription to U of T Magazine, a great publication that highlights news on campus and the accomplishments of alumni. I’ve been reading it online during my time as a student, but I’m excited to curl up with a paper copy in a new post-grad apartment.

Keep using U of T services

If you’re experiencing separation anxiety from Robarts, you can get an Alumni card (one-time fee of $22.60) to get up into the stacks as often as you like. And if you’d like to continue to borrow books, you can get an Alumni Reading card ($70 per year).

2014-07-08 13.41.22

Some Career Centre resources. There’s lots online, too!

You can also keep up your fitness levels by obtaining an alumni membership at the Athletic Centre ($571 per year) or Hart House ($423.55 per year, for the first three years after graduation), both of which can be paid in monthly instalments. You’ll be saving a lot compared to what the general public would pay!

Graduates also get access to the Career Centre for two years after their convocation date. Make sure to stop by the Career Centre to attend workshops or get advice from a career educator. You can also still access all of the full and part-time job opportunities in the CLN!

Continue learning

While you could certainly learn a lot by slowly reading yourself through the Robarts collection, possibly the best alumni perk is being able to further your career or personal ambitions by taking a course through the School of Continuing Studies. They offer online and in-classroom courses in business, creative writing and various arts and science topics. And U of T alumni can take one using a $600 credit within the first 18 months after convocation!

The first bit of science writing I ever did involved hanging out with the ROM dinos! (via

The first bit of science writing I ever did involved hanging out with the ROM dinos! (via

I’m definitely looking to use this amazing opportunity next summer. I’ve got my eye on the great selection of writing/journalism courses. Like this one on freelance science writing (which conveniently is exactly what I’m considering doing with my B.Sc. after journalism school!).

Which alumni benefit are you most looking forward to using, U of T?

Selfies (at Robarts)

Our Community Crew Captain, Abdullah, posted the most honest, groundbreaking tweet that I’ve seen in my 5 months here at Student Life:

Ah, the fabulous Robarts selfie. You’re guilty, I’m guilty. I’m here to tell you that you are not alone in your obsession with taking photographs of yourself when you should be studying.

Styles, angles, and locations all tell you a lot about the individual behind the Robarts selfie. One thing that ties all of our masterpieces together is the fact that we are all students, we are all tired, and we all dread the first announcement – “the library is closing in 45 minutes” – that’s basically asking us to get the heck out of the library at 10PM on Friday. You are not alone in the struggle to April, comrade.

Here are 6 common types of Robarts selfies that you might find on any given U of T student’s MacBook. Much love to my friends and colleagues that agreed to let me use their images!

1. The “I don’t get this concept so I’m going to take a selfie” selfie.
2. The “I don’t want anyone to catch me taking a selfie” selfie.
3. The “checking that your hair is in place and making sure you still look cute” selfie.
4. The Not-Quite-A-Selfie Selfie

5. The “I look too good to be here, let me take selfies instead” selfie.

6. The “I don’t care if people catch me taking a selfie because I’m over this day” selfie.

(This is me! Hello, everyone)

(This is me! Hello, everyone)

I want to see your selfies at Robarts! Tweet your selfies with the hashtag #SelfiesAtRobarts and show us how hard you’re working.

The Truth About TCards

So I had to replace my TCard.

The little photograph of my face had turned into a blurred mess of white and blue. But visiting the TCard office at Robarts Library was an air-conditioned treat on a hot Monday afternoon that gave me much more than merely a new piece of plastic identification.

It made me realize the truth about TCards.

The TCard is magical! Just flash it here or swipe it there and you are in! It’s basically a VIP, all-purpose access card for U of T. It seems I have gone four years without fully appreciating this. I’m hoping the rest of you don’t make the same mistake.

What’s the TCard all about?

I have no idea how many times I have entered a U of T library, or how many times I’ve ascended the heights of the Robarts stacks. But I do know that every single time my TCard was the key. My TCard allowed me to take books out of the library. And it let me photocopy pages, print essays, and sign out movies and television shows from the Media Commons. It was like having a helpful house-elf hanging out in my pocket…


At the Athletic Centre there are table-tennis courts, swimming pools, and exercise gyms—all just a TCard swipe away. In the fall the Varsity Centre will don a big white dome and host an indoor driving-range—free with a TCard. I used to play intramural dodge-ball at the Hart House gym, and I needed only a pair of shorts and my TCard. This is but the beginning of a long, long, long, long list!


The TCard is also a meal ticket. In first year, I lived at New College residence and swiped my TCard for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I had Flex Dollars on my card to buy coffee and snacks at any one of the 30 retail eateries around campus. When I moved off campus I thought my TCard lost all its swipe = food magic. But I was wrong!


UeaT provides many options for continued campus eatering. All you need is a TCard!

It’s the universal student tool. We even need them to write our exams, effectively to graduate! And say I decide to put a hold on my university career, maybe travel for a year, my TCard would wait for me, activating again when I resumed my education.

The TCard is like a friend. One who gets you discounts on Greyhound travel, one who takes you to Dance Cave for free, one who proves you are a student at the University of Toronto. It took me a while to notice my four-sided, bar-coded buddy, but I will no longer underestimate the truth and magic of the TCard.

If you haven’t found yours yet and are walking around like a hopeless wanderer, the TCard office is room 2054A in Robarts Library, 130 St. George Street. The friendly and knowledgeable staff are more than happy to answers any questions you might have.

They also offer an online Question and Answer Tool that could save you some time!

‘Til next time, stay diamond U of T!

– Stephen.