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McLaughlin Library Turns 50

Opening its doors in 1968, the McLaughlin Library sits at the juncture of two primary public spaces on campus—Johnston Green and Branion Plaza. It is one of the six major concrete buildings on campus that were built by prominent designers on the Canadian and international design scene during the 1960s. Something these buildings have in common is their style—a form of architecture called brutalism—which rose in popularity in the 1960s as a response to the modernism of the 1950s.  

“Brutalism is meant to be practical, honest, and a no-nonsense way to build, characterized by expressive structural forms and a sense of monumentality,” said Wilfred Ferwerda, manager, mechanical design at U of G, and contributing author to Concrete Toronto, published in 2007. Architects Hancock, Little, Calvert and Associates designed the library in consultation with Sert, Jackson and Associates Inc. The project architect was Stephen Langmead.  

Langmead worked closely with Margaret Beckman who joined the University of Guelph in 1966 as a systems librarian. Beckman was a major contributor to McLaughlin Library’s development and strategy. In 1971, she became deputy librarian and then chief librarian, a role she held for 13 years before being seconded to the position of executive director of information technology in 1984. Langmead and Beckman went on to work together on several library-related projects and acted as consultants to several Canadian libraries. They also co-authored a book called New Library Design: Guide Lines to Planning Academic Library Buildings in 1970. 

While the building has changed over the years, one thing remains the same—it is one of the busiest buildings on campus, seeing approximately 1.5 million visitors annually. The building was originally designed to support 9,000 undergraduate students and 1,000 graduate students, and to house a collection of 625,000 volumes. “When the Library Master Space Plan was concluded in late 2013, the library was supporting an overall student population of 24,000—the need for space and capacity was greater than ever,” said Kelly Bertrand, director, Library Administrative Services, and chair, Library Building Committee.  

The library is on its way to reducing its onsite physical collection to 800,000, down from 1.2 million volumes at its peak; at the same time, it has grown its seating capacity to 3,571 seats, up from 1,900 seats available in 2006. “Our ultimate goal is to grow to 3,800 by 2020 within the current facility and to 4,600 with the benefit of a 50,000-square-foot-addition,” said Bertrand. 

With this renovation, the library continues its to transformation into a bright, colourful, modern, and inviting space where the primary focus is on providing users with the resources, tools, supports, and services that are required for their research and scholarly pursuits.

To celebrate 50-years we'll be serving cake from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Thursday, October 25, 2018, on the first floor of the library. 

Want to see more photos from over the years? Check out the timeline in the 2017-2018 McLaughlin Library Annual Report