Library:About UBC Library/History

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Learn about the fascinating history of UBC Library.

Early History

  • 1908 - British Columbia passes “An Act to establish and Incorporate a University for the Province of British Columbia.”
  • 1913 - Dr. Frank Fairchild Wesbrook is appointed the first President of UBC.
  • 1914 - J. T. Gerould, Minnesota University Librarian, where Wesbrook had been Dean of Medicine, is appointed to buy a basic collection for the UBC Library in Europe. He purchases around 20,000 books in England and France before being detained three weeks in Leipzig, Germany as a British spy, spending part of this time in prison. John Ridington, a former teacher and journalist, is appointed to catalogue the UBC Library collection.
  • 1915 - UBC opens in a temporary home at 10th Ave. and Laurel St., the Fairview Shacks. The Library, with a staff of four, is in two rooms in the newly built tuberculosis wing of the Vancouver General Hospital.
  • 1916 - John Ridington is appointed University Librarian.
  • 1925 - The University moves from the Fairview Shacks to new buildings on the Point Grey campus. The Library moves to the central portion of the present Main Library building with shelving for 135,000 volumes and study space for 350 students. The collection totals 55,000 books, valued at $200,000.
  • 1932 - The Great Depression affects UBC and the Library. This year, the Library’s budget of $12,000 a year for books and journals is cut to $2,000 and staff is laid off. The Carnegie Corporation of New York helps with a $15,000 grant to be spread over a three-year period.
  • 1936 - The Library survives the Depression. The collection reaches 100,000 volumes. UBC Library, twenty-one years old, is Canada’s sixth largest library.
  • 1942 - Part of the collection is hidden away in vaults as protection against bombing. Library windows are covered with tar paper and in compliance with blackout regulations, reading room lights are turned off each evening.
  • 1945 - The Faculty of Law opens, prompting a donation of 5,000 plus items. This donation created the law collection, and later, the Law Library.
  • 1948 - In 1948 the north wing of the Library was completed, roughly doubling the building’s capacity. It included the original Ridington Reference Room, Music and Fine Arts Rooms, and a bindery for binding journals and mending books. It also included space on the ground floor for the Museum of Anthropology and a new Fine Arts Gallery. Both facilities remained in the building until they moved to their current locations – MOA in 1976, the Gallery (now the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery) in 1995.


  • 1952 - The first branch library opens. The Bio-Medical Branch Library at Vancouver General Hospital will serve the clinical departments of the Faculty of Medicine and the B.C. Medical Centre.
  • 1956 - The Friends of the Library of the University of British Columbia is founded, open to all with an interest in the Library and the University.
  • 1960 - New divisions open, including the Science Division, the Special Collections Division, and the College Library (later renamed the Sedgewick Library). The collection passes the half-million mark.
  • 1963 - The Curriculum Laboratory (later known as the Education Library) moves to new, permanent quarters in the Education Building.
  • 1964 - The biomedical collection moves from the Main Library to the Woodward Library, a new branch library.
  • 1965 - Main Library circulation computer terminal. An automated system for lending books is introduced. UBC Library is one of the first institutions to apply data-processing machinery to library routines. Also in 1965, forestry magnate H.R. MacMillan donated $3M to expand the Library's book collection. At the time, this was the largest such gift ever received by a university library.
  • 1966 - The Main Library stacks are fully opened to students in first and second year. Previously, first and second year students could enter only after 6pm. They needed a special pass to enter during the day. Everyone who enters the stacks must show a Library card, however.
  • 1967 - UBC Library is invited to join the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), a Washington-based organization providing its members valuable opportunities for liaison and cooperation. The 1 millionth volume is acquired. The MacMillan Library, the Mathematics Library, and the Music Library open.
  • 1968 - More library processes are automated. Serials holdings records are now maintained on a daily basis and an acquisitions systems improves efficiency in bibliographic records and accounts.
  • 1970 - An increasing amount of bibliographic information is available in machine-readable form. Woodward Library and the Science Division are doing subject searches in the collection of magnetic tapes based at the National Science Library, Ottawa. The stacks are opened to everyone. Library cards are not needed to enter.
  • 1972 - At the Woodward Library, a terminal now connects to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s MEDLINE system, for online bibliographic searches in the health and life sciences.
  • 1973 - The Sedgewick Undergraduate Library opens in its new building.


  • 1975 - The Law Library opens in a new building for the Faculty of Law.
  • 1977 - Computer-assisted reference searches are now widespread. Librarians in Law, MacMillan, Social Sciences, and Humanities now also search online bibliographical databases.
  • 1978 - The Library closes its card catalogue and begins issuing the Microcatalogue, a computer-produced catalogue on microfiche, ending the need to file over 1 million catalogue cards annually.
  • 1979 - The collection grows to 2 million volumes.
  • 1981 - The Asian Centre becomes the Asian Studies Library’s new home. The Asian Centre has been constructed from steel girders from the Sanyo Company’s pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, presented in 1971 by the Consul General of Japan as a centennial gift to the people of BC.
  • 1985 - Students hired to vacuum books in the Main Library. The Library acquires its own mainframe computer. Library applications that are already automated are shifted easily to the new computer and planning begins for an online public-access catalogue. The collection is now at almost 2.5 million volumes, with an additional 4.5 million microform and non-print items. It is valued at well over $260 million.
  • 1988 - UBCLIB, the new online public catalogue, is introduced. Dial-up access from non-Library locations is provided for the first time. Another new technology, CD-ROM (compact disc – read only memory), is introduced. CD-Plus MEDLINE is installed in the Woodward Library.
  • 1991 - The collection reaches 3 million volumes. CD-ROM and online databases continue to be added. The Library participates in the creation of the Electronic Library Network (ELN) Media Database and the ELN Union Serials Database, containing media and serials holdings of over 20 BC post-secondary libraries.
  • 1992 - A new version of UBCLIB is introduced, providing a common search interface for all files. It also now also links the catalogue to circulation information, indicating whether or not an item is out on loan. The project to barcode the Library’s circulating collection is completed ahead of schedule. A new circulation system is successfully implemented, featuring self-service renewals and listing of items out on loan.
  • 1993 - Internet access begins on UBCLIB when a text-based Gopher client is added. UBC Library users can now search library catalogues and Internet sites around the world. David Lam Management Research Library, established by the Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration in 1985, becomes a UBC Library branch. Over 25,000 volumes from the Main Library join the 16,000 volumes already in David Lam.
  • 1994 - The Library develops a World Wide Web site, providing a graphical interface to resources on the Internet. The first full text database is made available. The UBC Library is the first Canadian university library and one of only four world-wide to provide networked full text access to the publications of the US Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers and the UK Institution of Electrical Engineers via IEEE/IEE Publications Ondisc (IPO).
  • 1995 - A pilot project is begun to provide full text journals online. The Library, the Dept. of English, and the Arts Computing Centre produce Early Modern Literary Studies, a refereed journal in electronic form.
  • 1997 - Walter C. Koerner Library opens. Linking the former Sedgewick Undergraduate Library’s underground space to a new five storey tower, Koerner Library brings together collections in the humanities and social sciences, government publications, and microforms. The Library installs a new comprehensive World Wide Web-based system. The UBC Library Web provides a common, graphical interface to all of the Library’s major online systems and services.


  • 2000 - The UBC Library, now a system of 10 libraries on campus and 3 off campus, is the second largest research library in Canada. It has the largest biomedical collection in western Canada and the largest collection of Asian language materials in Canada. The collections include 3.8 million books, 24, 700 journal and series subscriptions, 13,000 electronic indexes and databases, 4.7 million microforms, and 1.5 million documents, media and other items.
  • 2001 - The Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection and Reading Room opened in Main Library in 2001. Originally donated in 1999, it consists of more than 25,000 items and focuses on the exploration of the Pacific Northwest, the Chinese experience in North America, the history of British Columbia, and the Canadian Pacific Railway Company.
  • 2002 - The Chapman Learning Commons opens in the Main Library
  • 2005 - The UBC Okanagan Library opens. It supports the needs of faculty, staff, students and researchers at UBC’s new Okanagan campus in Kelowna.
  • 2005 - Xwi7xwa Library, the only aboriginal University library branch in Canada, joined the Library system in 2005. It originally opened in 1993 as part of the First Nations House of Learning. The first Automated Storage Retrieval System (ASRS) or Library "robot" opened in 2005 in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. The ASRS has a capacity of 1.8 million volumes.
  • 2008 - The second and final phase of the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre is officially opened. Located at UBC’s Vancouver campus, the innovative facility is built around the refurbished core of the 1925 UBC Main Library, one of the first buildings constructed on the UBC campus. The Learning Centre features 250,000 square feet of new and renovated space that supports learning and research for users at UBC, throughout the province and beyond. In 2002, UBC alumnus and donor Irving K. (Ike) Barber, founder and former chairman of Slocan Forest Products Ltd. donated more than $20 million for the construction of the Learning Centre at UBC. The B.C. government contributed $10 million, and UBC provided the balance of funding.
  • 2010 - Douglas Coupland, one of Canada's most renowned authors and an internationally recognized visual artist, donated his archives to the Library in May.
  • 2014 - The Uno Langmann Family Collection of B.C. Photographs, more than 18,000 rare and unique photographs, is donated to UBC Library, offering a rare look at early provincial history.