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About Central Library

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About Central Library


With an attendance of over 1,000,000 visitors per year (with a total of 13,157,302 since opening day), the Central Library is a popular destination for people from across the City, serves as a branch for the residents of the large service area encompassing downtown London and is the Library’s “corporate head office”.

Central Library has many unique features, including a wide range of collections materials, the Ivey Family London Room supporting local history, the Spriet Children’s Library, Wolf Performance Hall, community meeting and gathering spaces, music practice rooms and community art display spaces.

Welcoming and free to all Londoners, the Central Library contributes to the rich culture and diversity of the downtown. Cultural events at the Library (and in the 370 seat Wolf Performance Hall) are part of the suite of cultural programming in the downtown. It also offers unique services (e.g. Ivey Family London Room) and programs that bring out-of-town visitors supporting London’s tourism. Central Library users, visitors, volunteers and staff also boost the downtown economy through their spending at local stores and restaurants. Thus, the Library is a huge contributor to the state of the downtown. This popular and highly used destination is in need of revitalization.


1835 - The third Mechanics' Institute, forerunner of today's public library, in Upper Canada is established in London, the first two being in York (now Toronto) in 1831 and Kingston in 1834. A self-improvement centre for "the working class", the Institute offers concerts, exhibitions, lectures and a lending library.

December 1842 - A new building for the London Mechanics' Institute and Museum is completed on the original courthouse square, near the present-day corner of Dundas and Ridout streets.

November 12, 1855 - The Mechanics' Institute moves to Talbot Street at the western end of Queens Avenue.

November 1, 1861 - The London Mechanics' Institute goes bankrupt.

May 9, 1870 - Having been inactive during the 1860s, the London Mechanics' Institute is reorganized.

September 21, 1877 - The new Mechanics' Institute building costing $24,000 is formally opened at 229-231 Dundas Street, east of Clarence Street. This is the final location for the institute. The building still stands today.

February 28, 1882 - The Ontario Legislature passes the Free Libraries Act, enabling municipalities to establish public libraries supported by taxes.

July 22, 1888 - The former Mechanics' Institute building (1842) is heavily damaged by fire.

January 2, 1893 - Londoners vote a third time on a free library bylaw and the results were in favour of a free library so a Free Library Board is re-established.

June 18, 1894 - Mr. Henry Macklin, chairman of the new public library board, signs a deed to a lot on the southwest corner of Queens Avenue and Wellington Street, the future site of the new public library.

November 26, 1895 - The first London Public Library is opened by the Hon. George W. Ross, Minister of Education. The new building costs $14, 818 including furnishings and took over the book collection of the Mechanics' Institute, some of which are housed in the London Room.

December 1902 - So quickly did the library’s services grow that an addition is built at the rear of the building.

1908 - Public access to the bookshelves is introduced.

November 1, 1910 - The Reference Room opens and modern reference service begins.

Summer 1913 - The Children’s Room opens in the west end of the ground floor of the Central Library, formerly used as a ladies’ reading room.

1934 - Elsie Perrin Williams, the only child of Daniel S. Perrin of the Perrin Biscuit Company, dies, leaving a large bequest to the city, a portion of which was used to build the new Central Library.

November 17, 1939 - The cornerstone for the new central library at 305 Queens Avenue is laid by Mayor Allan J. Johnston.

September 20, 1940 - The Central Library at the southwest corner of Queens Avenue and Wellington Street, closes.

October 4, 1940 - The Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Building housing the art gallery, central library and historical museum, is opened by the Hon. Duncan McArthur, Minister of Education at 305 Queens Avenue on the site of the former Princess Rink and Winter Gardens. It had room for 48,000 volumes, a second-floor art gallery, and an auditorium and children;s library in the basement.

1952 - Three new galleries are added to the second floor of the Central Library.

February 1954 - The old Central Library building at Queens Avenue and Wellington Street is demolished to make way for an addition to the YM-YWCA.

July 31, 1967 - The London Room, a research facility for local history, opens.

April 26, 1968 - The new million-dollar addition to the Central Library was formally opened by Ontario Premier John P. Robarts, providing a new children’s wing, more book space and more gallery space and increasing overall floor space from 39,600 square feet to 97,480 square feet.

1980 - The art gallery separates from the library and moves to its new facilities at the Forks of the Thames, the London Regional Art Gallery.

1981 - Major renovations were made to the Central Library when the art gallery's former space of 12,940 square feet was renovated and a new staircase provided easier access to the newly expanded second floor. The London Room moved to the second floor.

December 1986 - The Centennial Museum closes.

July 1, 1987 - The Children’s Library rejoins the Central Library after almost twelve years in Branch services.

January 1, 1989 - The library’s museum division separates from the library board and merges with the London Regional Art Gallery to become the London Regional Art and Historical Museums.

1994 - Telefact, a telephone reference service, begins.

February 8, 2000 - It is announced that the Central Library would be relocating to the former Hudson’s Bay Department Store at 251 Dundas Street - in effect returning to its roots with the former Mechanics Institute building still standing next door at 231 Dundas Street.

February 18, 2002 - Beryl and Richard Ivey announce a $300,000 gift for the London Room, the largest donation by a single donor in the library's history.

August 10, 2002 - Last day of library service at 305 Queens Avenue.

August 25, 2002 - New Central Library opens at 251 Dundas Street.