Thursday, January 6, 2011

Why I Am Terrified Of Robarts Library

When I first saw Robarts at the University of Toronto I thought: Strange, why would they build a fortress in the middle of campus? And then I saw people leaving with books and I thought: Oh.

There is something compelling though about its monolithic stature and futuristic design. If someone had asked George Orwell to design a government building for the future, it would probably look a lot like Robarts: intimidating, foreboding, and comprised of concrete peaks and towers with very few windows. Basically, a real good place to conduct top secret illegal business and immoral public experiments without anyone finding out.

I've attempted to study a few times within its hulk, but haven't lasted long. There's something horror movie-like to me about its layout and design. Maybe it has to do with the flickering, buzzing halogen lights that come slowly to life as you walk by as if some ghost is trailing you turning them on and off. Maybe it's the glass-enclosed study rooms that bare a frightening resemblance to the cell that housed Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs. Maybe it's the skinny doorways lining the edges of each floor that lead, so I'm told, to PHd study rooms but which look more like small torture chambers.

I recently made a trip to Robarts after Christmas to get out a few books and found the place eerily empty. If I thought Robarts was scary even when it was filled with sniffly students then this new, deserted Robarts was absolutely terrifying. I walked past the "guard", flashed my U of T card and entered the bank of elevators, which whisked me up several storeys and opened onto one of those atriums that look more like the set for a lazer tag battle than a place to study.

As I walked through the stacks, lights flickering to life and then extinguishing behind me, I couldn't help one thought creep and take hold at the edge of my mind: zombies. I imagined them coming out of the darkness between two book shelves, banging their decaying hands on the glass walls of a study room, sneaking up behind me as I attempted to find my call number. If I was going to film a zombie movie in Toronto, the first place that would get overrun with the flesh-eating monstrosities would be Robarts.

Of course, not everyone feels this way about Robarts. For example, these gents felt that their love for the library was best expressed through a rap song.

photo one: credit
photo two: mine
photo three: mine


  1. Brutalism became popular also for riot control: harder for people to take control of these buildings. Not only easier to manage entrance but armed bandits get lost inside.

    1. Haha never thought about it that way LOL

  2. I've never actually been inside that library before, but the outside creeps me out enough. It looks like the worst place to study, but I can't say the Ryerson library is any better. Who thought dark, enclosed boxes were good for the mind? Anyway, nice post!

  3. When I was an undergrad, I hated Robarts, a dark concrete turkey eyesore ruining the beautiful campus. Now that I am in post-grad studies, I am there 24/7 and I fell in love with the place. I never thought I would ever become comfortable with Robarts, but now I am.

    Except for the Starbucks in Robarts, it still sucks.

    Loved your post though, its so true!

  4. This is why I study at the toronto reference library which has a really welcoming and calm interior. No labyrinths, no single file elavators, no sense of impending doom. The only problem is the limited hours.