a, Student Life

Branching out: exploring McGill’s libraries

McGill’s downtown campus is home to no fewer than 13 libraries, but students commonly limit their study space to one or two—often simply out of habit or convenience. In honour of the abundance of midterms and papers this week, this is the first in a series of spotlights on McGill libraries to help you branch out and learn to appreciate each library for its individual character.


McLennan-Redpath Library Complex

Consisting of Redpath Hall, Cybertheque, Blackader, and McLennan, this library complex is the largest, oldest, and possibly the most notorious library on campus. Particularly during exams, the building tends to be over-run by stressed-out, sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled zombies. The seven-story building houses the Humanities and Social Science library collections, which include books for the faculty of Arts, Management, Religious Studies, Social Work, and Education. Furthermore, the library holds a collection of government, government agency, and intergovernmental organization publications; the Blackader-Lauterman collection of architecture and art; and McGill’s collection of rare books.



Although the library collection dates back to 1855, it wasn’t until 1893 that Peter Redpath, a businessman and member of the McGill University Board of Governors at the time, donated the oldest part of the library complex, Redpath Hall. The Hall was the first building constructed to store the main university library collection.

In 1969 the reinforced concrete McLennan Building opened—named after Isabella McLennan, who helped fund the purchase of many of the school’s books. While some describe McLennan’s interior as stale, impersonal, and dull, the repeating concrete pattern was meant to elicit a calm and quiet atmosphere to facilitate focused studying.

Redpath and McLennan merged to form the Humanities and Social Sciences Library in 1988 and throughout the 1990s materials from other departments were incorporated into the collection.

Much to the chagrin of a majority of the student body, the building continues to face ongoing construction. The library grows and changes to fit the student body’s needs, and is now much more focused on serving the demand for study space and digital research tools, and less focused on books.



With a staggering 2,000-plus seats for quiet study throughout the library complex, it’s shocking that they all manage to fill up around exam time. Included in this number are large group tables, and carrels conducive for efficient individual work. Graduate students and Honours undergraduates can reserve carrels by applying at the service desk on the main floor.

For more collaborative learning, meetings, or presentation practice, there are individual rooms that can be reserved online through the library website, including high-tech glass pods in Cybertheque with computer adaptable large flat-screens. There are also open group study areas in Cybertheque and Redpath where talking is permitted.



The basement of Redpath has a cafeteria with staples like Tim Hortons, Pizza Pizza, and Bento Sushi. Snacks, beverages, and coffee can also be purchased from vending machines right outside the cafeteria. Signs indicate that food is not permitted upstairs, although that doesn’t seem to deter most people.



Besides stacks—on stacks, on stacks—of books, the library has much more to offer. They even have their own blog, the McLennan Post, which features posts written by librarians on topics pertinent to students and faculty who use the library. The library also has microform readers and scanners that are connected to the library’s network, allowing for printout retrieval from uPrint machines.  On top of that, the library runs workshops on topics such as research strategies and how to get your research published. Workshop schedules are posted on the McGill Library website.


Something special

One of the true treasures of McLennan is its Rare Books and Special Collections section on the fourth floor. The collection was started in the 1850s and contains books, memorabilia, maps, and other artifacts from a wide range of different disciplines. Due to the fragility and value of the collection, there are guidelines for accessing these resources. Visitors must register upon entering and personal belongings like bags, hats, and coats must be stored in special locations. Once this is done, you can carefully browse through the collection at your own will, although you must return all material to the Reading Room staff before you leave.


Hours of Operation 

*24-hour access only in the Redpath Library Building and on the main floor of the McLennan Library Building. The upper floors of McLennan (2- 6) are open for study until midnight.

Monday-Thursday: 8 am – Midnight

Friday: 8 am – 10 pm

Saturday: 10 am – 10 pm

Sunday: 10 am – Midnight

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