Our history by the numbers: McGill Library’s collection over time

Almost every year for many decades, McGill Library staff have completed statistical surveys for the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire (BCI), the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and other organizations. These statistical surveys ask questions about different aspects of the Library, such as the budget, the size of our collection, the number of reference questions answered, the number of staff, etc. The survey responses enable libraries to examine their performance over time as well as compare against libraries in other institutions.

ARL allows individual subscribers to download the responses of statistical surveys from its member libraries going back more than a hundred years. McGill Library statistics in ARL’s online database go back to 1950. This historical data was graphed to examine the growth of our collection over time.

How much do you think McGill Library’s collection increased over the past 7 decades? Did the number of items in our collection increase by:

  • a) 503%
  • b) 803%
  • c) 1103%
  • d) 1403%?

The answer is (wait for it) ………………… ………………… ………………… ………………… ………………… ………………… ………………… ………………… ………………… ……………… Since 1950, our collection has grown from 625,485 items to slightly over 7.5 million, an increase of 1103% (answer c, which is graphed below).

All of McGill Library’s collection consisted of print and other physical items back then, whereas approximately half of our collection is now in electronic format. Through the numerous electronic resources in our collection (such as e-books, e-journals, online databases, e-videos, e-music recordings, etc.) and now access to digital copies of most of our print books through HathiTrust’s Emergency Temporary Access Service, this means that the majority of our entire collection is available to our users anytime and anywhere. Discover our collection by visiting www.mcgill.ca/library/. Remember that library staff are available to help you find what you need. Chat, email, or text a librarian to ask us a question.

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