a roaring venetian lion, crouching on a book next to a photo of a venetian lion gargoyle that is holding a book in its mouth
Image by Greg Houston, McGill Library.

In 2016, the library combined four rare collection departments under one umbrella: ROAAr - Rare Books & Special Collections, Osler Library of the History of Medicine, Visual Arts Collection and McGill University Archives.

Looking for historical atlases? Architectural drawings? Medieval manuscripts? From Mesopotamia to Montreal, the McGill library is the place to begin your search. The library began collecting rare materials in the 1850s, and through gifts and purchases, the holdings now constitute rich and highly diverse research collections. ROAAr houses over 250,000 rare materials that are unique in the world.

ROAAr invites the curious everywhere to discover our holdings. All members of the University community, as well as those outside the University, are welcome to use the resources and services of the department. For guidance on visiting the ROAAr Reading Room, see here.

For a downloadable brochure giving an outline of our holdings in English please click here: PDF icon Brochure-English.


ROAAr’s core mission is to create moments of wonder through the discovery of extraordinary collections. It makes essential primary resources accessible to researchers, students, and visitors and showcases unique materials for the public. ROAAr actively works to support meaningful engagement and knowledge exchange with campus and community partners through outreach, exhibitions, and events.

Support ROAAr

Financial gifts grow the collections and support the work of collecting, preserving and sharing treasures from the past. Find out how you can support ROAAr through acquisition endowments, funding for special events, and contributions to book conservation. Donations are also vital for restoration and renovation of library buildings to meet the needs of 21st-century library users.



Land Acknowledgement

McGill University is located on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. ROAAr honours, recognizes and respects these nations as the traditional stewards of the lands and waters on which we meet, study, and exchange ideas today.


Working Towards Meaningful Engagement and Knowledge Exchange

ROAAr supports work to further equity, diversity, inclusivity, and accessibility work. However, we still have much learning to do – as individuals working in an academic research library, curators of special collections, and archivists working to support historical research.

Here are some ongoing efforts in the ROAAr group undertaken to address anti-Black racism and Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in our collections:

  • New Library Guide for holdings created by or directly relating to James McGill. See the guides for McGill Institutional History here
  • New web archiving project documenting McGill University Responses to Anti-Black Racism now live
  • Library Game Quiz That So? animates primary resources featuring under-told McGill stories. This digital game showcases the contributions of historical, racialized, and ethnically diverse McGillians. See more here
  • The Fur Trade Collection is now full-text searchable via Quartex, enabling scholars to search across the entirety of this manuscript collection documenting the work of the North West Company. Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous peoples were principal parts of the fur trade during this period, however, and are therefore present, albeit indirectly in this collection. See more here
  • Voices from The Footnotes, a ROAAr podcast starting in September 2021, explores the silences and gaps in the McGill Library collections where voices are under-represented. See and hear more here


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