Have you ever wondered about what library catalogues used to look like – or what books were in your local library’s collection many decades ago?

We’ve come across a handful of historical library catalogues in Open Collections, which we’ve gathered here for your perusal. You can click on the title or cover of any of the catalogues below to explore the full list of titles from each library.

Catalogue of books in the Free Public Library of Victoria City (Victoria, B.C., 1890)


The Free Public Library of Victoria City library catalogue demonstrates the library’s unique classification system. The library had the following classifications:

  • Arts and Science – Class A
  • Travels and Voyages – Class B
  • Biography – Class M
  • Religious – Class R
  • Poetry – Class P
  • Juveniles – Class J
  • History – Class H
  • English Literature – Class L
  • Cassell’s National Library
  • Magazines in Volumes – Class G
  • Miscellaneous – Class Z
  • Books for References – Class D
  • Parliamentary Books
  • Curios and Fine Arts – Class C
  • Novels – Class B


Within each classification, books were listed alphabetically by title. To supplement this, there were two additional indices listing titles alphabetically by author in the back of the catalogue. Each entry had a shelf number and an accession number.


Catalogue of library books : Royal York Hotel (Toronto, [between 1920 and 1929?])

The Royal York Hotel catalogue also features a unique classification system. The classifications are listed in alphabetical order:

  • Adventure
  • Amusements
  • Art, Painting, Sculpture and Architecture
  • Business, etc.
  • Books for Young People
  • Biographies and Memoirs
  • Drama
  • Fiction
  • Foreign Fiction in English
  • General Literature, Essays, etc.
  • General Extra Suggestions
  • History
  • Makers of Canada, The (12 Vols.)
  • Poetry
  • Popular Science
  • Reference Books
  • Religion
  • Travel and Description
  • Travel (General)
  • Authors Indexed Alphabetically


The “General Extra Suggestions” category appears to list the equivalent of today’s self-help or how-to books. It includes titles such as “Dame Courtsey’s Art of Entertaining,” “Eating and Health” and “Inside the House Beautiful”:

Each book has a unique item number, starting from one at the beginning of the catalogue and ending with 1418. Because books are listed alphabetically by title within each category, this catalogue also includes an index in alphabetical order by author. However, the index still separates out books by classification, so you have to know generally where to look!


Library catalogue from Canadian Pacific Steamships, Empress of Japan [1919?]

This catalogue is shorter than the previous two; with only five pages of listings, this perhaps reflects limited shelf space within the steamship library.


The catalogue contains one listing in alphabetical order by author (as in, “Dickens’ Dombrey and son”) unless only the title was listed (e.g., “Cream of Leicestershire”):

Can you find any interesting titles in these library catalogues? Let us know in the comments!

In the early 19th century, the Scottish naturalist and explorer John Richardson traveled with Sir William Franklin in search of the Northwest Passage. He recorded the scientific findings of these expeditions in two works: Flora boreali-americana (1833-1840) and Fauna boreali-americana (1829-1837). The latter is a four-volume text about the animals of North America and the Arctic. Although John Richardson was the primary author, the ornithologist William John Swainson assisted with part two (The Birds), and the entomologist William Kirkby assisted with part four (The Insects).

UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections holds copies of the four volumes of Flora boreali-Americana. Both texts have been digitized as part of the BC Historical Books collection. For this post, we have selected a few of our favorite images and descriptions from each volume. You can click on each image to jump to the page in Open Collections, where you can read the authors’ descriptions of the animals.

Part I: Mammalia

Grisly Bear


Rocky-Mountain Neotoma

“It is very destructive. In the course of a single night, the fur traders who have encamped in a place frequented by these animals have sustained much loss, by their packs of furs being gnawed, their blankets cut in pieces, and many small articles carried entirely” away. Mr. Drummond placed a pair of stout English shoes on the shelf of a rock, and, as he thought, in perfect security, but on his return, after an absence of a few days, he found them gnawed into fragments as fine as saw-dust.”

Rocky-Mountain Goat


Part Second: The Birds

Great Cinereous Owl

“It is common on the borders of Great Bear Lake; and there and in the higher parallels of latitude it must pursue its prey, during the summer months, by daylight. It keeps, however, within the woods, and does not frequent the barren grounds, like the Snowy Owl, nor is it so often met with in broad daylight as the Hawk-Owl, but hunts principally when the sun is low; indeed, it is only at such times, when the recesses of the woods are deeply shadowed, that the American hare and the murine animals, on which the Cinereous Owl chiefly preys, come forth to feed.”

The Arctic Blue-bird

The Common Golden Eye


Part Third: The Fish

American Perch

 “This fish has a close resemblance to the river Perch of Europe. Our specimen was taken in Lake Huron, where it frequents steep banks and affords much sport to the angler from the eagerness with which it snaps at the bait. In the month of May it spawns and then resorts in great numbers to the mouths of rivulets. It does not, as far as I could learn, exist in any of the streams that flow into Hudson’s Bay or the Arctic sea, and most probably it does not range farther north than the 49th or 50th parallels of latitude, between which the rivers that fall into the chain of Great Canadian Lakes originate.”

Ross’s Arctic Salmon

Back’s Grayling

This volume also includes some exceptionally creepy illustrations – while not included in this blog post, you can view them in Open Collections if you are curious!


Part the Fourth and Last: Insects

Each of these plates contains multiple numbered figures showing different species:


John Latham (1740-1837) was an English doctor and naturalist, famous for his work in ornithology. He was particularly known for his study of Australian birds, brought to England and observed on James Cook’s colonial expeditions. Latham published A general synopsis of birds over the years 1781-1785, with supplements published in 1787 and 1801. A general history of birds was conceived as a second edition of A general synopsis of birds, with revisions and expansions to the original text. The illustrations in both works were completed by Latham.

UBC Library Rare Books and Special Collections holds copies of A general synopsis of birds (1781-1801) and A general history of birds (1821-1824), totaling 18 volumes. Both texts have been digitized as part of the BC Historical Books collection.

For this post, we have selected a few of our favorite images from each text. You can click on each image to read Latham’s descriptions of each bird in the text. Where applicable, we included images from both A general synopsis of birds (left, black & white) and the subsequent A general history of birds (right, full colour).











The following birds appear only in A general history of birds:


(Fun fact: Latham was the first to publish a description of the emu!)

Red & yellow macaw




a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

UBC Library





Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC | © Copyright The University of British Columbia

Spam prevention powered by Akismet