You Can Learn More Than You Think from a Beer Label

In U of T Libraries’ collections, scholars find the raw material for their research

There are millions of books on the shelves at U of T’s libraries. But dig through the vaults, and you’ll discover a huge variety of other items: posters, sound recordings, films – even beer labels. U of T’s libraries actively acquire many of these things, but they also receive them as gifts-in-kind. These donations are hugely important, says librarian Loryl Macdonald, because they serve as the raw material for scholars to produce original and innovative research.

Open handmade book showing a drawing of a girl with a belt made of a button sewn into the drawing
Among more than 600 boxes of writer Margaret Atwood’s papers is juvenilia such as Sewing: Darning and Buttons – created when the author was eight or nine years old. (Donated by Margaret Atwood.)
An open book of James Wolfe's letters
The 200 personal letters of James Wolfe, the British general who triumphed at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1759, include the first he ever wrote – to his mother as he was preparing to depart for war – and the last, penned just before his death. (Donated by Helmhorst Investments.)
Round label with words
More than 3,000 beer bottle labels tell the story of brewing in Canada, from the triple-X strong ales of the late 1800s to the craft malts of the 1990s. (Donated by Larry Sherk.)
Photo and couple of pages of a letter
Svetlana Alliluyeva, Josef Stalin’s daughter, wrote hundreds of letters to her best friend Mary Burkett. Of her father she once wrote: "Even today, Russians are incapable of grief and atonement for Stalin’s crimes." (Donated by the Joan Walwyn Randall Fund.)
Photo album open to a photograph of David Onley on the red carpet at the Queen's Plate
David Onley, the lieutenant-governor of Ontario from 2007 to 2014, is a strong advocate for people with disabilities. In this photo, from his personal archives at U of T Scarborough, he receives a red carpet welcome at the Queen’s Plate in Toronto. (Donated by David Onley.)
Concert set list pages
Scholars or fans of Anne Murray can trace the musical career of Canada’s songbird through a collection that includes all her recordings, from demo tracks to final releases, as well as concert set lists. (Donated by Anne Murray.)
Cover of a worn copy of Finnegans Wake
In his personal collection of 6,000 books, renowned University of Toronto prof Marshall McLuhan had four copies of Finnegans Wake, including this heavily annotated first edition. (Donated by Henry Rodrigues.)
 Black and white photo of Jack Kerouac and Lucien Carr
Poet Allen Ginsberg’s photo collection, spanning 1944 to 1997, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the artists and writers known as the Beats, with candid shots of his friends before they became famous, like this one of Jack Kerouac (left) and Lucien Carr. (Donated by the Rossy Foundation.)
Poster of Ursula Franklin's talk,
In the 1960s, research by Ursula Franklin, a U of T physicist and engineer, helped end atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. This poster, from 150 boxes of her papers, is for a talk she gave at the University of Saskatchewan. (Donated by Ursula Franklin.)

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