Dalhousie Library was established by order of the University Senate on 24 April 1867. The library, first housed in the “new” Dalhousie College (renamed the Forrest Building in 1919), was beset by financial difficulties during the early decades, especially after the Board’s 1890 decision to withdraw all library funding. During this period the collection grew only through sporadic donations, although 1894 witnessed both the advent of the class memorial book gifts and expanded hours of library service, increasing from two to seven hours per day, five days each week.
In 1916 the library was renamed and moved into the MacDonald Memorial Building, due to the generosity of Professor Charles MacDonald, who bequeathed $2000 to the library for books, a gesture that triggered an eponymous fundraising campaign. Despite several renovations and later additions, eventually the collection and its user population outgrew the space, and in 1971 the Killam Library was opened.
Currently the University Libraries encompass five distinct units, including the Sir James Dunn Law Library; the Kellogg Health Sciences Library; the Sexton Design & Technology Library; the MacRae Library, at the Faculty of Agriculture Campus in Truro; and the Killam Library, which remains the administrative heart of the Libraries and houses the office of the Dean of Libraries.
Each library has its own head librarian, who also serves as an associate university dean across service areas including Scholarly Communications, Access Services, Learning and Curriculum Support, Discovery, and Resources. These broad areas are reflected in various units, which have shifted and evolved in both name and purpose over time. However, much of the University Libraries’ work continues to be accomplished through committees and working groups created to deal with initiatives and issues pertaining to particular library functions.
Past university librarians include: Reverend Dr. William Lyell (1876-81); John Forrest (1881-85); Jacob Schurman (1885-86); William Alexander (1886-89); James Seth (1889-92); Walter Murray (1892-1902); Archibald MacMechan (1906-31); Ivy Prickler 1940-47; Dorothy MacKay (1947-51); Jean Carter (1951-52); Douglas G. Lochhead (1952-60); J.P. Wilkinson (1960-66); Louis G. Vagianos,(1966-79); William F. Birdsall (1981-97); William R. Maes (1998-2010); and Donna Bourne-Tyson (2010-2022).