Posted by Jason Polak on 24. January 2016 · 2 comments · Categories: math

The Rosenthall Library was a separate mathematics library at McGill located at Burnside Hall, the same building as McGill’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics. In the Fall 2015 semester, it was dismantled. The books were moved to the sciences library, the journals were moved to a basement storage area, and the rare books were moved to the university’s rare book room in the McLennan library. Before this library vanished, I managed to take a few pictures of the Rosenthall Library for historical purposes.

Let’s start our virtual tour. To begin with, unlike the other libraries on campus that could only be accessed at certain times during the hours of the library, any graduate student, postdoc, or faculty could obtain a key and access the library at any time:

Given that everyone also can access Burnside, this meant that the library was accessible every second of the year, which is not true of other libraries on campus. Another cool feature of Rosenthall was that you could take out a book at any time, even outside the normal hours, just by taking the due date card out of the book, writing your name in it, and putting it in this handy box:


Yes, there was even a pen included, duct-taped to the table. If you think that’s cool, you’ll also want to know that the Rosenthall library could also function completely without electricity! Unlike other libraries that require you to access the catalogue with a computer, the Rosenthall library had a fully-functional card catalogue system:


This is the drawer for the Springer Lecture Notes in Mathematics, all of which were contained on a separate shelf:


Seen here is LNM 2018. Look at all that wonderful yellow! And just next to this shelf was another one with all the mathematics M.Sc. and Ph.D. theses:


My M.Sc. thesis is there. This tradition is unlikely to continue even at the new locations since McGill recently switched to an all electronic thesis submission system, which is great because now I don’t have to submit seven copies of my PhD thesis this semester, all self-bound with my name written on the side in Sharpie.

Aside from books, the library had lots of cool relics, such as this Singer calculator:


You had to plug this into a wall. Displayed in this photograph the result of calculating the square root of two: it displays the accurate to seven decimal places 1.4142135, and it takes a perceptible fraction of a second to calculate this, during which it displays the approximations it is taking along the way. Next to the desk with the calculator is the rare books section:


If you look closely, you can see the works of Laplace, Klein, Sylvester, Lie, Mobius, Hermite, Fermat, and others. Looking around the rest of the library was great because the books themselves were mostly at a graduate level and beyond:




So that one could browse easily and painlessly. Aside from the books, the library had individual study cubicles and several large desks. It was one of the quieter libraries on campus and was a good place to go for graduate students, especially since our access was unlimited, and then after hours it was a quiet place indeed.


  1. The Library was named for Edward Rosenthal; I once found in there a reprint of a book by Weyl which, according to a pencil note within, had been given “to Eddie Rosenthal” as a gift.

  2. I miss this library.

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