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Virtual Reference Library

Explore Ontario, present, past and future, through historic photographs, maps, digitized books, videos, and blog posts.

About the Virtual Reference Library

Developed and managed with resources from the Toronto Public Library, the Virtual Reference Library (VRL) provides free access to digital material of historical importance to Ontario and Canada.

The VRL is a unique and vast digital collection of high quality images including Ontario maps, fire insurance plans and views of towns and cities over time, culled from the Library's collection and dating back to the 1880s.

The site also offers universal access to extensive Canadian literary programming and librarian expertise.

Funding and Accountability

The annual budget for the VRL's content development and management is $5.3 million. The Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport contributes a $1.4 million grant and Toronto Public Library provides remaining funds from its operating budget.

Toronto Public Library annually reports to the Ministry on VRL usage, financials and future directions.


Between 2010 and 2015, usage of the Virtual Reference Library grew by 21 per cent.

Year Ontario Reach - Visits1 Pageviews2
2015 1,549,085 3,307,327
2014 1,811,925 3,146,427
2013 1,729,061 2,700,032
2012 1,738,220 2,644,691
2011 1,580,348 2,548,112
2010 595,187 2,506,807

1 Ontario visits to Toronto Public Library websites from outside Toronto.

2 Virtual Reference Library items examined includes but is not limited to the following: Digital Archive Items, Blog Post Views, Video and Image views (YouTube & Flickr).