A blog from the Ontario Library Service

Digital Archive Ontario, the New Virtual Reference Library

Toronto Public Library (TPL) has revitalized — and renamed — our Ontario-facing site formerly known as the Virtual Reference Library (Prince reference not intended). It’s now: Digital Archive Ontario.​ You can access it on LearnHQ.

The updated name reflects the site’s increased emphasis on historical digital collections. Started in 1999, the site has changed over time — it was first a directory of curated online resources. It continues to be funded by TPL and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

What is Digital Archive Ontario?

Just like the Virtual Reference Library, Digital Archive Ontario provides instant access to the 155,000+ historical items digitized by TPL, plus librarian blogs and videos with an Ontario focus. Its mission remains the same: to support Ontario public libraries and communities outside Toronto — no library card required! Here are a few ways the site helps:

  • Supplements local history collections with digitized photos, postcards, maps and documents from across Ontario (feel free to add our link to the local history page of your website)
  • Offers access to primary sources related to provincial and national history (e.g. WWII posters), as well as TPL’s Special Collections (e.g. Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books)
  • Connects Ontario residents with librarian expertise, from local history content to personal finance blogs to author interview videos (e.g. “Ontario’s Historic Breweries“)
  • Creates content for other Ontario public libraries to share on social media (go ahead and share one-off items related to your community or relevant blog posts, like Owen Sound & North Grey Union Public Library did below)

So what’s been improved?

A more prominent search bar, which no longer is intended just to search specific communities — you’re encouraged to search anything we’ve digitized.

A brand-new “How to Use the Digital Archive Ontario” section, orienting new visitors and highlighting how different audiences can benefit from the site’s content.

A new spotlight on Ontario communities that uses a carousel to make it easy to browse resources of Ontario’s largest towns… dare I say, it’s even kind of fun.

Other improvements include streamlined organization of homepage sections, simplified global navigation, more mobile-friendly design and alignment with TPL-brand style.

Will links to the Virtual Reference Library still work?

Yes. The old URL redirects to the new site. If possible, updating the text and URL of the link is ideal.

Can I add items from my library’s collection to Digital Archive Ontario?

Unfortunately, not at the moment. Our current scope is just to digitize items from our library’s collections.


Feel free to get in touch! My email is dsprague AT torontopubliclibrary.ca