Just in time for a new crop of students, the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is completing an inventory of its books, scrolls and manuscripts — and encountering some forgotten treasures in the process.

Opening the boxes that hold the libraries rarest materials has yielded some surprises, said Pearce Carefoote, interim head of rare books and special collections, in an interview on Metro Morning.

"In the old days, we didn't necessarily catalogue things down to the very last description," he said Tuesday, explaining that the last inventory — performed 40 years ago — left some details out, for example, the materials out of which a book is made.

The current inventory has turned up books bound with silver and gold thread, elaborate embroidery and silver filigree, now searchable for any library user.  

Silver filigree book

Another ornate 18th century book that was re-discovered through the inventory process, this one bound in velvet and decorated with silver filigree. (David Fernandez/University of Toronto)

"You're thinking, 'Isn't this wonderful information to add?" Carefoote said.

The library, attached to the larger Robarts Library, houses materials that ranges in age from a 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablet to papers and manuscripts from Leonard Cohen and Margaret Atwood.

It's a big job to go through every piece of the collection, but Carefoote said it's something that he and his staff looked forward to doing.

They've been cheered to find that, by and large, their organization system works well — books are turning up where they are supposed to be.  

"That makes us very happy," Carefoote said.

In the last few years, the collection was threatened by moisture that seeped in through concrete walls.

Last winter, the exterior of the library was clad in a special foam to keep the books safe and dry.

P.J. Carefoote

Pearce Carefoote, interim head of rare books and special collections, said the library contains papyrus from the time of Christ and Medieval manuscripts that come from the fourth century, among other treasures. (CBC)

With files from Metro Morning