History of the Jules Léger Library

Jules Léger Library

The origins of the library can be traced back to the foundation of the Department of External Affairs itself in 1909.

Sir Joseph Pope, designated Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, strongly believed that the department would require a sophisticated and extensive reference collection in order to conduct its affairs competently.

At this time however, the library had no coherent organisation or collection, and the books were housed in several different rooms within the department, with the largest collection being under Sir Joseph Pope's guardianship.

East Block location

In 1914, the library was given a designated area in the East Block, but it was not until 1928 that the library truly came into being, when Pope's successor, Dr. O.D. Skelton, hired Grace Hart as a full time professional librarian.

Grace Hart consolidated the library collection, and fought for more space in the department's cramped quarters. She implemented the Library of Congress (LC) cataloguing system, started to keep circulation records, and began to develop the collection by acquiring current titles, periodicals and by clipping news articles. She also began to provide a reference and research service for the department.

With the collection's expansion, the library took over a number of rooms in the East Block.

Move to Pearson Building

In 1973, the Department of External Affairs moved to the Lester B. Pearson Building at 125 Sussex Dr, Ottawa. At this time, the library moved from the East Block to the main floor of the Lester B. Pearson Building.

In 1982, the Library was named The Jules Léger Library in honour of Canada’s 21st Governor General and former Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs. His personal book collection, donated to the Library by his widow Gabrielle Léger, is housed as a separate collection in the Library and is a reflection of his scholarly interests.

Technology and the Library

In 1985 the Jules Léger Library became the test site in Canada for the Innovative Interfaces Library Management System. Modules supported are Online Public Access Catalogue, Acquisitions, Cataloguing, Serials Control and Circulation Control. This led to the eventual phase out of the card catalogue.

In the 1990s the Library rolled out the Virtual Library, a collection of electronic information resources available on the SIGNET desktop of all departmental staff located at Headquarters in Ottawa as well as at Canadian missions abroad.  Beginning as a collection of networked cdroms, the Virtual Library has grown to be one of the flagship research products available to departmental staff and provides access to over 100 databases of electronic information resources.

In 2002 the Library introduced the Web OPAC. Since 2006, the Jules Léger Library has partnered with CIC Library in sharing our Library Management System.


In spring 2010, the Library’s physical space at 125 Sussex was closed while the library was moved to a nearby location. During this period, reference and lending services continued via phone and e-mail while the new location was under construction. The majority of the physical collection was moved to two storage facilities at this time; one at 125 Sussex and the other in Gatineau.

The new location opened in April 2011 on the main floor of the Lester B. Pearson Building.

Present Day

Today, the Library has an extensive hard copy collection of books, documents, periodicals and newspapers as well as a Virtual Library of over 100 electronic information sources available to all departmental employees. With the advent of the digital age, library staff provides almost instant reference and research services all clients regardless of their location.

Hilliker, John. Canada's Department of External Affairs Vol. 1. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1990. Kirkwood, Kenneth R. Department of External Affairs: A History. Ottawa, Ontario: Department of External Affairs, 1958.