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Children's Literature Service National Library of Canada

By Irene E. Aubrey

Volume 10 Number 4

History and Purpose

THE POSSIBILITY OF EMPLOYING A CONSULTANT at the National Library to advise on children's books was first proposed in 1969 by Elinor Kelly, Chairperson of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians. In the following years, the Canadian Library Association and the former Association canadienne des bibliothecaires de langue francaise (presently the Association pour l'avancement des Sciences et des Techniques de la Documentation) assembled a brief that was presented to the Secretary of State. They advocated that the position of Children's Literature Librarian/Consultant be established at the National Library to provide professional services to librarians, publishers, government officials and agencies, specialists and the general public using the resources of the National Library. In 1975, the National Library established the recommended position of Children's Literature Librarian/Consultant, and in 1979, the service was renamed the Children's Literature Service/Service de litterature de jeunesse in order to reflect the growth and extension of its services. The service performs a number of functions all relating to children's literature and children's libraries, and these may be characterized as resource building, advisory, bibliographic and reference, and promotion.

Resource Building

Since 1953, current Canadian publications have been received under the legal deposit regulations. The Library also endeavors to acquire older and rare Canadiana since its aim is to develop as comprehensive a collection as possible. Guidelines for augmenting the Library's holdings of children's literature were formulated in 1975 in keeping with the overall guidelines as established by the Collections Development Branch. They are: Canadian children's materials, in English, French and other languages, which include books published in Canada, books written or illustrated by Canadians. whether published in Canada or abroad, and books dealing with Canada that are published abroad. The Children's literature Service is also building an extensive collection of professional children's literature as well as a representative collection of non-Canadian award-winning children's books so that patrons at the Library can have the opportunity to document their research as fully as possible and also be aware of major contributions, elsewhere, to the field of children's literature.

The purchase or gift of manuscripts, rare books, and illustrations greatly enhance a children's research collection. So far, the Library has either received the donation of, or purchased, three items that fit into the rare books and manuscripts category, that is, the Clare Bice Papers and the Marie-Claire Daveluy Papers, both housed in the Literary Manuscripts Collection, and the unique copy of a children's book L'enfant de la maison folle, shelved in the Rare Books Division.

The Clare Bice Papers include manuscripts, other materials such as correspondence and original watercolours and sketches for five children's books written and illustrated by this talented artist of the 1940s and 1950s who was also director of the Art Gallery in London, Ontario. The five books are: Jory 's Cove, Across Canada, The Great Island, A Dog for Davie's Hill and Hurricane Treasure. The Marie-Claire Daveluy Papers contain various materials relating to plays and books written by this prolific and popular Quebec author whose career extended over a period of twenty-one years from 1923 to 1944. Her first children's book Les aventures de Perrine et de Chariot was a well-known favourite among children for many years.

Since it is a comprehensive collection of retrospective and current materials in English, French, and other languages, the National Library collection constitutes a major source of information for researchers. The collection is primarily a research collection although books are lent, on request, through the intermediary of a local library.

It was apparent from the time of the inception of the children's service that the establishment of a separate children's collection, as opposed to the practice of integrating the children's books in the general collections, would be very useful. It would provide easy access to the children's books and ensure efficiency in the control of the reference and bibliographic services. It would also provide the means with which to compile a retrospective bibliography of Canadian children's books. When, in 1976, the Children's Literature Service was asked, by its supervisors, to prepare a position paper on a national bibliography of Canadian children's books, certain conditions on which the National Library's participation would rest, were mentioned: one was the retrieval of the children's books from the stacks, a second was the creation of a separate children's collection, and a third was the addition of staff to the children's services division. As approval was granted, the necessary steps were taken to proceed with the identification of the children's books in the general stacks. One can appreciate the enormity of this task, which took almost two years to complete. Then, in 1978, work began on the transfer of the children's books from the stacks to a room fitted with shelving units to accommodate the collection. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the retrieval process should be completed within the next two years, or earlier, if work can continue to proceed on a regular basis. To date, it includes 8,600 books. It will not be possible to make an accurate assessment of how many children's book titles in English, French, and other languages, there are in the collection until it is all assembled.

An annotated bibliography of Canadian children's books would certainly render a great service to researchers who are often hampered by the lack of suitable lists and information on the theme of a Canadian children's book. It is, therefore, gratifying to say that among the conditions on which depend the National Library's participation in the compilation of a national bibliography of Canadian children's books, two have been fulfilled, that is, the identification of the children's books and the provision of an additional professional staff member to the service, and a third is well in progress, that is, the retrieval of the children's books from the stacks.

Services (Advisory, Reference and Bibliographic)

The reference and bibliographic services are offered in both official languages. Some of the requests pertaining to libraries are answered in consultation with the National Library's Library Documentation Centre. They come from across as well as outside Canada and include inquiries on topics such as the organization and administration of children's libraries, the planning of children's activities in public libraries, listings of public and school library agencies in Canada, storytelling techniques, multilingual programming in Canadian children's libraries, and recommended aids for book selection for a school library.

The requests on children's literature come from a variety of sources: librarians and teachers, authors and illustrators, publishers and booksellers, government and non-government agencies, children's literature specialists, children's book centres, universities and the general public. They cover a wide spectrum of information on subjects such as the National Library children's book collection, all aspects of Canadian children's literature, professional children's literature, children's reading surveys in Canada, and book awards. Consultative services often involve assessment of manuscripts or evaluation of books.

To provide the maximum assistance to researchers, review journals, assorted files on subjects relating to children's literature and children's libraries and books on professional children's literature are available for consultation purposes in the office area of the Children's Literature Service. Although most of the bibliographic requests are for the booklists that the Children's Literature Service compiles, it also receives special queries on themes or genres in children's literature, for example, historical fiction, Indian and Inuit folktales, community life, non-sexism, and French books as a second language. Librarians are asked, on different occasions, to send copies of the booklists which they prepare for distribution in their libraries. These booklists serve as supplementary material when it becomes necessary to fill a request and are used to promote the services of other libraries. Booklists distributed by other countries are also available for consultation purposes.

Through the service's own publications, the National Library plays a role in providing bibliographical access to Canadian children's literature. Booklists, especially annotated booklists, can furnish an excellent opportunity to promote a country's literature and encourage its wider distribution. The service has eleven printed children's booklists, which are distributed free of charge. The names of individuals who request these lists are automatically put on a mailing list to receive new publications; there are currently 2,000 names on it, reflecting an interest in Canadian children's books in all the provinces, the Northwest Territories, and places outside Canada.


Information about the collection and the services offered by the Children's Literature Service is communicated through an outreach program that includes visiting libraries, participating in conferences and meetings in Canada and abroad, arranging exhibitions of Canadian children's books at the National Library, preparing catalogues or descriptive pamphlets to accompany the exhibits and arranging for Canadian participation in international displays of children's books. International contacts with different agencies such as the International Board on Books for Young People and IFLA's Round Table of Librarians Representing Documentation Centres Serving Research in Children's Literature are maintained. The growing demand for Canadian materials, in one form or another, emphasizes the fact that services and bibliographies are greatly required. The Children's Literature Service accepts the challenge to help fill this need. For further information, contact Irene E. Aubrey, Chief, Children's Literature Service, National Library of Canada, 395 Wellington St., Ottawa, Ont., K1A ON4.

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1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


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