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The Lillian Smith Collection

The Lillian H. Smith Collection and the Canadian Collection of the Toronto Public Library

By Marion Press

Volume 14 Number 1

In September of 1912, the Toronto Public Library achieved a notable first; the hiring of the first trained children's librarian in the British Empire. The librarian was Lillian H. Smith (1887-1983), one of the early women graduates from Victoria College at the University of Toronto, who had gone on to study at the Training School for Children's Librarians located in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Working first for the New York Public Library, under the direction of Anne Carroll Moore, Lillian Smith returned to Canada at the request of Toronto's Chief Librarian, George H. Locke, to begin her many years of work with the city's children. From a small beginning in an alcove of the adult circulating department of the central library at College and St. George Streets, she built a unique and impressive range of library services for children . In 1922, the first separate children's library, in what was by now the British Commonwealth, was established in Toronto. Boys and Girls House, under the direction of Lillian Smith, was a place truly for children, with shelves of books carefully chosen for their use, and book talks and story telling designed to instil in each child a life-long love of books and reading. It was here that Edgar Osborne, then County Librarian of Derbyshire, England, came in 1934 to meet Lillian Smith, and to admire her achievements in the promotion of children's literature and children's libraries in the city.

Osborne and his wife had gathered together over the years a remarkable collection of English children's books, dating from the sixteenth to the early-twentieth century. In 1949, Osborne presented about two thousand of these books to the Toronto Public Library Board in recognition of Lillian Smith's contribution to children's librarianship, and as a memorial to his wife who had died in 1946. The Osborne Collection, now numbering over fifteen thousand volumes and beginning with works from the fourteenth century, has as its end point the year 1910, which marks the end of the Edwardian era. When a fitting tribute was needed to mark the fiftieth anniversary, in 1962, of the beginning of children's library services in Toronto, the Lillian H. Smith Collection was established to bring together the best of children's literature in English published since that date. The approximately forty-five hundred works now in this collection include picture books, folk tales, fairy tales, fables, fiction, and poetry that has been judged to have literary and artistic merit. Canadian works in English that meet these standards are included. Lost in the Barrens, by Farley Mowat (Little Brown, 1956), The Golden Phoenix and Other French-Canadian Fairy Tales, by Marius Barbeau, (Oxford, 1958), Raven's Cry, by Christie Harris (Atheneum, 1966), and The Marrow of the World, by Ruth Nichols (Atheneum, 1972) are just four of the many Canadian titles in the collection. Housed in glass-fronted cases, the collection can be easily viewed by any visitor to the present Boys and Girls House, built in 1964 on the site of Lillian Smith's first library .

In 1978 the Canadiana Collection was formed to gather together children's books in English by Canadian authors or illustrators books about Canada, and books published in Canada. There are no date limits on this collection; both current and retrospective fiction and non-fiction are included. The result is a comprehensive picture, historical and contemporary, of Canadian books for children. Titles such as Jessie Crey or the Discipline of Life: A Canadian Tale, by L.G. (J. Campbell,1870) and Cedar Creek: A Tale of Canadian life, by Elizabeth Hely Walshe (Musson, 1902), Velvet Paws and Shiny Eyes: Adventures of a Little Canadian Boy in Nature's Wonderland-Among Furry Friends and Feathery, by Carol Cassidy Cole (Hodder and Stoughton, 1922), Northland Heroes, by Florence Holbrook (Harrap, 1930), The Great Island: A Store of Mystery in Newfoundland, by Clare Bice (Macmillan,1954) and The Cottage at Crescent Beach, by Ann Blades (McClelland and Stewart,1977) give some idea of the range of material represented.

Manuscripts, letters, and original artwork form part of the three collections, the artwork now being known as the Jean Thomson Collection, in memory of Lillian Smith's successor who retired in 1966. Canadian illustrators whose works are represented in this collection, now made up of over one thousand items, include Elizabeth Cleaver, James Houston, and Ken Nutt. The Lillian H. Smith Collection and the Canadiana Collection were shepherded through their early years by Judith St . John, who cared for the Osborne Collection and its several sub-collections from 1952 to 1979. Margaret Crawford Maloney is now Head of the Osborne, Lillian H. Smith and Canadiana Collections, administering these non-circulating research collections that receive inquiries from all over Canada and the rest of the world. The atmosphere in the rooms that house the collections is warm and friendly, and the knowledgeable staff are always willing to assist with specific research requests, or to attend to those who visit out of general interest .

The Friends of the Osborne and Lillian H. Smith Collections has been in existence as an organization since 1966 to provide a means of bringing together those who wish to share their interest and support for the collections. Now numbering about seven hundred members world wide, the Friends hold regular meetings with lectures, issue a newsletter, and produce a facsimile gift book from the Osborne Collection for its members each year. Further information on the Friends, or on these unique and valuable collections that provide us with a permanent record of this country's achievements in children's literature, can be obtained from The Osborne and Lillian H. Smith Collections 40 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2E4.

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


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