NOTES from April 12 2017 Meeting; SPEAKER: Leslie McGrath, Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books

Monday, April 17, 2017 11:00 PM | Helena Aalto (Administrator)

Presentation and tour of the Osborne Collection by Dr. Leslie McGrath

The Annual Meeting of Members on April 12 was held at the Lillian H. Smith Branch of Toronto Public Library, and was followed by a presentation and tour of the world-renowned Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books.

After the Annual Meeting adjourned, CANSCAIP's administrative director Helena Aalto introduced longtime Member Gillian O’Reilly, former editor of Children’s Book News for 20 years, and recent recipient of IBBY Canada’s Claude Aubry Award. Gillian is on the board of the Friends of the Osborne Collection, which is the oldest friends organization in the Toronto Public Library. The Friends' fundraising supplements the Collection's art conservation budget, and sponsors three lectures a year. Gillian encouraged us to join; member benefits include newsletters and invitations to the lectures.

Gillian introduced Dr. Leslie McGrath, head of the Osborne Collection since 1995. Leslie told us that early in Toronto's history, children’s books were too expensive for most families, and schools provided only basic readers.  For many years, children’s books weren’t a significant or important part of library collections and the first chief librarian in Toronto was even opposed to children’s services. But as the city grew, the public began to demand change and by 1908 the provision of children’s services was considered long overdue. In 1912 Lillian H. Smith was hired to head children’s services for the Toronto Public Library.

Lillian Smith believed reading in a library setting prevented kids from getting into trouble, and that they should be given quality books to grow up to. She thoroughly reviewed books geared to children, and revamped the children’s collection, including fairy tales and folk tales to promote tolerance and understanding.  However, she disapproved of comics and popular series books, and assembled a shelf of ‘bad’ books as a reference for other librarians!

Boys and Girls House, the first separate children's library in the British Commonwealth, opened in 1922 on St. George Street.  Under Lillian Smith’s direction, many branches of the Toronto Public Library expanded children's services and book selections. Inspired by the outstanding work of Lillian Smith, Edgar Osborne donated his extensive collection of rare children’s books to the Toronto Public Library in 1949, and thousands more books and other resources have been added since. Lillian Smith retired in 1962, but her aim of broader, inclusive children’s collections continued.

The Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books now has over 80,000 rare and modern books, book-related art, novelties like movables and miniatures, and archives of contemporary authors. Leslie McGrath's presentation included images of a 14th century Aesop’s Fables, the first written version of The Three Bears, handwritten stories by Beatrix Potter, and horn books. Leslie noted that most of the fairy tales, myths and legends in the Osborne Collection are now fully digitized, and nursery rhymes and poetry soon will be.

CANSCAIPers take note! Osborne Collection librarians can provide extensive reference and research services to authors and illustrators. They can make presentations to individuals or groups, tailored to themes as requested. When contacted ahead, they will gather books and other resources for your visit, which can also be held for you over the course of several visits. For example, an author wanting authentic background for a historical story could request books from the period that their character might read. And if that sounds like too much to ask of a librarian, Leslie McGrath assured us that using the Osborne Collection is the point of this world-renowned resource, and she urged CANSCAIP to spread the word! 

After Leslie’s presentation, we oohed and aahed over the manuscripts, picture book dummies, books, and original art from the Collection on display for us. We also loved “Worlds and their Stories: Wielders of Wonders”, the current exhibit in the Osborne's gallery, with its wonderful selection of books and artwork depicting ancient civilizations.  

The Osborne Collection is a treasure trove for children's book creators and for anyone who loves books. Some creators even plan visits to Toronto that centre around the Osborne Collection. And like all libraries, it's free and open to the public!  

Thanks to everyone at the Osborne Collection for a terrific evening!