A Chronicle Of Boys' and Girls' House
And Of Children's Library Work In Toronto

Derived from the Toronto Public Library publication
A Chronicle of Boys and Girls House and a selected list of recent additions
to the Osborne Collection of early children's books, 1542-1910,
and the Lillian H. Smith collection, 1911-1963


IN 1884, the Toronto Public Library was established as a free public library. During the first year the number of "Juvenile books" reached a total of 1,295. In these early years activity increased until in 1908 it became necessary to make provision for the children who were coming to the libraries in increasing numbers. This chronicle outlines the history of children's library work in Toronto as it was reflected in the annual reports of Chairmen of the Board, Chief Librarians and Heads of the Boys and Girls Division.

1908. Mr. George H. Locke succeeded Dr. James Bain as chief librarian. One of the first things he did was to establish a separate room for "ladies and children".

1909. The circulation of books among children has grown very greatly within the year. This has been stimulated by the opening of the Children's Room in the College Branch where at the noon hour there are often to be found about one hundred children reading and being helped in their work by Miss Bessie Staton, the assistant in charge of the Department. The circulation for the year was 72,803.

1912. One of the outstanding features is the development of the work with children in the Children's Rooms in the Branch Libraries. The Board was fortunate in securing the services of Miss Lillian H. Smith of the New York Public Library to take charge of the work. Miss Smith, a Canadian, had graduated from the Carnegie Library School in Pittsburg.

There is need for an adequate children's room at the College Street Branch. The overcrowding during the winter months, and especially on the days on which the stories are told in the room, make it almost impossible for the librarian to give individual attention to the children.

The Story Hour has proved one of the most attractive features in the Children's Rooms, and has been a strong means of arousing an interest in good reading. During the last week of November and the first part of December an exhibition of gift books for children was held in the art rooms of the Reference Library.

1913. Weekly meetings for assistants in charge of Children's Rooms have been held for the purpose of outlining the work, planning the programme for story hours and reading clubs, and for gaining a knowledge of the resources of the book collections on given subjects.

1915. The Story Hour, already popular, was given a decided help onwards by the series of lectures which the Children's Librarians arranged during October and November, when Miss Marie Shedlock, of London, England, spoke to five delighted audiences on "Story-Telling". Story Hours devoted to Canadian historical characters have supplied to the children, many of whom are of foreign parentage, a Canadian historical background, something much needed in a new country. This year there were 12,671 children in the Story Hours and 249,260 books were circulated among boys and girls.

1917. This has been a great year among the boys and girls. Our work in this department is bounded only by our financial resources. Would that we had a Branch Library building on the Reference Library property which could be devoted entirely to boys and girls and to the training of librarians in the work of helping boys and girls!

The outstanding feature of the year's work has been the removal of two children's rooms to larger quarters. At both Dovercourt and Western branches overcrowding became so acute as to necessitate opening a children's room in new quarters downstairs.

1920. A Boys and Girls Work Congress was held in the Public Library during October. Its aim was to bring together all agencies working with boys and girls, and to establish through cordial relations a broader idea and greater knowledge of the work of other organizations. The addresses were given by Miss Clara Whitehill Hunt, Supervisor of Work with Children of the Brooklyn Public Library, and Miss Anna Cogswell Tyler, Supervisor of Story-Telling and Clubs of New York Public Library.

1921. The work with boys and girls at College Street has reached its highest point. We cannot hope to make any decided increase this coming year, because there is no more room. We were beyond our capacity this year and turned away from the Library hundreds of boys and girls whom we could not help. In this small room--one end of the College Street Circulating Room-over 100,000 books were borrowed by boys and girls last year.


The purchase of the Merritt property, adjoining our Reference Library grounds, which we were able to secure at a price which enabled us to remodel and equip it within the city's appropriation of $25,000, has marked another step forward in the remarkable development of Toronto's library service. We now have what I believe to be the only exclusive Library for Boys and Girls in the British Empire. The building affords us excellent accommodation for the various activities of our extensive juvenile work, such as reading circles, clubs, etc. The layout and tasteful decoration of the rooms, the pictures and furniture, combine to make this a most attractive domicile for its purpose.

Outstanding in its influence upon our work, and, indeed, upon the work with boys and girls throughout Canada, was the opening in September of the Boys and Girls House, at 40 St. George Street, just across the Public Library Park from the Reference Library building. It contains Lending Libraries, Reading Rooms, Story Hour Rooms, Club Rooms, Special Collection of Books for Boys and Girls and a High School Reference Library.

Visitors by the hundreds have been attracted by the novelty of a house devoted entirely to a library for boys and girls, and have expressed their appreciation of the educational value of the work as well as its future effect on the citizenship of the country. As for the children themselves, they have taken complete possession of their own "House" and are coming in ever-increasing numbers, until we wonder if the house will hold another boy or girl.

In October, the first Public Library Institute for Children's Librarians was held at the request of the Inspector of Public Libraries. Circulation of books to Toronto children during the year was 514,378.

1923. The satisfaction with which we regard the greatly increased usefulness of the work since it was moved to Boys and Girls House cannot blind us to the fact that our accommodation is already taxed to the utmost, and that an extension will be needed if the work is to continue to grow and flourish. No tables and benches can be placed in the circulating room, since all the space is required for standing room!

1926. The overcrowding at Boys and Girls House still continues and one wonders where the children are to be accommodated. The great need here just now is for a story hour room which would hold all the children who would come if only there were one.

A co-operative experiment between the Board of Education and the Toronto Public Library Board resulted in the first school library being placed in Queen Victoria School at the request of the principal of the school.

1927. The outstanding event of the year for the Boys and Girls Division was the completion and publication of its approved list, with annotations and descriptions, Books for Boys and Girls, which contains two thousand titles which we deem to be of definite and permanent interest.

1928. In April the dream of a "Little Theatre" and Story Hour Room was realized at Boys and Girls House when a very neat addition to the "shed" at the back of the building was constructed for the purpose. A flagged path leads from St. George Street to a little green door opening into a long room, the charm of which must be seen to be appreciated. The fireplace at the far end gives an intimate touch to the Story Hour, and the stage at the other end provides thrills alike to performers and audience with its footlights and brown handwoven curtains bordered in gay colours. The Special Collection of books for the use of parents, teachers, etc. is now housed in this room, with the result that it is practically always in use.

1929. The "Little Theatre" which was the event of last year's Report, has with surprising swiftness become the centre of activity in the Boys and Girls House, and in fact of the whole Boys and Girls Division. The plays given by the children ranged from The Three Little Kittens, to scenes from Julius Caesar by the Shakespeare Club. The Little Theatre is used not only by the clubs at Boys and Girls House but by dramatic clubs from the branches, whose ambition is now to put on a play at their own library which will be deemed worthy of a"repeat performance" in the Little Theatre. Boys and girls from branch library clubs are usually in the audience now when plays are being given. In this way they gain a sense of belonging to the whole library system, a feeling of pride in their own library and a sense of responsibility for its reputation.

1930. This Division now has twenty-five centres for the distribution of books to children: Boys and Girls House, fifteen branch children's rooms, three branches in Settlement Houses, and six branches in Public Schools.

One of the most interesting and immediately rewarding experiments we have ever made was undertaken during the summer months of 1930, when the arrangement of the books in our boys and girls libraries was changed from the Dewey decimal classification to an arrangement which is more intelligible and attractive to boys and girls, and which has grown out of years of observation of their reading interests.

1932. The circulation of the Boys and Girls Division passed the million mark for the first time.

1937. Mr. Charles R. Sanderson succeeded the late Dr. George H. Locke as Chief Librarian.

1940. The appearance of the second edition of Books for Boys and Girls in the Spring marked the culmination of three years intensive reading and re-evaluation of the entire field of children's literature. The news of the publication of our list was evidently heard in far places, since, as well as orders from all over Canada and the United States, England and Scotland, there were orders from the Barbados, South Africa, Brazil and from Hong Kong.

1944. The librarians of the Boys and Girls Division have given a series of story-telling broadcasts over CBL as a part of the school programme. At present, they are engaged in an eight-week series of broadcasts over CJBC at 5 P.M. on Sundays. These broadcasts do much to develop among boys and girls reading habits which will last throughout their lifetime.

1945. The children's librarians report the constant stimulus to reading given by the Sunday radio programme Stories for you. Ten thousand bookmarks were printed for us by Station CJBC, to be given out after each broadcast. The bookmarks give informal suggestions of similar books to read. According to the children's librarians the bookmarks melt away before the week is half over, and library shelves are swept clean of the suggested books.

1946. During the last year the librarians of the Boys and Girls Division held 955 story hours; produced 60 plays; gave 59 talks to adult groups on books for children; set up 91 displays of books in connection with various organizations.

1949. Mr. Edgar Osborne, Librarian of the Derbyshire County Library donated his collection of "rare, quaint and curious" books for children to the Toronto Public Library as a memorial to his wife, Mabel Osborne. He flew from England to assist in arranging an exhibition of his Collection at the official opening on November 14. The gift comes as a direct personal tribute to the work of the Head of our Boys and Girls Division, Miss Lillian H. Smith. Edgar Osborne relates how he visited Toronto in the 1930S and was impressed with the library service to the children that was being carried out under her direct inspiration and leadership. He characterized it as unique in his experience from his observations in the United States and England.

In order to provide relief from the almost impossible congestion in Boys and Girls House, where at the peak times there is not enough accommodation for the crowds of children who attend, the $40,000 resulting from the sale of the original library at Church and Adelaide Streets is to be applied to the erection of a Boys and Girls Library and Story Hour Room behind the present Boys and Girls House.

1951. On May 30th the new Children's Room and Theatre of Boys and Girls House was officially opened.

1952. Miss Lillian H. Smith retired after nearly forty years of distinguished service, and the highest tributes were paid her by the Board, her staff, and the press. Miss Jean Thomson succeeded Miss Smith as Head of the Division. The circulation of books for the Boys and Girls Division was 2,008,635 passing the two million mark for the first time.

1953. We congratulate Miss Lillian H. Smith, former head of Boys and Girls Division, on the publication of her admirable study of children's books and children's reading, The Unreluctant Years. To those who have not the good fortune to know Miss Smith and her work, a reading of this book will explain the international reputation she has gained.

The number of school classes visiting the libraries increased from 1,550 in 1943 to 3,331 ten years later, in spite of the fact that during these years libraries have been established in 17 of the city schools.

1954. The third edition of Books for Boys and Girls edited by Miss Jean Thomson was published.

1956. Following the death of Dr. Charles R. Sanderson on July 24th, Mr. H. C. Campbell became Chief Librarian.

Mr. Osborne visited Toronto to consult with the Board about the publication of the catalogue of the Osborne Collection.

1957. A Supervisor of School Libraries for the Division was appointed. In the thirty-four years since the first school library was opened, the nature of these libraries has changed and developed to a great degree. Today a network of 49 children's libraries, 30 of them in schools, is able to serve the 100,000 boys and girls who live in the City of Toronto.

1958. On December 28th, 1958, the publication of the Catalogue of the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books finally occurred. It catalogues a collection unique in this country which will grow in value and interest with the passage of time. We are grateful to the McLean Foundation for their financial assistance in making the publication possible.

1959. To mark the publication of the Osborne Catalogue an exhibit of 300 books, displayed in the Exhibition Gallery of the Reference Library, was officially opened by the President of the University of Toronto, Dr. Claude Bissell, on January 10th. 1,350 people visited the exhibition during January.

The supplement to Books for Boys and Girls, an annotated booklist of 550 titles, went to press in December.

1961. The first John Masefield Story-Telling Festival was held in Boys and Girls House, October 16th to 21st. The idea for the Festival originated last February when the Poet Laureate of Great Britain, Dr. John Masefield, presented funds to provide special story hours for the boys and girls of Toronto, and to stimulate interest among adults in the art of story-telling. Miss Eileen Colwell, a distinguished children's librarian of London, England, was invited to be guest story-teller at the Festival.

Thirteen children's programmes prepared by the staff of the Boys and Girls Division and sponsored by META (Metropolitan Educational Television Association) under the title "Boys and Girls House" were produced on station CFTO in the spring of this year. Eight of these were repeated during the Christmas holidays.

When the Toronto Board of Education undertook to work towards the placing of a school library in every elementary school, the Library Board agreed to co-operate in the transition period. The services of the Head of the School Library Department were loaned to the Board of Education to help with the selection of the books and the training of teacher-librarians. Joint operation of school libraries will continue until the re-organization is completed.

1962. During the past year it was discovered that Boys and Girls House is literally falling to pieces. It was reported by the City Building Department that it constituted a menace to those using it and involved serious risk of loss or damage to the irreplaceable volumes housed in it. Therefore it is to be replaced with a new building that will be a part of the complex of library buildings at College and St. George Streets.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of special service to the children of Toronto the Lillian H. Smith Collection of Children's Books was established and provision for suitable quarters was included in the proposed plans for the new Boys and Girls House. Books are being selected to provide a picture of the development of children's literature in English since 1911, the date at which the Osborne Collection leaves off.

Jones Avenue Boys and Girls Branch Library opened in November, marking a new development in library service in Toronto. It will be important to watch its growth, to see if the establishment of a separate library for children is the answer to the problem of reaching readers who cannot, because of distance, make use of the large regional libraries.

1963. On April 22nd friends and former staff members of the Boys and Girls Division were invited to a farewell party at Boys and Girls House. Guests came from all parts of Ontario for the event and up until Christmas time "regrets" were still arriving from former librarians now living as far away as Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

The House was demolished in August and in September the walls of the new building began to rise slowly.

1964. May 7th, the official opening of the new Boys and Girls House.