What does a copy of Little Bear by Elsa Homelund Minarik (lovingly inserted in the belly of a large homemade stuffed bear), By Space Ship to the Moon by Jack Coggins and Fletcher Pratt (a book about space travel written in 1951), and a signed copy of The Gingerbread Boy by Eric A. Kimmel have in common? They all belong to Denver Public Library’s Children’s Historical Collection: Reference. The ALSC Special Collections & Bechtel Fellowship Committee saw these and many other intriguing items while touring the collection located at the Denver Public Library during Midwinter 2018. Our tour guide, Children’s Librarian Rachel Hartman, curates the collection.
The Children’s Historical Collection first began in 1935 as part of the Western History Collection, which was established by local head librarian Malcolm Glenn Wyer at the suggestion of his friend, author Willa Cather. At some point in time, all materials for children were pulled from the rest of the collection and sent to the Children’s Department where the collection languished. Martha Bennett King was the biggest donor of materials to the “Juvenile Historical Collection”, but the library also kept all items donated by Eleanor Gehres and Bessie E. Miller unless significantly damaged. About four years ago, Hartman was assigned to organize the reference portion of the collection; she has been working diligently on it ever since. (The circulating portion of the Children’s Historical Collection is curated by another librarian.) The Children’s Historical Collection Development Policy can be found here: https://docs.google.com/
Over one-third of the Children’s Historical Collection: Reference (about 1,000 items) are now entered in the online catalog and available for the public to use in-house; they must be requested to view in the Children’s Room. It was amazing to walk in the upper level of the basement (affectionately known as the “Lowers”) and view the scope of the collection. Historical items are arranged on shelving by category: fiction, beginning readers, nonfiction, picture books, tiny and oversize books. We saw shelves with history books (one book dated from 1809), books filled with folklore, books by authors from Colorado, books about or set in Colorado, and children’s textbooks such as McGuffey Readers. The circulating historical collection is stored on separate ranges of shelving nearby in a closed stack area, however these are generally duplicate copies of books that are out of print (most are award winners and honor books, books with Colorado connections) and last system copies.
Our tour also took us up to the fifth floor where the Western History Collection is stored. We were pleasantly surprised to see handwritten letters from two popular children’s authors who responded to a query solicited by Children’s Librarian Katherine Williams Watson (from a collection of these type letters): Beatrix Potter and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Each reacted to a list of books, noting their “Girlhood Favorites”. Beatrix Potter’s favorite books on the list were Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Black Beauty, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Ivanhoe, Last of the Mohicans, Little Lame Prince, Little Women, Water Babies, Wonderbook and Tanglewood Tales. Potter remarked that Jackanapes, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Treasure Island and Uncle Remus “were not written when I was a child – I enjoyed them later.” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s list was much shorter: Lorna Doone and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Just before leaving, we took a group photo at “The Derrick”, a massive wooden structure that dominates one room on the fifth floor (its proper name is “Spirit of the West”), thanked our hosts and headed to our meeting.
The Special Collections and Bechtel Fellowship Committee consists of eight members and chair. It is currently comprised of representatives from academia, public and school libraries and special collections from throughout the country. The Committee’s charge is: To facilitate access to special collections, to encourage the creation of new collections, and to strengthen existing collections. To explore and suggest ways in which special collections can be used locally, nationally, and internationally with children, families, and the people who serve them. To administer annually the Bechtel fellowship to up to three librarians to read and study at the Baldwin Library of the George A. Smathers libraries, University of Florida, for a period of at least one month. The committee meets both virtually and in person. For more information please see: http://www.ala.org/alsc/
Stephanie Bange, Dennis LeLoup, and Robin Sofge
Special Collections & Bechtel Fellowship Committee