Each Tuesday Story Pockets will feature a book or tale from our Children’s Historical Collection. With all of the wonderful new titles that we enjoy in the world of children’s publishing, both print and nonprint, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the heritage of children’s literature. The Historical Collection is not only an essential component of our heritage, but also of our role as a central location for all aspects of Children’s Services. This collection consists of folklore, fiction, Pittsburgh authors, the history of children’s literature, Newbery and Caldecott titles, and books of significance in the field.
The Children’s Department at Main began in 1899 with 300 books, a collection of periodicals, and a passionate commitment to Pittsburgh to provide books and the power of story to the region. Frances Jenkins Olcott, the first manager of Children’s, and her peers formed the foundation of one of the first organized and carefully planned departments for children. Since then, the city has gone through profound change and growth. But, so has our library. Stewards and innovators have directed and created innovative programs and services to accommodate and to reach as many children and families as possible. It was cutting edge when it all began; an organized children’s department with a mandate to form standards for children’s services.
Elva Smith (Children’s Department Head, 1925 – 1944) wrote an article on Frances Jenkins Olcott in Public Libraries:
“In comparing the American people with those of other nations it is said that one of our most distinguishing characteristics is the habit of looking forward to the future rather than backward to the past. Now and then, however, it is surely well for us to cast a glance back along the path worn by our predecessors; to try to trace the origins of important movements, and do honor to those who laid the solid foundations upon which we build today.”
The goals set at the turn of the 20th century by Frances Jenkins Olcott and her staff for services and collections to children are remarkably similar to those we hold dear in the present. We strive to connect with our public whether it is within the walls of the building or in the community through outreach.
In “The Public Library: A Social Force in Pittsburgh,” Frances Jenkins Olcott wrote:
“Let the library establish the reading habit in a child, teach him to choose good books and think independently and he is likely to continue reading for the rest of his life, at least he will never lose that tendency to think and idealize which was developed by books read when he was at an impressionable age.”
By highlighting some of the noteworthy, unique, and perhaps lesser-known books in the Historical Collection, we can appreciate and learn from our heritage as we plan and look to the future of children’s books and effective service to our community.