Toronto Public Library Homepage

History of Children's Services

Date and Event

Toronto Public Library, 1884 "Toronto Public Library, 1884

1884

Toronto Public Library officially opens in the old Mechanics' Institute building, Church and Adelaide streets, on 6 March - the city's 50th anniversary. The library has approximately 1,300 juvenile books, accounting for 6 percent of the circulating collections at the Central Library and two branches and 9 percent of Library's total circulation. However, persons under the age of 14 are not admitted to the Reading Room or the Reference Library.

Yorkville Branch, about 1911 Yorkville Branch, about 1911

1907

A "Teachers and Children's Room" is provided in the new Yorkville Branch, Toronto first Carnegie library, at 22 Yorkville Avenue. Small children's areas are set up in other branch libraries as they open.

Toronto's Carnegie Libraries - Yorkville

Runnymede Public Library, about 1912 Runnymede Public Library, about 1912

1910

Story hours for children are started at the new Runnymede Public Library, Willard Avenue, York Township by one of the library's founders, Henry M. Wodson. A respected journalist, Wodson described the innovative program at the Ontario Library Association in 1913.

Lillian H. Smith (1887-1983), about 1925 Lillian H. Smith (1887-1983), about 1925

1912

Chief Librarian George Locke recruits Lillian H. Smith, a professionally trained children's librarian then working at the New York Public Library, to head Toronto Public Library's newly established Children's Department.

Lillian H. Smith

Waiting for the story hour, Central Library, College and St. George streets, about 1921 Waiting for the story hour, Central Library, College and St. George streets, about 1921

1912

Canadian history story hours are instituted by George Locke, who, in 1914, anticipated the program would "develop Canadian nationality by giving a background of Canadian history to thousands of children, who when they grow up will be intelligent and well informed Canadians."
George H. Locke

Provincial Library Training School at Dovercourt Branch, 1916 Provincial Library Training School at Dovercourt Branch, 1916

1913

Lillian H. Smith starts weekly staff training sessions "for assistants in charge of Children's Rooms ...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." In 1913, Smith also starts instructing future librarians at the Provincial Library Training School, which becomes part of the University of Toronto in 1928.

Dovercourt Branch Children's Room, 1913 Dovercourt Branch Children's Room, 1913

1913

Dovercourt (now Bloor/Gladstone) Branch opens on October 23, featuring the first children's room planned by Lillian H. Smith. In 1917, the children's room is moved to larger quarters in the basement, taking over the old lecture room.

Library at University Settlement House, 1920s Library at University Settlement House, 1920s

1918

To provide extra service for inner city children, Toronto Public Library opens a library in Central Neighbourhood House. Children's libraries soon are started at other settlement houses: St. Christopher House in 1920, University Settlement House in 1921 and Memorial Institute in 1931.

Toronto Globe, 9 February 1918 Toronto Globe, 9 February 1918

1918

Children's rooms are closed when Toronto Public Library suspends service on two occasions: first in February 1918 because of a shortage of coal, and second from 17 October-7 November during an outbreak of the Spanish influenza. Fearing contagion, many parents prohibited their children from borrrowing library books.

Boys and Girls House, St. George Street, 1922 Boys and Girls House, St. George Street, 1922

1922

Toronto Public Library opens a children's library in a renovated Victorian house at 40 St. George Street, just north of the Central Library. Called Boys and Girls House, it is the first separate children's library in the British Commonwealth.

Library at St. Mary School, 1948 Library at St. Mary School, 1948

1926

The first school library is placed in Queen Victoria School, a "co-operative experiment between the Board of Education and the Toronto Public Library Board," Smith notes that year. By 1952, Toronto Public Library operates libraries in 30 schools. During the 1960s, this service gradually was taken over by local school boards.

Invitation to the opening of Toronto Public Library, March 6, 1884. Books for Boys and Girls title page, 1927

1927

The first edition of Books for Boys and Girls is published. Through several editions, it becomes the standard selection guide for librarians, teachers and parents in many English-speaking countries.

Cast of Pinocchio at Boys and Girls House Little Theatre, 1930s Cast of Pinocchio at Boys and Girls House Little Theatre, 1930s

1928

A "little theatre" and story hour room is added to the back of Boys and Girls House. Children perform plays ranging from "The Three Little Kittens" to scenes from Julius Caesar.

Boys and Girls Library, Riverdale Branch, about 1928 Boys and Girls Library, Riverdale Branch, about 1928

1928

Riverdale Branch expands to include a children's wing. In response to overcrowding, children's rooms in other older branches also are moved to larger quarters, usually taking over existing space in basements. New branches that opened in the 1920s and early 1930s often devoted an entire floor to children.

Summary of Classification, from A Guide to the Children's Book Collection, 1966 "Summary of Classification," from A Guide to the Children's Book Collection, 1966

1930

The organization of books in Toronto's children's libraries is changed from the Dewey Decimal Classification "to an arrangement which is more intelligible and attractive to boys and girls," Smith notes that year, "and which has grown out of years of observation of their reading interests." The schema was adopted by many library systems in Canada and elsewhere.

Librarian Marguerite Bagshaw at the Hospital for Sick Children, 1955 Librarian Marguerite Bagshaw at the Hospital for Sick Children, 1955

1930

Toronto Public Library extends library service to the Thistletown Hospital for Sick Children. In 1943, the Hospital for Sick Children asks Boys and Girls House staff to recommend books for its library, and it takes over its operation in 1951.

Doris McCarthy murals, 1932 Doris McCarthy murals, 1932

1932

The Children's Room at Earlscourt (now Dufferin/St. Clair) Branch is decorated with murals of fairy tale characters painted by artist Doris McCarthy. The murals were restored during a renovation completed in 2008.

Restored murals, 2008

British children at Hart House library, 1940 British children at Hart House library, 1940

1940

Boys and Girls Division sets up a small library at Hart House, where children evacuated from Britain are billeted during the Second World War. Toronto Public Library also extends honourary memberships to British and European children who came to Canada under private arrangements, and gives children's programs in veterans' halls and refugee centres.

New Toronto Public Library showing children's library (right), about 1954 New Toronto Public Library showing children's library (right), about 1954

1941

Ina M. Keesee Children's Library is opened in the New Toronto Public Library. As well as serving as the secretary-treasurer of Library Board from 1921 until her death in 1956, Mrs. Keesee was the regent of the Lakeshore Chapter, Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, formed in March 1937 with the primary aim "to assist in the building of a Children's Library". Fundraising produced donations of $6,131.27, including $1,400 from the IODE; the town contributed the balance of $7,500.

Program of CBC school broadcasts, 1942 - 1943 Program of CBC school broadcasts, 1942 - 1943

1942-1943

Children's librarians participate in CBC radio programs, selecting and telling stories for broadcast over the airwaves. Programs such as "Tales from Far and Near" offered stories chosen by librarians of Boys and Girls House.

Charles R. Sanderson, TPL chief librarian, at the opening of East York children's libraries, 7 November 1944 Charles R. Sanderson, TPL chief librarian, at the opening of East York children's libraries, 7 November 1944

1944

A children's library opens in R. H. McGregor School, the start of public library service in the Township of East York. By 1952, Toronto Public Library administers Boys and Girls Libraries in six schools in East York, as well as at the main library opened in 1950 at the northeast corner of Coxwell and Mortimer avenues.

Scarborough Public Library bookmobile, 1956 Scarborough Public Library bookmobile, 1956

1948

Township of York Public Library Board, established in 1945, starts the first bookmobile service in the Toronto area. Bookmobiles become an important way of bringing library services to children in Toronto's burgeoning suburbs.

Edgar Osborne and Judith St. John, head of the Osborne Collection, about 1950 Edgar Osborne and Judith St. John, head of the Osborne Collection, about 1950

1949

Edgar Osborne donates his collection of rare children's books to the Toronto Public Library in recognition of outstanding children's services under Lillian H. Smith.

Story hour in Etobicoke's new main library on Brentwood Road, 1955 Story hour in Etobicoke's new main library on Brentwood Road, 1955

1950s & 1960s

Areas designated for children are standard features in the dozens of new libraries that open in Toronto and its suburbs during this time.

New Boys and Girls House, 40 St. George Street, about 1963 New Boys and Girls House, 40 St. George Street, about 1963

1963

The original Boys and Girls House is demolished and replaced with a new building at 40 St. George Street.

Listening station at Learning Resources Centre, 1969 Listening station at Learning Resources Centre, 1969

1969

A Learning Resource Centre opens adjacent to Forest Hill Branch providing facilities for children (and adults) to use new formats of recreational amd educational materials.

Children's Book Room, 1976 Children's Book Room, 1976

1976

North York Public Library initiates library service to Flemingdon Park using a specially decorated and outfitted bookmobile named "The Children's Book Room."

Dial-A-Story, 2010 Dial-A-Story, 2010

1989

A Dial-A-Story program is initiated in North York, providing over the telephone 100 children's stories recorded in English, French and Italian. By 2011, there are 588 stories in 13 languages and Dial-A-Story receives more than a quarter of a million calls annually.

Lillian H. Smith Branch, 1995 Lillian H. Smith Branch, 1995

1995

Boys and Girls House is closed. It collections and services are relocated to a new Toronto Public Library branch for all ages, opened at 239 College Street and named in honour of Lillian H. Smith.

TD Summer Reading Club, 2000. Detail from poster illustration by Heather Collins TD Summer Reading Club, 2000. Detail from poster illustration by Heather Collins

1996

Toronto Dominion Bank enhances Toronto's summer reading program with its sponsorship. The program is extended across the amalgamated Toronto Public Library in 1999 and to other Ontario centres in 2000. In partnership with Library and Archives Canada, TD Summer Reading Club reaches eight provinces and territories in 2004.

Dewey, mascot of the KidsSpace website "Dewey," mascot of the KidsSpace website

1998

KidsSpace, an interactive website for children, is launched, bringing children's library service over the Internet. It is one of the first projects of the new Toronto Public Library, formed that year by the amalgamation of seven former municipalies.

KidsStop Early Learning Centre at Thorncliffe Branch, 2010 KidsStop Early Learning Centre at Thorncliffe Branch, 2010

2008

The first KidsStop opens at S. Walter Stewart Branch. These interactive early literacy centres are included in subsequent renovations at several branch libraries.

KidsStop Early Learning Centre at Dufferin/St. Clair Branch, 2008 KidsStop Early Learning Centre at Dufferin/St. Clair Branch, 2008

2012

Toronto Public Library's digital services and collections of e-books, e-audiobooks and e-videos for kids continue to expand and increase in usage as new technology that supports children's literacy grow in popularity.