The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books had its beginnings in a visit by a British librarian, Edgar Osborne, to Toronto Public Library's Boys and Girls House branch in 1934. Osborne was impressed by the range and quality of children's services established and flourishing under TPL's first head of children's services, Lillian H. Smith.
Osborne donated his personal collection of some 2,000 rare and notable children's books to Toronto Public Library in 1949, as a research collection in historical children's literature.
From this beginning the Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books has grown to over 80,000 rare and notable modern children's books. These are classified in three parts: the Osborne Collection of books published to the end of 1910; the Lillian H. Smith Collection of modern notable titles; and the Canadiana Collection of materials written, published, or substantially related to Canada.
Each of these collections includes book-related art, literary archives, games and ephemera. Most materials are English-language, with a few exceptions of classics of children's literature published in original languages, and some modern notable French-language materials.
The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books spans literary classics to popular culture, including novelties like movables and miniatures. The oldest artefacts in the Collection are cuneiform tablets dating from 2,000 B.C.E., while modern books fresh and pristine from the press are carefully chosen and added today, to become objects of study, admiration and amusement by future generations.