Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES


Central Children's Room

Certain units of the Branch Libraries must be mentioned in any Guide to the library's research

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resources. Since its opening on May 24, 1911, the Central Children's Room (now in the Donnell Library Center) has been an international center of information about children's books and reading, and has been used by adults as well as children. There are now 1,000 bound periodicals and 79,000 books, including an old book collection of more than 2,100 items. Material is selected in accordance with the recommendations of the Office of Children's Services of the Branch Libraries. Careful consideration is given each new title, and every edition of a recommended title is treated as a new book. Factors of good design, illustration, and format, as well as literary quality, are taken into consideration.

In the total book collection are 47,000 volumes of noncirculating reference books and 8,000 foreign-language books in fifty different languages. Audiovisual materials in the collection include more than 2,000 phonograph records both musical and spoken, a small collection of cassettes, and film strips. Particular strengths are the collections of picture books (both English and American) of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, material on children's book illustration, and folklore.

Outstanding among the room's noncirculating holdings is a group of French deluxe picture books of the late nineteenth century, including Louis Maurice Boutet de Monvel's charming Nos enfants (1886), Jeanne d'Arc (1897), and Filles et garçons (1915). Of equal interest is a series of nine titles published by the imperial Russian government in the early years of the twentieth century and illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. A series of Soviet picture books of the immediate post-Revolutionary period are of some rarity. In 1961 the Children's Room received a gift of modern Soviet children's books. Both fiction and nonfiction are included, and there are many translations of the great children's classics into Russian. Among the many speciments of modern European children's books, a group of the books of Bruno Munari are examples of inventive modern work. Also included is a first edition of Jean de Brunhoff's classic, Histoire de Babar le petit éléphant (1931).

The Central Children's Room is also rich in nonbook material. Of importance in the history of American book illustration is a complete set of the original line drawings by Howard Pyle for his The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (1883) given by the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. There is also a complete set of the N.C. Wyeth oil paintings which served as illustrations for his edition of Robin Hood (1917), five illustrations for Kidnapped (1913), and two for Treasure Island (1911). The great English children's illustrators of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are represented in drawings by Kate Greenaway, Beatrix Potter, Walter Crane, and Randolph Caldecott. A growing collection of painting by children includes work from Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Japan, the United States. China, and other countries. There is also children's sculpture done as part of a WPA project, as well as a collection of valentines, mostly of the nineteenth century.

Representing a much-collected field are holdings of the toy theatre sheets of England, sometimes referred to as "penny plain, twopence coloured." The Children's Room has, for the most part, the "twopence coloured" sheets published by Benjamin Pollock. There are uncut sheets of figures and scenery, with sheets of theatre prosceniums and transformations for a number of dramas, among them Timour the Tartar, The Miller and His Men, Aladdin, and The Battle of Waterloo; included are the little books of the plays. There is also a nineteenth-century toy theatre constructed in England. Other three-dimensional items include collections of toys and games, many from Japan, and small figures of characters from famous children's books in bronze, porcelain, and other materials.

The Central Children's Room holds frequent exhibits, one of which is an exhibition of children's books suggested as holiday gifts shown during November and December. An annual catalog is published for free distribution through the branch libraries and for sale as a library publication by mail.

Some Notable Gifts

Mary Gould Davis, for many years supervisor of storytelling, built up a collection of folk tales, source books on folklore, and picture books including many autographs and presentation copies with original drawings. The collection, amounting to over 750 items, was presented after her death by her sister, Mrs. Perley Bryant Davis.

Approximately one thousand items from the library of Anne Carroll Moore, superintendent of Work with Children from 1906 to 1941, were given by her nephew, S.B. Lunt, in 1961 after Miss Moore's death. The material consisted of books, manuscripts, letters, original drawings, and presentation copies of children's books.

Susan D. Bliss has given, over a period of years, many fine and first editions of the classics and of children's books, games toys, drawings, and other material. Of particular interest are two original découpages made by Hans Christian Andersen.

Elizabeth Ball has donated battledores and other material to the Central Children's Room. The old valentine collection has developed almost entirely through gifts, many of them having been presented by the widow of Arthur B. Hopkins. Frederic Melcher gave the Children's Room toys, games, and children's books, and after his death his son, Daniel Melcher, presented his father's collection of Japanese children's books. In October 1972 the books displayed in the exhibition of Japanese Children's Books, Past and Present were given to the Central Children's Room by the Japanese Book Publishers' Association. Another outstanding gift is a collection of children's picture books from the nineteenth century presented by Lincoln Kirstein.

Countee Cullen Regional Branch

The James Weldon Johnson collection of books for children about the black experience is kept on permanent reserve at the Countee Cullen Regional Branch at 104 West 136th Street for use in the Children's Room there.4 Most of the titles are also available for circulation in children's rooms throughout the city.

General Library of the Performing Arts

The Children's Library of the General Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center contains

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a reading room collection of books, phonodiscs and cassettes, and sheet music relating to children's theatre, music, dance, and storytelling. Musical and nonmusical recordings include dramatizations of Newbery Medal books. Also of interest is the collection of manuscripts and memorabilia of the Broadway child-star Elsie Leslie.