Librarians Come Alive!

Velma Jane Moore, Winifred Barnstead, and Winnifred Reynolds on the Steps of the Toronto Public Library, 1921

The subject of this post is the transformation of this photograph and what that transformation represents. 

One of my favorite blogs is Val Erde’s Colouring the Past. Val is an artist who digitally restores and colors vintage and antique photographs, displaying them in a before-and-after format on her blog. As I’ve learned from following her posts, she researches as much as she can about each photograph, including the studio, the photographer, and the subjects (depending on the information on the photograph), as well as what can be gleaned from the photograph itself, such as clothing and hair styles, props if taken in a studio, and setting if taken outside a studio.

Val’s colored renditions of old photographs remind me of the work of a good translator of poetry and fiction. It takes a high level of skill and sensitivity to remain true to the letter of the original while conveying its spirit using a different language.

Val’s digitally-colored photographs have a three-dimensional quality that I absolutely love, so when she offered a free coloring to followers of her blog, I immediately put up my hand. The photograph Val colored for me accompanied the first blog post I wrote about my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s move to Toronto in 1919 at the age of twenty-two: In Search of Velma Brown [MOORE]’s Toronto Days. Having tried teaching for a year after graduating with distinction from Dalhousie University, Velma has moved a thousand miles from her parents’ farm in rural Nova Scotia to train as a librarian with one of the pioneers of Canadian librarianship, Winifred Barnstead, the woman seated just above her. Also training to be a librarian is her lifelong friend Winnifred Reynolds, the young woman in the green coat. The three of them are sitting on the steps of the Toronto Public Library. 

Given what I have come to learn about this time in Velma’s life, the original photograph needed the hand, eye, and spirit of an artist to truly represent what Velma’s Toronto days meant to her and bring them to life for the family she left behind. Thank you for this, Val. 

Librarianship School: Toronto, 1920

Velma Jane Moore in Toronto, 1921

Librarianship School

Continuing with the story of my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s time at the Toronto Public Library from 1919-1922, I learned that she was released from duties in 1920 to attend librarianship training:1

I had some difficulty pinning down the exact course of instruction Velma took because librarianship training in Ontario was rapidly developing at this time:

In 1916 the Department of Education established a month-long program to train librarians called the Short Course Library Training School. The course was expanded to two months in 1917, and subsequently in 1919 it was lengthened to three months and renamed Training School for Librarianship. In 1923 the school was renamed the Ontario Library School. In 1928 the program was transferred to the Ontario College of Education, University of Toronto.2

You can only imagine my shouts of jubilation when I found her name listed in the Ontario Library Review as a student completing the three-month Department of Education Training School for Librarianship, 1920:3

The Practice Work

Not only that, there was an entire write-up of the training! I was quite surprised to see that the majority of Velma’s time was not spent on the intricacies of the Dewey Decimal System:

The practice work in connection with the lectures in circulating and work with children occupied a week in October. This was found more satisfactory from every point of view than the practical work extended throughout the term.4

The “practice work” for Velma’s position as a cataloguer consisted of the following:5

The instruction in cataloguing was given by Velma’s boss at the Toronto Library, Winifred Barnstead, whom I wrote about in a previous post.6

Canadian Literature

Velma’s librarianship training included a number of lectures and presentations on Canadian literature. I’ve included highlights below to convey a sense of what her experience would have been like.

Thomas G. Marquis delivered five lectures on “the outstanding literature of Canada, dealing with history, biography, exploration and travel, and poetry.”7 Thomas Guthrie Marquis (1864-1936) was best-known as a writer of Canadian history, including Stories of New France (with co-author Agnes Macher),8 The Jesuit Missions: A Chronicle of the Cross in the Wilderness, and the children’s book Brock.

Hector Garneau, chief librarian of the Montreal Public Library, presented both his personal reminiscences of noted French-Canadian authors and a formal lecture on French-Canadian literature described as “a brilliant résumé of the poetical, historical, and journalistic works of the French-Canadian writers.”9

Gareau was the chief librarian at the Montreal Public Library from 1916-1930. He revised and expanded on a Canadian history written by his grandfather François-Xavier Garneau.10 He also edited a book of poems by this father, Alfred Garneau.11

John Ridington, the librarian of the University of British Columbia, gave an address on “The Poetry of War.”12 Although he had no formal training in the field, Ridington served as the first librarian at UBC, from 1915-1940.13 His biographical information in the UBC archives suggests that he had a bit of a checkered history, holding various jobs as a teacher, newspaper editor and publisher, and real estate salesman, with no known details about his formal education.14

Believe it or not, I actually found the full text of his “Poetry of War” address in the Pacific Northwest Library Proceedings: September 5-6, 1916 on pages 52-90. The proceedings note that at the conclusion of his address:

     Owing to the lateness of the hour, the symposium on books which was to have been led by Miss Kostomlatsky with a talk on recent poetry, was omitted and the meeting was formally adjourned by the President.

     The report of the Resolutions Committee, which for the lack of time, was not read at the meeting, was submitted to the Executive Board . . . 15

Keep in mind that the address Velma heard was given after two more years of war poetry had been written. She must have left that address with a very sore bottom indeed!

The Loquacious Mr. Ridington

Clara Whitehill Hunt presented on her work as the children’s librarian for the Brooklyn Public Library.16 When I looked for more information about her, I learned that she was very influential in promoting the importance of providing children with access to the best available books.17 Her accomplishments included overseeing the design of the world’s first library built solely for children and chairing the American Library Association committee that established the John Newbery Medal for children’s literature in 1921.18

Judging from my mother’s childhood books that she passed on to me when I first learned how to read, Velma took the information from Hunt’s presentation very much to heart!

When I did a little more digging to see if Hunt had written any books, I found What Shall We Read to the Children, published in 1915. I was very taken with this book because it is an in-depth and engagingly-written discussion of how parents and children should interact with books together. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Hunt’s methods are very much in alignment with today’s homeschooling movement.

Here is a just a brief sample:

The baby’s first taste of poetry should be given not later than a month after he alights, trailing his clouds of glory and with the music of his heavenly home attuning his ears to a delight in rhyme and rhythm long before mother’s songs convey word meanings to his mind. There never was a normal baby born into this world who did not bring with him a love for poetry; and the fact that so few adults retain a trace of this most pure delight points to the need of conscious effort on the parent’s part to foster the child’s natural gift.19

Clara Whitehall Hunt and Grace Donaghy in 1936, Brooklyn Public Library, Brooklyn Collection

And a Party, Of Course!

In keeping with the fact that librarians just want to have fun, there was a party involved:20

Final Thoughts

I think Velma would have enjoyed the practice work and the wide range of lectures in equal measure. Throughout her life, she was a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done kind of woman, but at the same time, she had a great love of literature and, later in her life, painting.

From my own perspective, I am not well-versed in Canadian literature (expect for a nodding familiarity with the work of Alice Munro). Reading about Velma’s rich literary heritage has me thinking that I need to get in touch with my Canadian literary roots!

1Winifred G. Barnstead, “Reports from the Departments: Cataloguing Division,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Seventh Annual Report, 1920, 16.

2Ontario Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, “Applications for Admission to the Ontario Library School,” Archives of Ontario, accessed September 22, 2018,

3“The Department of Education Training School for Librarianship, 1920,” Ontario Library Review and Book Selection Guide V, no. 3 (February 1921): 2.

4“The Department,” 70.

5“The Department of Education Training School for Librarianship, 1919,” Ontario Library Review and Book Selection Guide III, no. 4 (May 1919): 90.

6“The Department,” 72.

7“The Department,” 70.

8“MARQUIS, THOMAS GUTHRIE (1864-1936),” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, accessed March 3, 2019,

The Jesuit Missions: A Chronicle of the Cross in the Wilderness, February 19, 2007, image, accessed March 3, 2019,

Brock: The Hero of Upper Canada, November 2015, image,

Stories of New France, February 14, 2007, image,

9“The Department,” 70-71.

10“Garneau, Hector,” Archives de Montréal, accessed March 3, 2019,

11“Garneau, Hector,” Archives de Montréal.

Nos Bibliothocaires, 19-, image, CA M001 BM001-05-P0771, Archives de Montréal.

12“The Department,” 71.

13David Strangway, President’s Report on the Library (Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1987), 6.

14Christopher Hives, ed., Ridington Family fonds (Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia, 2015), 1.

15Proceedings of the … Annual Conference of the Pacific Northwest Library Association., September 5-6, 1916 (Tacoma, WA: Pacific Northwest Library Association, n.d.), 90.

16“The Department,” 70.

[unknown]. 1918. “John Ridington.” P. UBC Archives Photograph Collection. doi:

17“Treasures of Childhood: Books from the Hunt Collection of Children’s Literature, Curated by Leonard S. Marcus,” Brooklyn Public Library, accessed March 17, 2019,

18“Treasures of Childhood,” Brooklyn Public Library.

19Clara Whitehill Hunt, “The Poetry Habit,” in What Shall We Read to the Children (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1915), 14-15.

20“The Department,” 71.

Prince of Wales Coming to Town? Call the Library!

By Rembrandt Studios – This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. It is also made available on a British Library website.Catalogue entry: HS85/10/36284, Public Domain,

As I’ve been reviewing the annual report of the Toronto Public Library for 1919, the year my grandmother Velma Jane Moore began working there as a cataloguer, much was made of the Reference Department’s role in preparing the City of Toronto for a state visit by the Prince of Wales:

 . . . no day passed that we should have to wrestle with problems such as: The correct way to address the Prince of Wales; the meaning and the origin of the motto “Ich Dien”; the standard of the Prince of Wales; when flown; his crest and coat of arms; the flag of the Prince of Wales in color; a portrait of the Prince of Wales in his trench coat; the words of the song “God Bless the Prince of Wales”; a description of aiguelettes worn by a Naval A.D.C., to send to a Naval tailor for the Prince of Wales’ reception; material on Rear Admiral Halsey (Chief of Staff), account of the Prince of Wales’ (King Edward) visit to Canada in 1861, etc., etc.1

Let’s see how well I can do with Google:

An account of the Prince of Wales’ visit to Canada in 1861 can be found in Chapter II of H.R.H, the Prince of Wales: an Account of His Career, including His Birth, Education, Travels, Marriage and Home Life; and Philanthropic, Political, and Social Life by Marie Lowndes, published in 1898 by Grant Richards of London. (Retrieved from Hathitrust 1/10/2019. )

Biographical material on Rear Admiral Lionel Halsey can be found in Chapter IX of Admirals of the British Navy: Portraits in Colour by Francis Dodd, published by the Offices of “Country Life,” LTD in 1917. (Retrieved from Internet Archive 1/20/2019.)

The lyrics to “God Bless the Prince of Wales” can be found in the program for the 1882 Christmas Music Festival held at Christ Church Cathedral in Montreal. (Retrieved from Internet Archive 1/20/2019.)

I found answers to the other questions as well, but the sources were dated after 1919 or located in online archives with no original source listed, so I didn’t include them. I wouldn’t want to have an unfair advantage over our doughty band of reference librarians!

And now, for a historical oddity found along the way:

Photograph appears in The Prince of Wales’ book: a pictorial record of the voyages of H.M.S. “Renown” 1919-1920, published by Hodder & Stoughton, LTD, 1921. (Retrieved from Internet Archive 1/20/2019.)

And a mystery to be solved!

I found this invitation to meet the Prince of Wales in The Family Archives. Ronald Dalrymple Brown was my maternal grandfather. (He and Velma married in 1926.) At the time of the invitation to meet the Prince of Wales, Ronald was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The only connection I can see between him and the reception to meet the Prince is that it was held in New Brunswick, and Ronald’s mother was originally from New Brunswick. However, that seems like an extremely tenuous connection. Figuring this one out is going to take some doing!

1Frances M. Staton, “Reports from the Departments: Reference Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Sixth Annual Report, 1919, 13.

Sepia Sunday: Librarians Just Want to Have Fun

Toronto Public Library staff in front of Central Library, College Street, northwest corner of St. George Street, Toronto, Ont., 1920

This photograph of my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s time as a librarian in Toronto was not among her personal memorabilia. I found it in the Toronto Public Library’s digital archives. It’s such a wonderful picture of her that I hope she at least saw a copy of it at the time it was taken.

Image: “Toronto High Park 1921-1922”, photograph album in Toronto Public Library (1883-1998) fonds. Unaccessioned records. Photographs. Box 39. Branches High Park


“Assembled Piecemeal by Pack Rats and Vandalized Nightly”

As I continue to research my grandmother Velma Jane Moore’s time as a cataloguer at the Toronto Public Library from 1919–1922, I’m using the Toronto Public Library’s annual reports as primary sources for the historical context of library services at that time. Prominent in these reports is the increased demand for children’s services identified by children’s librarian Lillian Smith. While Smith’s reports were interesting, I didn’t intended to write about them because Velma worked in a different department.

However, I kept coming back to the historical context for children’s library services. Of Velma’s direct descendants, only two are children now, my grandnephews James (10) and Liam (7). As Digital Natives who could swipe an iPhone before they could walk, they have instant access to information, their only challenge being to find it. As movie critic Roger Ebert so aptly put it:

Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.1

It then occurred to me that for the two generations following Velma’s, my mother’s and my own, our experiences with libraries were the same as hers. If we needed information that wasn’t in the family’s World Book Encyclopaedia, we had to go to the neighborhood library to look it up. If the information was in a book that wasn’t in the library’s holdings, we asked the librarian to order it through interlibrary loan.  Then we went home and waited.

James and Liam, on the other hand, go straight to Google. In order for them to understand and appreciate this young woman four generations removed from them who would become their great-great grandmother, they need the historical context for library services. They need to know that for much of the twentieth century, information was contained primarily in books and periodicals, which in turn were classified and catalogued according to a system, most commonly the Dewey Decimal System or the Library of Congress System. This was a logical and orderly world that appealed to Velma, and she felt very much at home there. She would never, ever have entertained the notion of “a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly.”

I therefore decided to write about children’s library services from the perspective of the historical context that would be most relevant for Digital Natives such as James and Liam to compare with their own experiences at the library. They will find similarities as well as differences!

Lillian Smith: A Champion for Children’s Literacy

I first encountered the name Lillian Smith on the back of one of Velma’s snapshots in The Family Archives. She was in charge of the Children’s Department at the time Velma was there. I went on to learn that Smith was the first professionally trained children’s librarian in the British Empire.2 In 1912, when she was twenty-five years old, the Toronto Public Library recruited her from the New York City Public Library.3  Her career with the Toronto Public Library would span a period of forty years and include many innovations in children’s librarianship.4 Her work extended beyond library walls to community outreach and leadership to provide children’s library services in the city’s schools and two settlement houses.5 From what I’ve read, she was a real dynamo, and the children of Toronto were fortunate to have her as their champion. A branch of the Toronto Public Library was later named for her.6

A Decrease in Book Circulation Due to Fear of Contagion

Smith noted in her annual report for 1919 that the Children’s Department had experienced an interruption of service when the library was forced to close for three weeks due to a smallpox epidemic.7 Curious, I went back a year, and sure enough, the library had closed for a time in response to the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.8 Smith went on to note:

The decrease [in book circulation] is not only due to the closing of the Library, but also because so many parents have  prohibited their children from taking books after the epidemic through fear of contagion.9

The fear of contracting infectious disease through library books was widely enough held at the time to prompt the Ontario Library Review to publish the article “Library Books Rarely, If Ever, Carry Disease” by the Director of the Institute of Public Health, H. W. Hill. According to Dr. Hill, the belief that diseases such as tuberculosis and scarlet fever could be spread though surface contact even after time had passed since the initial contact by the infected person was based on a faulty analogy with anthrax.10

Google Search Note: Apparently that fear is still around today, if blog posts and message boards are any indication. However, Dear Children, before you demand that Mother microwave, freeze, or spray your library books with Febreeze, just remember to wash your hands before you eat, and you’ll be fine.

Story Hour

One of Lillian Smith’s major initiatives was the establishment of regularly-scheduled story hours at all of the city’s branch libraries to encourage reading. From 1919 – 1922, the number of story hours held increased 118%, from 34511 to 73512. The number of children participating rose 151%, from 15,35913 to 38,55014. The average number of children at each story hour was 45 in 1919 and 52 in 1922. The following photograph from the 1922 annual report is testament to the Story Hour’s popularity.

What Children Were Reading

In the Library’s 1919 report, Smith wrote that “stories of pioneer life and Canadian history, Greek heroes, King Arthur and Robin Hood have been told with great success.”15 For the older children, reading clubs were established to encourage a shift away from reading the popular fiction of the day to reading “standard and classic literature.”16

In 1917, Smith developed a list of approved books to encourage children’s reading, although in her introduction, she does note that the list contains some books of mediocre literary value:

These are included through having justified their place on our shelves as stepping-stones to the better kind of books, which are not always immediately appreciated by children who come from bookless homes, or who have been saturated with the vapid serial reading matter contained in the Alger and Elsie books.17

Vapid Serial Reading Matter

Approved for Children Under Ten

Approved for Children Over Ten

I will close by asking readers to comment on the photograph at the top of this post. The children are wearing winter coats and hats. Do you think their clothing indicates that the building was cold or that the photograph was staged? I can’t decide.

1quotegeek, accessed December 16, 2018,, originally appeared in “Critical Eye” column, Yahoo! Internet Life, September 1998.

2“Lillian H. Smith (1887-1983),” Toronto Public Library, accessed December 16, 2018,

3“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

4“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

5“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

6“Lillian H. Smith,” Toronto Public Library.

7Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from the Departments: Children’s Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Sixth Annual Report, 1919, 17.

8Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from Departments: The Children’s Department,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Fifth Annual Report, 1918, 14.

9Smith, “Children’s Department, 1918” 14.

10H. W. Hill, M.B, D.P.H., “Library Books Rarely, If Ever, Carry Disease,” Ontario Library Review and Book Selection Guide I, no. 1 (June 1916): 7.

11Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

12Lillian H. Smith, “Reports from Departments: Boys’ and Girls’ Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Ninth Annual Report, 1922, 22.

13Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

14Smith, “Boys’ and Girls’ Library,” 22.

15Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

16Smith, “Children’s Department, 1919,” 18.

17Lillian H. Smith, “A List of Approved Books for Boys and Girls,” excerpted from Ontario Library Review, August 1917, 2.

Image: “After School in the Children’s Room, Earlscourt Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Seventh Annual Report, 1920, 16.

Image: “Waiting for the Story Hour, College Street Library,” Toronto Public Library Thirty-Eighth Annual Report, 1921, 10.

Book Cover Images: All book cover images are in the public domain, retrieved from Project Gutenberg.