From its very beginning, Seven Stories has been and continues to be, associated with amazing children's librarians in a variety of roles including, as trustees, staff, book collection donors and incredibly loyal volunteers.  Indeed, Seven Stories was co-founded as a charity in 1996 by Mary Briggs (librarian) and Elizabeth Hammill (pioneering children’s bookseller).  Long before the establishment of Seven Stories, Mary and Elizabeth were founder members of the Northern Children’s Book Festival (NCBF), a collaboration between all of the library authorities in the North East, now in its 34th year.  Their idea of creating a permanent centre, to champion and celebrate modern Britain's children’s literature and, build a collection of original manuscripts and illustrations of national significance, stemmed from NCBF and became Seven Stories.                                  

Seven Stories is the only institution in the world with a collecting policy dedicated to modern and contemporary (from the 1930s on) British children’s literature.  Our collection documents the entire process of the creation of children’s books from initial ideas to post-publication and features original artwork and manuscripts by over 270 different authors, illustrators, and editors including: Nick Sharratt, Philip Pullman, Michael Rosen, Beverley Naidoo, David Almond, Judith Kerr, Elizabeth Laird, Helen Craig, Diana Wynne Jones and even Enid Blyton.  We share our Collection in all sorts of ways; most notably through our exhibitions, our learning projects and by supporting research.

Alongside our archive of original material, we have a library of over 36,000 children’s books.  Our 'book collecting’ priority is to acquire first edition copies of the titles for which we already hold the original artwork or manuscripts.  Many  authors and illustrators donate copies of their books in multiple editions (including foreign languages) along with their manuscripts or artwork but we have quite a few gaps to fill.  We also have several large themed books collections such as 'Alphabets', 'Counting', 'Traditional Tales', and 'Pop-ups' and substantial collections from publishers including 'Puffin' and 'Ladybird books'.  Alongside these we have book collections created by editors, reviewers and school inspectors, as well as children's librarians and libraries.

Probably our most significant 'librarian's collection' was gathered together by Eileen Colwell (1904-2002).  Eileen was truly a pioneering children’s Librarian, a renowned storyteller and writer about storytelling.  As Lucy Pearson mentions in her article 'Prize fighting: the Carnegie Medal and Children’s Librarians' (in this journal), we also have Eileen to thank for setting up what is now CILIP's Youth Libraries Group( in 1937) as well as championing practising children’s librarians involvement in the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals.

Eileen Colwell Collection on the shelves at Seven Stories
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Eileen's personal collection of 360 books dating 1920-2000 was donated to Seven Stories in 2002.  It includes: Reference books about Children’s Literature (including paper copies of early Children’s Library catalogues); Picture books and children's novels including many titles by her favourite author (and friend) Eleanor Farjeon; Poetry books; Foreign language children's books (including many Japanese editions of Eileen Colwell's titles); and short story collections.  She wrote several books about her personal passion i.e. the art of Storytelling, compiled booklists and anthologies including A Storyteller's Choice: A selection of stories, with notes on how to tell them, and Tell me a storyIn 1956 she published a short book, How I became a librarian which was very popular, particularly in Japan where the first 4000 copies apparently sold out and it was reprinted! Eileen's autobiography, Once upon a time, was published in 2000.  Suffice it to say that, Eileen Colwell's work at Hendon's Children's and School's Libraries, back in the 1930s, made a huge impact both nationally and internationally and laid down the standards which we have worked to sustain and improve upon, ever since.

Seven Stories recently also received Eileen's personal papers including her copious and often hilarious notes (about numerous authors she met, the art of storytelling, and lectures she gave); scrapbooks she compiled of her lecture tours to Japan and Canada; The Magic Casement - the magazine she compiled for Hendon's Junior Library; as well as her own poems and short stories.

One of Elaine Moss' scrapbooks from the 1970s
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

So what about our other children's librarians?  Elaine Moss (b. 1924) donated her collection of over 750 picture books to Seven Stories in 2003, followed by her fascinating scrapbooks in 2009.  Elaine is renowned as a British critic and librarian whose work as a commentator, reviewer and broadcaster brought serious critical attention to children's books. She selected the National Book League's annual Children’s Books of the Year touring exhibition and compiled the accompanying catalogue from 1970-1979.  She also championed the promotion of picture books to older readers, overturning the traditional restriction of picture books, to children who cannot yet read.

A selection of Europe books from St. Alban's Children's Book Group
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Moving on … one of my personal favourites is the St. Alban's Children's Book Group's 'Armchair Traveller' collection of 495 books and a card catalogue, which was donated in 2008 by Jayne Truran, Chair of St. Albans Children's Book Group and, a School Librarian.  The group has run for over 30 years and in its early days was a forerunner of the ‘Summer Reading Club’.   The St. Albans parents were keen to keep children reading, and usefully occupied through the summer holidays and the idea was that the children could ‘travel the world from the comfort of an armchair’.  The collection was originally put together by Joyce DuCane, a school inspector and a member of IBBY. On average 30-40 children would attend to borrow books and for events. The books were displayed by ‘Continents’ with each continent as well as ‘Folk Tales’ and ‘Journeys’ having their own table, or space in the garden if the weather was good.  Each child had a ‘Passport’ and would get a ‘stamp’ in it for each continent they visited, by reading and rating a book who’s story was set in that continent. 

Index cards and Armchair Travellers Passports
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Over the years, Seven Stories has also received several large book collections from public and school’s library services, most of whom have either had to reduce their book stack shelving when moving to new premises or to make space to accommodate other Council services within their buildings or, have sadly closed their SLS’s.  The most significant of these collections were donated by Harrow, Warwickshire, Hampshire, and Rotherham.  Briefly …

In 2005, Harrow Schools Library Service (Mary Steele) donated 15 boxes of books and children's literature journals dating 1950-1996 which have formed the core of our ‘Children’s Literature Reference'  collection, and are regularly used by Staff and Researchers.

Warwickshire Libraries collection of 260 ‘Award Winning children's books’ 1960-1995, was donated in 1997.  This collection includes first edition copies of many Carnegie, Kate Greenaway and other medal winners, for which we hold the original artwork or manuscripts e.g. Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth’s Can’t you sleep little bear , Robert Westall’s The machine- gunners and Leon Garfield’s The god beneath the sea.

Hampshire Library and Information Service (Anne Marley) donated 471 picture books and novels from their ‘Exhibition Collection’ in 2008 & 2011. The collection is made up of books (dating from 1930 onwards), that had gone 'out of print' but were felt worthy of retention e.g. by 'worthy' authors and illustrators such as Jan Mark & Catherine Storr, many of whose archive or artwork collections Seven Stories holds.

Rotherham School Library Service bookshelves
Photograph © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Rotherham School Library Service donated their ‘Single Copy Stack’ collection to Seven Stories in 1999. This is a collection of nearly 1000 books by significant (including many award winning) children's book authors mainly from the period 1950 - 1986.  These books are believed to have been the 'last copy' held in stock by Rotherham Libraries, by authors 'to be stacked if not already there'. 

As well as the above, and the large book collections donated by our local ‘North Tyneside’ and ‘South Tyneside’ Public and School's Library services, we have received several librarians personal collections.  To name just a few:  Ann Key, Jan Clements, Dorothy Hadden , Barbara Wood, and Eleanor Dowley (all of whom were involved in NCBF alongside our founder Mary Briggs) and Thomas Pitchford.

Our book collections serve to contextualise Seven Stories’ archive and artwork holdings and are proving to be a valuable resource for Staff and researchers in their own right.  To find out more about our collection, please visit the Collection pages. Sadly, our book catalogue records aren’t available on-line yet, but we’re working on it!

 - Paula Wride B.A., MCLIP, Chair of YLG North East and Collection Officer at Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Titles cited:

  • Colwell, Eileen, How I became a Librarian, Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1956
  • Colwell, Eileen, Once upon a time… Pennine Press, 2000 1873378335
  • Colwell, Eileen, A Storyteller's Choice: A selection of stories, with notes on how to tell them, Bodley Head, 1963
  • Colwell, Eileen, Storytelling,  Bodley Head, 1980 0370302281
  • Colwell, Eileen, Tell me a story: collection for under fives, Penguin Books, 1962
  • Garfield, Leon and Blishen, Edward, The god beneath the sea, Longman, 1970 0582150930
  • Waddell, Martin, Can’t you sleep little bear, Walker Books, 1988 0744507960
  • Westall, Robert , The machine-gunners, Macmillan, 1975 0333186443

Article originally published in CILIP's Youth Library Review, No.47, 2017

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