State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 60 Spring 1997


Strange Places For Children's Books: The History of Children's Literature at the State Library of Victoria

Children's literature has been promoted through various services based at the State Library of Victoria since 1966. This article explores the history of the children's literature collections at the State Library of Victoria through the oral histories of the people responsible for providing those services. A chronology of the collections, individuals and services is appended to this paper.
The oral histories were recorded during 1997 and, though for some participants considerable time has elapsed since they worked from the State Library building, all had anecdotes or memories that indicate not only a passion for their subject but enormous commitment to providing services that ultimately encouraged children to read. In each case, the nature of the work was to provide a resource and guidance to researchers, librarians, teachers and interested members of the public.
Margaret Ingham (Figure 10) was the first children's literature specialist offering services from the Children's Demonstration Library and subsequently the Children's Research Collection. In 1966 the Library Council of Victoria was responsible for both the State Library of Victoria and the Public Libraries Division. This was a time when local councils were only just beginning to be convinced of library services for a whole range of age groups in their community. Some councils had to consider whether children's services in public libraries should take priority over public works. Margaret Ingham worked in the Public Libraries Division at this time and by creating the Children's Demonstration Library she emphasised the need for appropriately trained librarians to be responsible for children's collections in public libraries. Her work in the Children's Demonstration Library drew visits from school and public librarians to see a model contemporary children's book collection. Thus Margaret Ingham was in a unique position to respond to the needs of children's librarians as enthusiasm for her collection gained momentum. Margaret also lectured in children's literature at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and was an active member of the Library Association of Australia, thus maintaining a wide-reaching network to disseminate her timely message about professionalism and children's literature services. Her strong conviction about the importance of literature for children was matched by her determination to offer optimum services to children through free public services. At Margaret's suggestion Barrett Reid, Executive Officer of the Public Libraries Division, agreed that quarterly meetings for children's librarians be held with talks by various speakers, thus providing a forum for discussion and problem-solving. These meetings continue today within the Children's and Youth Services Section of the Australian Library and Information Association.

Figure 10: Margaret Ingham, 1997

In response to an inquiry for a list of children's reference books Margaret created the first reading lists published by the Library Promotion Council. Because reference books and journals for children's literature were scarce at this time, this list proved so popular that Margaret proposed a Book Selection Committee be formed, consisting of qualified children's librarians, to continue this service. This initiative further encouraged a professional approach to children's literature.
Margaret left the Children's Demonstration Library in 1974 and at 65 had open heart surgery. When she came out of hospital she intended to compile a bibliography of the collection of children's books at the State Library of Victoria. An alternative suggestion was made that she create a separate collection of children's literature within the State Library. Margery Ramsay, the Principal Librarian, subsequently requested that Margaret assemble what became known as the Children's Research Collection.
In 1977 the Children's Research Collection began to take form. Margaret's aim was to create a collection that would replicate children's bookshelves through time. She found that the State Library of Victoria had catalogued all their fiction collections together, not separating adult from children's books. Her task of assembling a discrete collection began with a guided tour of the stacks stopping at Dewey 398 where she found a complete bay of folklore. A place was cleared on the mezzanine in the Queen's Hall and she searched through the book stacks, specifically choosing books written for children.
Margaret found children's books in some very strange places. Many vulnerable items were found in the basement and in a place called The Grille. Miss Ramsay's room held all the early nineteenth-century children's books plus the early editions of Kipling. The May Gibbs books were in the Art, Music and Performing Am Library. Arthur Rackham's picture books were up near the ceiling, others were with the Shakespearean books. Pinocchio was found amongst the German literature. The border between young adult and adult literature was as arbitrary then as it is now, and Margaret remembers saying to Ron Anderson, the Reader Services Librarian, I'll toss you for ‘Jules Verne’.
The State Library of Victoria holds numerous pamphlet series, collected into broad subject areas and then bound or boxed. Unable to separate the children's items from these bound pamphlet series, Margaret listed all the children's books in them. One day she was puzzled by a card in the card catalogue without a Dewey number, just the number ‘M 96’. Ron Anderson translated this as meaning the book was missing in 1896. Margaret remedied this by buying a copy when she next went overseas. Margaret collected while overseas on personal visits, when she would also inspect children's collections and purchase from antiquarian booksellers. Margaret represented the State Library of Victoria at several International Federation of Library Associations conferences around the world, giving papers and visiting many special collections.

Figure 11: Margaret Dunkle, 1997

Margaret is responsible for the depth of collection in the now Children's Literature Research Collection, especially in the areas of rare books, early Australian imprints, and the representative collection of Australian children's literature. When she left in 1980, the Children's Research Collection contained 10,000 Australian and overseas children's books. This initiative and achievement is a credit to Margaret's indomitable character which also served her well in the extraordinary account of her and her fellow travellers’ survival of the sinking of the S.S. Cairo during the Second World War.1
Margaret Dunkle (Figure 11) succeeded Margaret Ingham as Children's Services Officer in the Children's Demonstration Library between 1974 and 1979. Her position involved advising public libraries on setting up or modifying children's services, primarily focussing on rural centres. Much time was spent physically travelling to country Victoria where Margaret would weed collections and advise on purchases. Continuing Margaret Ingham's work, country librarians would come to Melbourne for quarterly meetings, spending whole days talking about children's books and services. The reading lists continued to be published by the Library Promotion Council.
Margaret Dunkle's influence on the Children's Demonstration Library created a model of what any modern children's library should hold. She had an ongoing arrangement with the Little Bookroom, Victoria's longest running children's book shop, to supply one copy of every new book received, in order to decide first-hand the quality of illustration and what should be in a contemporary collection. Where she had six different editions of an Anderson fairy-tale with differing illustrators, country children's librarians, in Melbourne for their quarterly meetings, could decide first-hand what would be best for their collection. The Children's Demonstration Library displayed preferred material for public collections while her closed stack collection held a horror collection, consisting mainly of books retrieved from public libraries which were outdated in their approach to social issues of racism, sex education, death and dying, and other topics.
Many anecdotes for Margaret Dunkle centre on her work with the Jolly Jumbuck, a unique service for Victorian country children. (Figure 12) Before Margaret Ingham retired, she saw overseas a travelling storytelling service from a bus Fitted out to entertain children. Impressed with this notion, she laid the foundations for the creation of the Jolty Jumbuck. Funded by the Library Promotion Council, the Jolly Jumbuck was a bus fitted out with a pull-down puppet theatre, audio tapes, a book collection for storytelling, shadow and hand puppets, and could hold sixty children (though often squashed beyond capacity, such was its popularity). Initially Margaret Dunkle would be driven to country centres, where she would empty the contents of the Jolly

Figure 12: The Jolly Jumbuck on tour, ca 1980

Jumbuck into various rooms in the library or school visited, so that the children could be introduced to the maximum book-related activities during her visit. She would second the local librarians and teachers to operate activities in different rooms while she told stories to halls full of children. Children were also encouraged to perform their own plays with the hand and shadow puppets. This forged closer relations between the community, local library and school, as once the Jolly Jumbuck's reputation grew, whole towns and the surrounding community would pack the venue. In one town the only member of the community who couldn't get into the performance was a pet wallaby, unable to negotiate the steps up to the Jolly Jumbuck. In another town, Margaret recalls being escorted through town in a procession. Most places were difficult to leave because their service was so appreciated.
The driver of the Jolly Jumbuck was Trevor Primmer, whose character and performing abilities quickly became a trademark of the Jolly Jumbuck. Initially employed to drive the bus, Trevor's enthusiasm soon saw him juggling and clowning, thus creating an extraordinary rapport with any audience. The success of the Jolly Jumbuck reflects the exuberant enthusiasm for live storytelling for both performers and audience. The Jolly Jumbuck folded in 1989 and from this service, the Jolly Jumbuck Grant was created to provide funding for annual programs of children's and youth services. Trevor Primmer moved on to work with Aboriginal groups in Arnhem Land.
Margaret Dunkle attended conferences of the Library Association of Australia, the International Board of Books for Youth, and the International Federation of Library Associations, in her capacity in the Children's Demonstration Library. She was an executive of the Children's Book Council (Victorian Division) for 15 years. After leaving the Children's Demonstration Library, Margaret continued as a storyteller and was one of the original members of the Story Telling Guild. She continues to write children's book reviews, lecture, edit and publish both fiction and reference books, most notably Black in focus about Aboriginality in Australian children's literature.2
The tradition of ‘Margarets’ working in the Children's Demonstration Library continued when Margaret Aitken was appointed in 1980. (Figure 13) Margaret Aitken brought public library experience to her position as consultant in children's library services. Such was the Children's Demonstration Library's reputation that not only public libraries and schools sought Margaret's advice, but researchers, academic institutions and organisations like the Australian Children's Television Foundation. Margaret created a network of contacts enabling her to facilitate connections between relevant children's literature organisations. Working between 1980 and 1988, Margaret also advised on children's literature research inquiries received by the

Figure 13: Margaret Aitken, 1997

State Library of Victoria, in the absence of specialist staff there. Changing perceptions during this time meant there became a need for fiction and non-fiction focussing on social issues such as death and dying, and disabilities. Her involvement with the Jolly Jumbuck often involved interviewing performers — one particular day a caller was told that Margaret was unavailable because she was interviewing a duck!
By 1988, the Children's Demonstration Library had fulfilled its purpose with children's librarianship becoming a priority in public libraries. On the recommendation of a government report, the Children's Demonstration Library was closed. Margaret Aitken continued her consultancy work, book reviewing and lecturing in children's literature after leaving the Children's Demonstration Library.
Early in the 1980s, the Reader Services Section of the State Library of Victoria assumed responsibility for the Children's Research Collection. The role of project staff was to maintain the collection in addition to their existing responsibilities. At this time the State Library of Victoria held three separate collections of children's literature; the Children's Research Collection, the Children's Demonstration Library and the External Services Collection for public loan. The latter was a collection specifically designed to supplement public library collections, especially in response to subject requests from public libraries. In 1989 Margaret Aitken collaborated on the selection policy for what is now known as the Children's Literature Research Collection, defining specific collection strengths and levels of current and future collecting. This document became the basis for amalgamating relevant material from the Children's Demonstration Library and in 1991 from the External Services Section collection of children's literature.
In 1989, the Reader Services Section identified the Children's Literature Research Collection as an ongoing research project, allocating two staff to the collection — Juliet O'Conor and Sandra Ferguson. (Figure 14) At this time active selection resumed, primarily using children's literature periodicals and publishers’ catalogues. Both librarians visited children's literature collections around Australia.
In 1994, a significant private collection of children's literature was purchased by the State Library of Victoria through a grant provided by the Victorian Government's Community Support Fund. This was a collection of 25,000 Australian and New Zealand children's books, known as the Pound Collection. The Pound Collection cataloguing team headed by Derrick Moors began work in May 1995 and should complete cataloguing the pre-1972 Australian items by the middle of 1998. (Figure 18) In 1995 it was decided to employ Terrence O'Neill, bibliographer, to maintain bibliographic control over the Pound Collection records by identifying the differences between the multitude of editions and reprints which are a feature of the collection. The Notes field for each bibliographic record in the Library's catalogue now provides valuable distinguishing criteria for researchers to differentiate between editions.
Together, the Pound Collection and the Children's Literature Research Collection at the State Library of Victoria hold over 50,000 Australian and overseas children's

Figure 14: (l to r) Juliet O'Conor and Sandra Ferguson


Figure 15: Pound Collection cataloguing team: (l to r) Jennifer Gawne, Terrene O'Neill, Derrick Moors and Helen Chierego

books, published primarily during the 19th and 20th centuries. Since 1995, an annual program of events has been offered from the Children's Literature Collections, including exhibitions, public talks and seminars. There is now a strong presence on the Internet, with State Library of Victoria children's literature exhibitions in full text (including audio capacity) at URL
Juliet and Sandra have an ongoing commitment to promote and encourage use of the Children's Literature Collections. A full research service is offered including research for customers into various aspects of children's literature, bibliographic checking, bibliography compilation, database searching and information provision. Donations are welcomed from interested individuals and groups.


Children's Demonstration Library

1966- 1974 Margaret Ingham
1974- 1979 Margaret Dunkle
1980- 1988 Margaret Aitken
1989 Collection incorporated into Children's Literature Research Collection

External Services Section, Interlibrary Loan Collection

1989 Collection incorporated into Children's Literature Research Collection

Children's Research Collection

1977- 1980 Margaret Ingham
1980- 1989 Project staff

Children's Literature Research Collection

1989- Juliet O'Conor and Sandra Ferguson

Pound Collection

1994- Juliet O'Conor and Sandra Ferguson
1995- Derrick Moors and cataloguing team
1995- Terrence O'Neill, bibliographer


Ralph Barker. Goodnight, Sorry for Sinking You: the Story of the S.S. Cairo (London: Collins, 1984).


Margaret Dunkle. Black in Focus: a Guide to Aboriginality in Literature for Young People (Port Melbourne, D.W. Thorpe, 1994).