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CILIPS East AGM 2018: Museum of Childhood Visit

Branch: East Branch | Category: Blog, Branches and Groups

Thank you to Emily Prince, Library Development Leader at Wester Hailes Education Centre,  for her guest blog post on the recent CILIPS East AGM and visit to the Museum of Childhood:

It was a rainy, blustery day in Edinburgh when we met inside the City Chambers to visit the Museum of Childhood storage space. The curator, Lyn Stevens, escorted us downstairs to a strange room with arched stone ceilings, piled high with boxes of books. Through another heavy door (I believe the door to an old cell!), were the shelves, stacked with classics from the last few centuries – some more recognisable than others.

Lyn explained that luckily, despite not having a strategic collection policy, the collection has a lot of breadth. It’s not just books, of course – toys, games, comics, magazines, and clothes have also been acquired, almost solely by donations. With no budget for acquisitions, Lyn estimates that one item has actually been purchased in the last six years.

They have approximately 15,000 items, but, as is familiar to many of us, the cataloguing is a slow process. The eventual aim will be to have an online catalogue to assist users, though the collection will be reference, as with many museums.

The bulk of the collection covers the hundred years between 1850 and 1950, though there is material dating from either side of that, with the earliest book dating from the sixteenth century. Lyn had prepared some interesting pieces to show us, including some chapbooks (often a bit gruesome, but cheap and popular with children), and some examples of pretty blatant propaganda in books of nursery rhymes! Particularly poignant were the two issues of the Chatterbox annual Lyn had displayed: the 1914 issue had a soldier on the cover, but the 1915 issue featured a puppy instead – a sobering reminder of the changing attitudes to a war that was supposed to be over by the first Christmas.

After our time in the storage space, we walked down the Royal Mile to the Museum of Childhood itself to have a look at the ‘Growing Up with Books’ exhibition. Developed in partnership with SELCIE (Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative), the exhibition featured five sections – learning to read, worlds of knowledge, shaping identities, worlds of imagination, and the lives of children’s books.

The exhibition was beautifully put together, with displays that were pleasing to the eye but also illustrated the contemporary attitudes of the time that the books were published. Often such attitudes seem archaic now, with a lot of evidence of books being produced that adults thought children should be reading, rather than what children actually wanted to read. There were some interesting examples of how children themselves had interacted with the books they owned, such as drawings, inscriptions, and keepsakes kept between the pages. There were also handmade books that predated the Education Act when a lot of children would have been educated at home – books seemingly made both by the children themselves, and by devoted parents.

One particular item of note was a book inscribed with practice signatures by 12-year-old Ebenezer Oliphant. This child grew up to be a goldsmith, perhaps most famous for his creation of the travelling canteen he made for Bonnie Prince Charlie – the canteen was left behind after the Battle of Culloden and is now held by the National Museum of Scotland!

We finished the day with the CILIPS East Branch AGM, and a very quick and painless AGM it was too! Thanks are due to the committee for organising such a fascinating afternoon, and to Lyn Stevens for her engaging and generous discussion about the Museum of Childhood. There was an enthusiastic response among attendees to the idea of a repeat visit, so watch this space…

Note from Committee: Congratulations to Flora Fisher on winning the CILIPS East Library Bagging 2018 competition, having bagged all three libraries who hosted visits this year – The Edinburgh Tool Library, RBGE Library and The Library of Mistakes!  The name of the winner was randomly selected at the AGM.