Founded in 1887, the Newberry is essentially a rare book library with a broad focus on the humanities. Under the humanities umbrella, the Newberry collects materials from Europe, the Americas, and other parts of the world in a wide range of subjects. Some of its earliest children’s literature acquisitions included European alphabet and handwriting books published for children, as well as primers and alphabets in Native American languages. At that time, the Newberry did not consider the books “children’s literature.” In fact, the Newberry did not have a designated Children’s Literature Collection until a couple of fresh, ambitious librarians took it upon themselves to sift through all of the Newberry’s collections and find “artifacts of childhood.”
As a young “page” (library assistant) in 1989, Alison Hinderliter compiled a list of 283 children’s books for a historical children’s literature symposium at the Newberry in conjunction with a local university. After the symposium ended, Hinderliter kept finding more and more children’s books from the Newberry’s already established collections to include on her list. Later that year, another young, aspiring librarian with a fondness for children’s literature, joined the Newberry team. Her name was Jenny Schwartzberg, herself a children's book collector, and she enthusiastically advised Alison what key terms and authors she needed to search for. When Hinderliter first left the Newberry, Schwartzberg was approached by Bob Karrow, then the head of Special Collections, to continue where Alison left off. Jenny happily accepted and became the in-house children’s literature specialist at the Newberry.
Over 10,000 children’s books and twenty-two years later, Schwartzberg reflects, “Over the last 125 years, nobody realized we were growing a collection of children’s books.” In 1991, the Newberry created a collection development statement affirming the Library does indeed collect children’s books. Seven years later, Schwartzberg began advocating for a major children’s literature exhibit and finally on September 27, 2008, “Artifacts of Childhood: 700 Years of Children’s Books at the Newberry Library” opened.
Stay tuned for insider details on the “Artifacts of Childhood: 700 Years of Children’s Books at the Newberry Library” as well as information on individual rare children's books in our collections in future blog posts.
By Mary Grace Maloney, Children’s Literature Intern at The Newberry