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Spaces: From its castle-like exterior to its puppet theatre, Toronto’s Lillian H. Smith library is built for kids

The Lillian H. Smith branch of the Toronto Public Library has a long association with children’s literature. Its origins date back to 1922, when the Boys and Girls House Library, the first library in the British Empire aimed exclusively at children, opened. The Boys and Girls House was replaced in 1995 by a new branch, named for Smith, who headed the TPL’s children’s services for 40 years.

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(Osborne collection, TPL)

Though the Lillian H. Smith branch is not for children exclusively, kidlit is its major focus. The building’s exterior, designed by Phillip H. Carter, is meant to resemble a castle, with two large bronze griffins flanking the entrance. An owl sculpture from one of the branch’s previous incarnations is set into the front façade.

Story time is held in the centre of the circulating children’s collection, located in front of one of the building’s large main windows. The branch’s basement contains three large rooms – one of which features a puppet theatre – used for in-house programming and events staged by community groups. In keeping with the building’s castle theme, however, entry is made via a passage down a dungeon-like curved staircase, complete with (modernly lit) torches.

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(Osborne collection, TPL)

The Smith branch is most noted as home to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, a reference-only collection of first editions, rare books, and other children’s literature ephemera. Though most books in the collection can’t be handled, librarians curate regular displays of the materials.

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(Osborne collection, TPL)

One of the branch’s lesser-known holdings is the Marguerite G. Bagshaw Collection of Puppetry Creative Drama and Theatre for Children, which dates back to the days of the Boys and Girls House. A collection of reference books on the history and origins of puppetry is open to the public, though the puppets themselves are off-limits. As with the Osborne collections, some puppets are put on rotating display.