Friday, 3 February 2017




If you can summon up the courage to leave the well-lit warmth of the iSchool's home in the Bissell Building, you'll walk down the steps and find yourself on St. George Street. If you were to head left, you'd eventually hit Bloor and walk by the Bata Shoe Museum, or even head over a block to the ROM (which I did in my last post). But, right now, you won't turn left up St. George towards shoes and stuffed animals. Instead, you'll turn right and battle through the February wind and pockets of equally-cold students until you reach College St. Turn right again, pull your coat a bit tighter, walk a bit more briskly (it really is very cold). And then, amidst the red streetcars and the orange/green taxis and the grey dreary weather you'll spot it -

A griffin.

Not one griffin, but two.

You'll see them sitting very still, guarding the arched entrance of a large building on the other side of the road. You'll wonder what they're doing, these whimsical mystical creatures, hanging out on College Street on a Friday morning in February. They're always there, sitting either side of a door. A griffin-door, you might say.

What are they guarding?

The Osborne Collection of Early Children's Books is a Library/Museum/Archive all rolled into the top floor of the Lillian H. Smith Branch of the Toronto Public Library. The collection was started by Edward Osborne in the early 20th century and has since grown to almost 100,000 items - all completely accessible to the public. In fact, for a special and rare collection, the Osborne collection couldn't really be more public. The museum section, library section, and archive section are all completely visible for anyone to see: the behind-the-scenes section of desks  isn't really behind-the-scenes at all, neither are the stacks - they're all on show behind just one layer of glass. You can see the entire set up and, once inside, you have access to the entire collection. Simply sign a few forms and in moments you can be inside the Reading Room poring over original Beatrix Potter private letters or Hans Christian Anderson rare editions. The place is whimsical and delightful and definitely worth a visit on a cold winter day (or any day, frankly).

But back to the griffins.

The griffin is the Osborne Collection's logo and appears repeatedly in its merchandise and branding. Symbolically, a griffin is the safe-keeper of treasured collections - an apt choice of creature to stand outside a special collections library. You can even buy griffin earrings (!) at their shop. The griffin figure is clearly a key part of the Osborne Collection's identity.

And the Lillian H. Smith branch isn't the only public museum/library/archive to employ statuesque guards:

One of the lions outside the New York Public Library
More lions (Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery, London, England)
A sphinx outside the Egyptian Museum, Egypt
It seems we quite like permanent stone guards for our cultural collections - and of course it always helps if these stone guards are particularly mythical and/or majestic creatures.

So, next time you're headed to a cultural institution, pay attention any collection safe-keepers hanging around outside. You might make a new friend.

[The Snow Queen's Palace: Amazing Stories by Hans Christian Andersen will be on display in the Osborne Collection at the Lillian H. Smith Branch until March 4th, 2017. For more information, visit]

No comments:

Post a Comment