The University of Florida’s George A. Smathers special collections library in Gainsville, Florida contains the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature collection. In the Baldwin collection, there are over 13,000 American and British juvenile books and periodicals with publication dates that range from the 1600s through the present day. About 6,000 of these items are digitized for viewing online. The Baldwin collection also owns non-book ephemera such as board games, puzzles, toys, and artwork related to juvenile literature (though these items are not photographed for inclusion in the online collection).
The Baldwin collection is especially known for its multiple editions of and materials relating to: Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim’s Progress, Aesop’s Fables, and Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.
Visitors to the site have a few different pathways available to them for accessing the digitized collection. From the home page users can see the full collection of digitized items by simply leaving the search bar blank and clicking “go.” Another option is to use the ‘browse’ drop-down menu, where users are able to browse by a number of access points including:
- creator (including authors and illustrators) or publisher
- Some tags are replicated within both ‘creator’ and ‘publisher’ search but both versions appear to bring up the same list of results, so this is a relatively effective way for users to cover their bases.
- publication date
- This feature, however, can be a bit clunky because some dates are replicated multiple times, tags include approximate dates (such as [1800?]), and clicking on the same date brings back varying result lists.
- genre (some of the genre terms retrieve many results, e.g. “alphabet books,” and others have either no results at all or only one or two, e.g. “girls’ non-fiction”)
Since only a portion of the full Baldwin collection is digitized, the results that one receives from searching using these methods on the Baldwin homepage are limited. To see all books available within the collection (though they are not available online, and are non-circulating — which means they can only be viewed in person at the special collections reading room), a user can search the main University of Florida library catalog and append the letters ‘bldn’ — for Baldwin — to the end of your search to retrieve Baldwin-specific results. For example, if a user wants to see all of the alphabet books in the Baldwin collection and not just the ones that have been digitized (about 260 books out of a total of around 760 books that the Baldwin contains), she/he can do a search like the one pictured below.
But what do the digitized items in the Baldwin collection look like? How readable are they for online users? In fact, the interface for Baldwin’s materials is wonderfully sophisticated. The collection’s digitization includes a full-text facsimile of the item — complete with text searching, thumbnail images for each page, a ‘zoomable’ version of the item (which is especially helpful for examining more detailed illustrations), and a hyperlinked table of contents that can take the reader directly to their desired section. For researchers who need detailed information on the items, a description page and a full MARC record is also available for each item.
The Smathers Library of special collections (which houses the Baldwin Library of Historical Children’s Literature, but also other specialized archives — such as the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica) frequently hosts physical exhibits, but those that exclusively feature materials from the Baldwin collection appear to be only sporadically mounted (the most recent two — “Maurice Sendak: Vision of the Child” and “When Phantasie Takes Flight: the Art & Imagination of Arthur Rackham“— were presented back in 2013).
Some, but not all, of these past exhibits have parts of their content available online. Depending on the exhibit, sometimes this is simply a brochure or a poster with no detailed information about what was included in the exhibition or any of its contextual information. However, for two — “The Afterlife of Alice” and “Help is on the Way! Comic Books and Superheroes in Special Collections” (which was composed of non-digitized Baldwin collection materials and is hosted online by the Department of English at the University of Florida through their ImageTexT peer-reviewed, open access journal) — users can get a substantial amount of information.
The experience of walking and browsing through a physical space with plenty of images available to view is not at all replicated in these two online exhibits, but the academic and bibliographic information is there for users to do their own further exploration.
Likewise, on the homepage for the Baldwin Collection, five “sub-collections” are identified and clicking on their individual hyperlinks brings the user to a short description of the sub-collection. Some of these ‘sub-collections’ correspond to past physical exhibits (like the “Afterlife of Alice” and “Celebrating 200 Years of the Brothers Grimm” sub-collections and exhibits). Others, however, simply contain a description of special holdings within the collection and, to the detriment of easy access for the user, don’t include a link to the optimal search for finding those parts of the sub-collection that have been digitized or even just a list of items that are considered part of that sub-collection.
Though, in general, people interested in historical children’s literature would tend to be professionals in the literary or services to children fields, the Baldwin collection could be enjoyed by anyone. However, because of its relatively subtle web presence (no social media outreach, for example), those who find the Baldwin collection’s digital texts may only be those who are professionals. For these types of researchers, in partnership with ALSC (the Association of Library Services to Children), the Baldwin Library oversees the Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship: which consists of a $4,000 grant awarded to a children’s librarian who will spend four weeks or more researching within the collection. More information (and application requirements) can be found here.
Overall, the biggest strength of the Baldwin collection is its beautifully-digitized items in an interface that makes the examination of materials enjoyable for both hard-core researchers and recreational aficionados of historical children’s literature.