Elizabeth Derbecker


An interview with Elizabeth Derbecker for the Lillian H. Smith Story Project.


Derbecker, Elizabeth


Wong, Christina



Date Created

May 20, 2015

Spatial Coverage

Downtown (Toronto, Ont.)
Kensington-Chinatown (Toronto, Ont.)
University (Toronto, Ont.)

Rights Holder

Wong, Christina


Wong, Christina


Durbecker, Elizabeth


Lillian H. Smith Branch


00:00 Elizabeth Derbecker: My name is Elizabeth Derbecker and I grew up in North Toronto. So I remember as far back as when you could not take out more than so many books at a time, I think maybe it was 10. I read very early and my brother read very early, and my mother didn't work. So she basically, at least once a week, we would all get in the car and we would drive around to every library in our catchment area and take out the maximum number of books. I think probably the closest was North York Central. I remember the old ones so clearly that it's really hard for me to associate it with the one that's there now. And what I'd really like to know is whatever happened to that little statue of a bear that used to be on the inside as you walked down the hall towards the circ desk. It was soapstone maybe, and it was very smooth to the touch. I remember sort of petting the bear every time I came in, so I wonder what happened to it. We'd go to North York Central, we would go to Locke, we would go to Orchard View, we would go to as many as we could reach, take out the maximum number of books, roar through them in one week, and then be back the next week for new ones. The trip was just full of books.

01:05 ED: And there was... I think my favorite branch was Locke, though, because there was a librarian in there and I found out after talking to some of the other old Boys and Girls House librarians that it must have been Miss Flemming. My mother told her that I was interested in history, and she was the one who gave me my first book by Rosemary Sutcliff, completely life-changing. I had to go and read all the Rosemary Sutcliff books, and I'm still interested in history and Miss Flemming was so good at looking at a kid and realizing what was going to get them going. I started at Osborne on the 20th of January, 1985. I sort of backed into it because I knew somebody who was working at Osborne, and a vacancy came up as a page, and so I started there as a page. Then one of the other staff went on maternity leave, and so I worked as what was then an LA1 while she was on maternity leave. Then I went back down to being a page, then somebody else left and then went back up to being an LA1. As things change I just sort of wound up staying there.

02:07 ED: Margaret Maloney was head at that point, and so I was there until they closed Boys and Girls House to move it to 239 College, so I was there during all the years when they were talking about building a new branch, and when they finally found the place, when they finally broke the ground and started putting up the new one. I was one of people who packed all the books. And at that point we had so outgrown the building that we had books on every floor, and half of the collection off at Danforth/Coxwell, in the East end of the city, and if you wanted to get something from the auxiliary collection we actually had to send somebody over there and have them come back with it. So we packed all the stuff in Boys and Girls House, and it was moved here. And when we started working at LHS the building was still so under construction that we all had to get steel-toed boots. And then we unpacked all those books that we packed at Boys and Girls House. It closed in the spring of 1995. The place was closed entirely probably by May or June. I remember it was the same year I had knee surgery, so I was coming in on crutches. They closed the building down entirely, I guess, by the end of July 1995.

03:23 ED: The LHS had a soft opening and an official opening, so I think the soft opening was early October, and then there was a more official one a little further on. I think my favorite memory is, without a doubt, Joan Bodger, coming in and telling us after the library had opened officially that her husband's ashes were buried in the foundation, and that she was only telling us now because there was nothing we could do about it. But I really did think that was one of the great stories of all time, where she... And a certain tippy old staff member who busted through the hoarding when they realized they were about to pour the foundation and drop the urn with her husband's ashes into it. So Alan Mercer is now completely immured in this building, and we like to think of him as sort of a guiding spirit, but I think that really is my favorite because the look on my face as she was telling it. And Joan was not a young woman then, so the thought of her busting through the hoarding, I'm glad she didn't trip. There could've been two people buried in the foundation.

04:25 ED: The biggest change was that finally after... And I'd worked at Osborne for 10 years already, and it was only after we came to LHS with our new head Leslie McGrath that they started putting the Osborne catalogue online, which is something I really didn't think I was going to see in my lifetime. And with the support of various teams that they brought in for cataloguing to sort of give us a jump-start, finally everything in Osborne is now online and can be searched and it's part of the regular catalogue. And this has made everything so much easier. It's made it easier for our patrons, it's made it easier for the staff, and for the longest time... I hate to say it, but I remember things like manual typewriters and carbon paper.

05:08 ED: The Osborne collection's huge holdings are finally online and can be searched by anybody, it's an amazing technological advantage. We've kept our card catalogue. That was interesting too because they had to cut it in half to bring it up the elevator. It's actually been cut in half again. That's only half of what the original one was. We've kept it for archival purposes and because it's a nice piece of furniture. It adds to the ambience. And everything in this building is finally in one place and on one floor.

05:35 ED: The team of people working at Boys and Girls House was a really great team. I think the first person I met when I started who wasn't an Osborne staffer was Julie Chow and I notice that Julie is still around. But we had some... People like Julie, we had some... Joanne Graham who is now Joanne Shaw, who is one of the most legendary children's librarians. We had Mary Ann Cree, we had Sue Williams we had all sorts of great people and it was a great think tank where you had amazing human resources.

06:00 ED: I'd like to see more people coming in and enjoy the amazing resources that we have in one building. Not only the fantastic children's collection downstairs that people can actually check out. But with the Merrill collection on the 3rd floor with Osborne on the 4th floor, all this amazing stuff in one place. It's like one-stop shopping for amazing resources you can't find anywhere else.

06:33 ED: Everybody in Osborne now goes back. Leslie started in 1995 as our new head, Laurie started in 1995, Yucca and I were both here already and I think Martha started '96 or '97 she came in [06:46] ____ and retired. We all go back a long way at this point and as long as people know that we're here and we're still... In some cases people in Toronto don't realize that we're up here. And every year more people think, "I've been walking past all these years and I didn't realize that there's all that stuff and I suppose that we're here, come and use us".


Derbecker, Elizabeth, “Elizabeth Derbecker,” TPL Virtual Exhibits, accessed March 23, 2019, http://omeka.tplcs.ca/virtual-exhibits/items/show/1784.

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