Marion at the Helm

After Bert's death, Marion convinced the library board to keep it going. She agreed to take over the management if the board would look after the fundraising that had been part of Bert’s duties

She oversaw the Library's move from the Robinsion home in Markham to Toronto in 1911.  The Toronto Public Library offered two large rooms in the basement of the West Toronto branch, on Annette and Medland.

I packed all the books... and I had to carry them in a few at a time, with only my own pair of hands
— Marion Robinson

Marion gave this description of the move: "I packed all the books and looked after shipping them.  The express company employees unloaded them on the sidewalk in front of the Library and I had to carry them in a few at a time, with only my own pair of hands."

Under Marion's leadership, the CFLB continued to grow and formalize. In 1912 it published a list of rules and regulations, starting with this one: "Books will be sent free to any blind person in Canada forwarding a certificate of good character, signed by some responsible party, or by paying One Dollar in money."  The rate for overdue books was two cents per day. Other rules dealt with borrowers’ responsibilities and privileges as well as voting procedures for the Library’s annual general meeting.

However, the board was never able to raise sufficient money to pay Marion what had been agreed on.  She had to reduce the hours at the CFLB, and worked at the Toronto Public Library on Saturday afternoons and evenings “to make ends meet.”  In 1913, budgetary matters came to a head. Sherman Swift, a blind scholar who would go on to become a CNIB founder and spend more than 30 years as Librarian, had taken over as Secretary of the Library Board after Bert’s death.  He offered Marion $400 a year, to be increased by $50.00 a year to a maximum of $600. (Note that in 1907 Marion’s late husband Bert had received $1,000 per year, although he was responsible for all expenses for housing and fitting up much of the Library.)  “When I protested I had already served the Library seven years, five of them alone, he replied that of course that wasn’t what the job was worth, but they couldn’t pay more and I couldn’t live on less.  I resigned at once and returned to teaching.”

They couldn’t pay more and I couldn’t live on less
— Marion Robinson

According to a history of the Library written in 1950, Marion returned to help at the CFLB on Saturdays and summer holidays.

Marion Robinson (1:16)
Marion Robinson describes her time as CFLB Librarian following her husband's death
(Read transcription of narrated text)

Sherman Swift took over as Librarian a few months later, at a salary of $1,200 a year.  Was it simply the gender-based assumptions at the time -- that as a man, of course he couldn’t live on less?  Was it that he was expected to pay an assistant out of his salary? Did the board prefer the leadership of a blind professional to that of the sighted schoolteacher, Marion Robinson?  All of these theories have been suggested.  But when Marion Robinson spoke in 1956 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Library’s founding, her position was clear: “Ever since, I have been an ardent advocate of equal pay for equal work.”