Excerpts from Marion Robinson’s speech, on the occasion of the unveiling of a plaque to the memory of Edgar Bertram Freel Robinson at Markham, on Dec. 12, 1956, commemorating the Fiftieth Anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Free Library for the Blind.
….At that time I had come to Markham to teach the Primary Grade in the village public school. Mr. Robinson was on the Board and in accordance with his custom of visiting the new teachers, called at the school. During our conversation, I pointed out the scarcity of teaching equipment and he told me to make out a list of the things I wanted and he would see what could be done about it.
I made out such a thoroughly complete list that in a few days he called again to know if I really needed all these things. I replied that he had asked what I wanted, not what I needed! Shortly afterwards we became engaged. He had told me of his dream of establishing a library, which he could not carry out alone, and by the use of his persuasive ability, talked me into moving up our wedding date about two years earlier than I had planned. We set up housekeeping and established the library simultaneously in temporary quarters in Dr. Robinson’s house.
The first books belonging to the Library were Mr. Robinson’s own personal property. Some he had won as prizes at school. A great many were college texts that Dr. Robinson had copied by hand for his son. These texts were in great demand. Mr. Swift, for example, originally wrote to borrow some of these books from my husband, unaware that the Library had been established and so became one of our early members.
At that time, too, Dr. Carruthers who is now on the Board was just entering Trinity and needed some texts which were not available in raised print. My husband and I undertook to copy them for him. I did the dictating and Mr. Robinson the printing. English, I had no trouble with; French was difficult; but German floored me! I refused to dictate any more!
However I did learn the New York Point system and copied short stories from magazines to augment our stock. I continued this practice as long as I was Librarian and was able to put many stories into circulation. At this time, I might add, the Library books were in at least seven forms of type that I can recall. My husband was one of those who had been advocating a single type system for some years and after the establishment of the library, began to plan out an active campaign to achieve this end. I am glad to say that a practically universal type system has since been adopted.
By the time our son was born in 1908 the Library was fast outgrowing its accommodation. My husband spent the last week of October in Toronto getting plans under way to house both the library and a family. He came home on Friday and complained of not feeling well. He passed away on November 7, 1908 and it was left to me to carry on.
…The administrative details of the enterprise had always been left with my husband. Consequently, when the Board met following his death, the members knew so little of the administrative details of the Library that their first thought was simply to wind up its affairs and forget about it. I was at the meeting and knowing how much the library meant to the members and unwilling to see all my husband’s work come to nothing, I said I would undertake the management of the Library, if they would undertake to raise the funds to keep it going. I then became Librarian and continued in that position until 1913.
At no time were they able to raise sufficient money to pay the salary agreed upon. In the fall of 1911 the Board decided to move the library to Toronto. Through the kindness of Dr. Locke, Chief Librarian of Toronto Public Libraries, rent-free accommodation was secured in the basement of the West Toronto Branch of the Public Library. I packed all the books and looked after shipping them. The Express company employees uploaded 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.
On coming to Toronto my library hours were reduced to 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. weekdays with a 1 P.M. closing on Saturdays. But since my salary was so small and often uncertain, I was unable to secure much leisure from them, as I had to work in the Public Library Saturday afternoons and evenings to make ends meet.
….In the spring of 1913, Mr. Swift, who had become Secretary of the Board since my husband’s death, came out to notify me that the Board had drawn up a salary schedule with a minimum of $400.00 per annum to be increased at the rate of $50.00 a year to a maximum of $600.00. When I protested I had already served the Library 7 years, 5 of them alone, he replied that of course that wasn’t what the job was worth, but they couldn’t pay me more and I couldn’t live on less. I resigned at once and returned to teaching.
Mr. Swift took over the following August at a salary of $1200.00 since as a man he couldn’t live on less. In less than a year and in spite of the addition to the staff of a paid assistant, the circulation dropped. Ever since, I have been an ardent advocate of equal pay for equal work.