I got a very flattering comment from a student on my previous blog post, pointing out that I had toned down my major role in the creation and development of the Children's Literature Centre. I take it as an encouragement to brag a bit, but also reflect on why it has been such an important endeavour for me.
Children's literature centres throughout the world are diverse. Some are independent foundations, others are affiliated with a university or a national library. Some primarily serve professionals and academics, others also have activities for children. Some conduct research, some don't. Some also run courses. The Swedish Institute for Children's Books is a most amazing institution. It has every single children's book published in Sweden since 1592; it has all Swedish children's books translated and published in other countries; it has a reference collection of 10,000 volumes in every imaginable language and a current subcsription to over a hundred professional journals. A paradise for a children's literature scholar. However, they don't do research. They publish a scholarly journal and a book series, but research itself is done in universities.
When I applied for a Chair in children's literature in Stockholm, many years ago, I had two visions in my personal statement: a masters programme and a research centre. I don't know what the other candidate's visions were, but apparently their arguments for not having a masters course and a research centre were stronger than mine. Some year later, when I was teaching at San Diego State, the idea of a centre surfaced again. My argument was that the children's literature team was already doing most of the things a centre is supposed to do, so it was a matter of consolidation. And hiring me as Director (I was already a Full Professor by then which would be an added value). The university development officer said, as admin people say: “I'll see what I can do”. But he didn't. The SDSU centre came to being some years after I had left and is doing great things.
When I came to Cambridge five years ago, a centre was high on my agenda, but I didn't mention it in my personal statement or job interview. I bid my time, looking around for support. Again, the wonderful child lit team was already doing all kinds of fabulous things, including a masters course; there were two excellent libraries; and there was a world-wide reputation. All that remained was a name and a logo. We ran a logo competition. There was one submission that, rather unexpectedly, won. The winner was also appointed the webmaster for our webpage. We inaugurated the centre with a guest talk by Jack Zipes. It got good press coverage.
Since then we have had more research students and more guest scholars. I don't know whether it depends on the existence of the centre or is a natural process of growth. We continued doing what we had been doing. We ran a couple of international conferences. We applied and were approved as a nominating body for the prestigeous Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. We established our own award (regrettably, not of the same magnitude) for the best masters thesis. We collaborate with other centres in the UK and elsewhere. Our research students run a blog. We have a minimal budget, but it covers our immediate needs. One day a Cambridge alumnus will donate us ten million pounds. Until then we'll have to manage. People's dedication takes us a long way. On my wish list, doctoral studentships have highest priority. I would like to offer funding to guest scholars. So far, we can offer them desk space, IT services, library access, some free lunches and a fantastic scholarly community. In the coming year, we may be able to offer inexpensive accomodation. I am working slowly, but surely, step by step.
So yes, I guess I have achieved something that had been my dream for many years; but the best thing is that when I am gone, which will be soon, I will be leaving the Centre in good hands.