Why All the Owls?


by Alena Rivers

You may have noticed a parliament of owls either in the Butler Children’s Literature Center or individually accompanying a book cover photo on our #DailyButlerShelfie Facebook posts. The Butler Center graduate assistants are even holding owls in their blog post introduction. So, what’s with all of the owls?

In 2012, the Butler Center was bequeathed with a generous collection of African American children’s literature and over 500 owl figurines from the Effie Lee Morris estate. Ms. Morris was a pioneer, African American librarian and throughout her career she advocated for children’s service in public libraries.

The owl became Ms. Morris’ personal symbol based upon the New York Herald Tribune column by Anne Carroll Moore titled, “The Three Owls”. Quoted in African American Librarians in the Far West: Pioneers and Trailblazers by Binnie Tate Wilkin (Scarecrow, 2006), Ms. Morris says of the owls: “Everyone who has ever worked in the New York Public Library knows the story of Anne Carroll Moore, the first children’s coordinator, and the owls. Ms. Moore, the first person to write reviews of children’s books for the Herald Tribune, was asked for a title for her column—’The Three Owls’ whom she named the author, the illustrator, and the critic. I added one more owl, ‘the reader,’ always wearing the fourth owl above my heart. My collection has grown hugely as almost every gift I’ve received since 1963 has been an owl in some form. And I always wear owl jewelry and my hats, which I love.”

To share in the spirit of Ms. Morris’ commitment to children and children’s literature, the Butler Center has adopted the owl as its official symbol. A display case in the Butler Center exhibits a portion of this collection on a rotating basis. Take a look at this remarkable assortment of figurines the next time you visit us!