The Oliver G. Burk Children’s collection is a treasure of both rare and new books on botany and natural history. Due to the nature of the collection, the books are not available for loan but can be enjoyed through scheduled programs and by appointment. Appointments are available Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Oliver George Burk was born on April 26, 1910 in Brooklyn, New York. Ollie (Ol), as he was also known by friends and relatives, grew up in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he attended the local public schools. He then enrolled in horticultural studies at Connecticut Agricultural College (now University of Connecticut). Oliver left college for health and family reasons and then pursued work as a landscaper. He subsequently joined his father’s wood model and pattern business that he later co-owned with a friend.
On July 1, 1931, he married his childhood sweetheart Lillian Marie Renstrom. They had four children. Oliver enjoyed athletics and being outdoors. In basketball, he was captain of his high school team and a member of his college lineup. As an ice skater, he could skate backwards and also jump barrels. He enjoyed fishing, particularly for trout and blue fish. In literature, he had a love of poetry and history.
A gentle and caring man, he loved to grow and nurture plants, such as perennials and evergreen trees. He cared deeply for his family and extended his compassionate outreach to friends as well. Oliver George Burk died on 22 September 1964 and is buried in Willow Brook Cemetery, Westport, Connecticut.
The Oliver G. Burk Children’s Library at BRIT was donated by William R. Burk in honor of his father. This wonderful collection is composed of children’s books on botany and natural history, published during a span of three centuries, with the oldest volume dating back to 1802.
William Burk, a librarian of biology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, contributed his personal collection of over 2,000 volumes of rare, out of circulation, and current children’s books. The collection has grown to approximately 4,000 volumes due to an endowment Mr. Burk has made towards the purchase of new volumes for the library.
The collection contains examples of rare children’s books: catechisms of the 18th and 19th centuries, chapbooks of the 19th century, shape books, board books, cloth books, alphabet books, and educational kits on plants.
One of the most interesting components of the library is a collection of approximately 70 titles exemplifying plant personification, that is, humanization of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Among the most valuable in the collection are the classic Flora’s Feast: A Masque of Flowers by Walter Crane (1895) and Elizabeth Gordon’s children’s books on flowers and vegetables. The oldest book in the collection is The Catechism of Nature for the Use of Children by Johannes Florentius Martinet (Boston, 1790).