The Gift of Reading
You might call Lloyd E. Cotsen a bibliophile. After all, the Princeton University alumnus has been collecting children's books for years. Cotsen and his wife started stockpiling books for their three children back in the late 1950's when he was just starting out at the Neutrogena Corporation in Los Angeles.
Some 30 years later, Cotsen has amassed more than 20,000 children's books, games, puzzles, and the like. He's also gone on to become Neutrogena's chairman and C.E.O.
Cotsen has long wanted to share his love of reading with other children. So in December 1994, he presented his alma mater with his unusual collection. The gift also comes with an $8 million donation to create a research center within Princeton's Firestone Library, where scholars and children alike will be able to learn from Costen's lifetime passion.
Princeton hopes to open the Cotsen Children's Library by June 1996. Contractors have already started designing the exhibit areas for the collection.
The library will showcase such treasures as a first edition of Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit, inscribed by the author to her cousin. And visitors will find first-edition works by Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm Brothers, too. Cotsen discovered most of the books--printed in languages from French to Farsi--at auction houses around the world.
One of the oldest books in the collection, a Latin primer of father-to-son advice printed in 1486, encourages young men to "read books" and "shun whores," among other behaviors befitting of a gentleman.
The collection also contains several works from 1700-1839, a key period in children's literature, according to William L. Joyce, Princeton's associate librarian for rare books and special collections. Among the works are illustrations by John Newbery, one of the era's most important publishers, for whom today's coveted annual children's book award is named.
Cotsen hopes his library will help Princeton students and other scholars study children's learning behaviors and cultural differences. The library's curator will also oversee other programs, such as visiting scholars, annual seminars on children's literature, and research publications.
"Literature allows us to pause and think," Cotsen says. "It stimulates the imagination and curiosity and lets a person fly."
Despite such academic pursuits, Cotsen wants to make sure children will also have access to the material, even though much of it is old and fragile. He plans to work with the library to set up exhibit areas and interactive displays so young readers can share in the fun.
"I want the library to excite children to read," Cotsen says. "I want them to walk away from this section and say, 'Hey, I want to read a book,' or, 'Hey, I want to read that."'