Born in Robin Hood’s Bay in Yorkshire, Colwell was the third daughter of a Methodist minister. She obtained a scholarship and studied librarianship at University College London. She had become interested in the idea of a children’s library at an early age but found that the plan of study (then the only one of its kind in the country) did not cover the subject.
After leaving college she worked at Bolton Library before obtaining the new post of Children's Librarian for Hendon Urban District in October 1926. Mostly providing schools with "book cupboards" she built the children’s collection (2,000 volumes) from scratch. In 1929 Colwell was made permanent children's librarian with the opening of Hendon Library where she remained for forty years. She pioneered the use of story telling hours (sometimes with a puppet called Jacko), and even let the children help with the running of the library.
In 1937 Colwell helped found the Association of Children's Librarians, later integrated as the Youth Library Section of the Library Association. In 1965 she was made an MBE. In 1967 she left Hendon, and for a while lectured at Loughborough University. She made several radio programs with the BBC and even appeared on Jackanory.
- Princess Splendour And Other Stories (1969)
- The Magic Umbrella And Other Stories Of Telling (1977)
- Autobiography, Once Upon A Time (2000)
- Mary Ellen Quinn (2014). Historical Dictionary of Librarianship. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8108-7545-6.
- Eileen Colwell, The Telegraph, 18 September 2002
- Stephenson, Chris (September 25, 2002). "Eileen Colwell Gifted storyteller and creative pioneer of children's libraries". the guardian. Retrieved 7 March 2015.
- "A Brief History of Youth Libraries Group and CILIP's Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards" (PDF). CILIP Youth Libraries Group. 2006. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
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