The History of Children and Libraries
Public and private libraries offer children opportunities to disappear into fictional worlds, interact with one another, and listen to dramatic readings of their favorite stories. According to Carolyn Miller, Kathryn Zickuhr, Lee Rainie, and Kristen Purcell of the Pew Research Center, “94 percent of parents say libraries are important for their children.”
This statistic is not a new development in the library sciences field. For decades, children have found sanctuary in their local libraries. Find out more about the role libraries occupy with children and education.
Libraries Progressed From School and Shelter to Interaction and Innovation
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Today’s children’s libraries bear little resemblance to the libraries of previous decades. An International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, IFLA, report illustrates the evolution of children’s libraries from the early 20th century. Before 1914, according to report authors Alistair Black and Carolynn Rankin, the earliest libraries provided education and shelter for students.
Over the years, the purpose of children’s libraries transformed from pure function to enhanced form. Libraries adopted open-concept floor plans and incorporated separate areas for children to play. By the 1980s, the children’s sections of libraries became interactive and offered playground-type equipment to keep children engaged and entertained during their visits.
Libraries Serve Vital Roles in Community Development and Literacy Rates
Although the aesthetic appearances and core functions of libraries have evolved over the years, their importance has never wavered. Writing for the World Intellectual Property Organization, Ben White explores the role of the library in developing communities and promoting literacy. He asserts that libraries are critical to preserving culture and heritage as well as providing a place for people to practice lifelong learning.
White acknowledges that modern children’s libraries face considerable challenges. As electronic media becomes more available to consumers, some libraries may struggle to attract visitors. However, White predicts that libraries will continue to play fundamental roles in both children’s and adults’ lives.
Libraries Offer More Than Books for Borrowing
Many children visit libraries to check out books and other media, but libraries offer far more opportunities for growth and development than mere books. Highlights for Children editor-in-chief Christine French Cully details several benefits of taking children to the library.
Cully names children’s programs as one major attraction. Dramatic readings, puppet theaters, and other interactive events can engage children in the stories they read. She also notes that children learn the value of responsibility through having their own library cards.
The Future of Children’s Libraries: Maker Spaces and Digital Media
Professionals with advanced library science degrees will likely continue to interact with kids at libraries in the future. In an interview with Shannon Maughan for Publishers Weekly, Connecticut State Library children’s services consultant Linda Williams says, “The big thing to wish for is digital media spaces, maker spaces, YOUmedia labs.” She asserts that connected learning and Internet-driven media will play a significant role in the children’s libraries of the future.
Opportunity and promise are the themes surrounding the history of children and libraries. From children whose parents can’t afford to buy them reading material to kids who enjoy interactive elements in their community libraries, these institutions have and continue to play a pivotal role in educating and entertaining young minds.
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