I promised an update on my research, but this will be quick.
Currently, I’m wading through piles of articles and books about early children’s librarianship. I’m reading about Caroline M. Hewins, Anne Carroll Moore, Minerva Sanders, and Effie L. Powers, to name just a few pioneering children’s librarians on my list. In addition to this, I’m reading a couple of books on the history of childhood. I’m holding in my hands a weighty dissertation by Christine A. Jenkins entitled, The Strength of the Inconspicuous: Youth Services Librarians, the American Library Association, and Intellectual Freedom for the Young, 1939 – 1955.
Prior to 1876, children generally weren’t welcome at the library. Well, and it wasn’t a pretty picture for children even in 1876. The situation for children didn’t start improving until the 1890s. And some library historians might still find that a bit optimistic of me. Here’s a compelling passage from Jenkins’ book illustrating my point:
“Few social libraries admitted children. Shera’s [Jesse H.] research on the origins of American public libraries reported the existence of 1,085 social libraries from 1733 to 1850, twenty-one of which were designed for young people, who would have necessarily been of prosperous families. Even those social libraries that did serve children were not particularly welcome to them. The 1851 rules of the Youth’s Free Library of New York’s Brooklyn Institute, for example, allowed access to children age twelve and up, but there were no open shelves, each user was required to leave as soon as they received a book. Boys were allowed entrance four hours per week, while girls were limited to one hour per week; most similar libraries barred females altogether” (pp. 51-52).
~by Dominique McCafferty-Snapp