Childrens' Services

New Orleans Public Library's original Children's Department did not open until 1908, when the Library moved from its cramped temporary quarters on Prytania Street to the new building at Lee Circle. Once the Department was established, however, the Library's attention to the children who entered its doors never wavered. From that time to the present day, the Library has recognized and accepted its responsibility to the children of New Orleans and committed itself fully to the task of instilling in them a love of reading and a lifelong habit of library use. The Library takes the old adage "the children are our future" to heart, and for a century has devoted much of its resources, energy, and imagination toward its unique role as educator and guide to the young people of the Crescent City.

The Main Library Children's Room, 1913. In this year, a Carnegie grant financed the construction of a large annex at the back of the Lee Circle building, which allowed the Children's Room to move into larger quarters in what had previously been the Reference Room. "The splendid children's room," wrote Librarian Henry M. Gill in the 1913 Annual Report, "to obtain which so many changes have been made, is one of the largest and brightest that has yet been prepared for the use of the young people."

Anita McGinity was appointed head of the Children's Department in 1922 and committed nearly forty years, until her retirement in 1961, to the young people of New Orleans. She is pictured here with seven-year-old Dorothy Mooney in November 1933. The book they are examining is The Christ Child by Berta and Elma Hader.

The cover of an original 1891 edition of Lady Jane by Mrs. C.V. Jamison. This story of a young girl in 19th-century New Orleans was for many years one of the most popular children's books circulated by NOPL. Nearby is an example of materials for a new generation of young readers. CD-ROMs like the Explorapedia are available for use in the Children's Room of the Main Library and at the Children's Resource Center.

The attendant in charge of the circulating desk has instructions to prohibit the issuing to a child of any book that would be harmful to him. In this manner, I believe that the young people will be properly protected, and at the same time, will be encouraged to pursue the course of reading best fitted to their minds and lead them to a love of good reading. [Annual Report, 1908, p. 15]

In 1994 the Napoleon Branch, the Library's second oldest facility, got a new lease on life when it was revamped as the Children's Resource Center, designed to serve as a hub for programming and services directed toward the Library's youngest patrons. This photograph of the Napoleon Branch (and some of the children who used it in its early years) was taken about 1913.

The children's library has been established only one year, but its circulation has increased with such unexpected rapidity and its readers so multiplied in this short time, that it has outgrown its quarters and we are confronted with the serious problem of finding at least half again as much space as it occupies at present. [Annual Report, 1909, p. 10]

A reading list for young children developed for Book Week, 1926.

The readiness with which the children learn to find the books they wish and how, when they are found, to use them, should be an object lesson to the average adult reader. The earnestness of these young readers and their gratitude for any advice and assistance, makes work in this department the most pleasant of all library work. [Annual Report, 1910, p. 10]

Book Week, designed to promote reading and library use, was celebrated at the Library as early as 1921, and its successor, National Library Week, designed to focus attention on the contributions of American libraries and librarians, continues to be observed each April at NOPL and at libraries across the country. Then, as now, many of the week's activities revolved around children, and, in the early years, included elaborate displays, as well as tours and story hours for children in all of the system's branches. The Book Week display shown here, "The House That Books Built," dates from 1931. Viewing it are (left to right) William McBride, Anthony Engolia, Salvadore Engolia, Gwyneth Vead, Kenneth Stumph, Mildred Owens, and Florie Pepitone.

A regular period for Story Hour was instituted in October providing a program at the Main Library and each Branch once each month. In connection with each event, the libraries maintain special displays of books and posters and frequently issue booklists related to the program. [Annual Report, 1937, p. 6]

Story hour at the Lee Circle library, ca. 1930s.

This photograph of children at the Lee Circle Main Library probably dates from the mid-1930s.

Two collections of twenty-nine dolls depicting local, historical and international characters made by the Toy Renovation Project of the WPA were donated to the juvenile patrons of the Library. They have attracted much attention and added greatly to the appearance of the Department. These are replicas of dolls made for the World's Fair at New York. [Annual Report, 1939, p. 19]

A children's display and story time activity at one of the branch libraries, ca. 1930s.

Providing books for children with eager reading appetites is easy, but it is very difficult to compete successfully with 'gang-buster radio thrillers', blood and thunder cinemas, and comic weekly magazines. However, the children's librarian has no choice but to accept the challenge and stand or fall on the outcome. The efforts to hold juvenile readers has led to numerous parents' meetings where the character-building qualities of the quiet masterpiece have been extolled; to the classroom where teachers have been invited to avail themselves of books and urged to direct their charges to the library; to neighborhood centers where collections of books with special appeal were loaned to the neglected child; and to other places where the gospel of good reading might be preached. [Annual Report, 1940, p. 15]

The Children's Theatre, sponsored by the New Orleans Better Films Chapter, featured free Saturday showings in the Main Library auditorium of films related to library books, followed by interpretation or discussions conducted by Library staff. The Children's Theatre flourished during the late 1930s and continued into the war years. Shown here is a November 1937 Children's Theatre audience, photographed on the steps of the Main Library. Next to the picture is a ticket to one of the shows.

Thousands of children, 15,090 in 1940 alone, were again attracted to the weekly free moving pictures sponsored by the New Orleans weekly free moving pictures sponsored by the New Orleans Better Films Chapter. [Annual Report, 1940, p. 15]

This issue of St. Nicholas magazine, once a favorite with children, dates from April 1943.

Backstage at one of the regular puppet shows sponsored by the Junior League during the 1940s and 1950s. This particular show took place on Dec. 5, 1956, in the Children's Room at the Lee Circle Main Library.

The celebration [of Library Week] at the branches was also noteworthy. Perhaps the outstanding events were the neighborhood parade consisting of three bands of musicians and many children bearing placards advertising the branch, sponsored by the Canal Branch, and a display of very large storybook characters at the Napoleon Branch. [Annual Report, 1940, p.16]

Story Hour is one of NOPL's oldest traditions. The first story hour was held in 1908, the year the Children's Department was established in the newly opened Main Library at Lee Circle. Story Hours continue today to be one of the most popular and effective means of introducing young people to the Library. This poster probably dates from the 1960s.

The Haspell Doll Collection, installed June 9, attracted numerous persons. This group of 500 dolls from practically every nation is perhaps the finest in the South. Its value to students of geography and costume has been outstanding. Through the generosity of the Haspell family the dolls are to be kept in the Library permanently, or until either of the contracting parties desires a change of plans. [Annual Report, 1941, p. 7]

A performance of the Duponts and their Royal Marionettes, ca. 1974.

A poster advertising children's activities, June 1974.

All of the staff engaged in this work [Summer Reading Clubs] report that community interest increases year by year, and as a staff member writes, "Many of our High School and College borrowers who are regular library patrons often remark, I used to belong to the Reading Club.'" [Annual Report, 1943, p. 17]

An assortment of certificates presented to young readers who successfully completed the Library's summer reading programs. Reading clubs have been a continuous feature of the Library's service to children since they were first organized in the 1930s.

Two Craft-Time programs during the mid-1970s. The children at left are making drums; those at right are modeling the masks they've just created.

Slightly less than one-third of the books circulated in 1946 went to young people below the eighth grade, and sightly more than one-third of all the people obtaining library cards belonged to this same group. [Annual Report, 1946, p. 9]

New Orleans Saint Bob Gresham lines up his team at a 1973 football clinic at the Alvar Branch. Throughout the 1970s, Saints football players visited the branches not only to conduct clinics but also to promote library services and read stories to young patrons.

This year's theme for the agency-wide Summer Reading Club was the 'Bookaneers'. Booklists, bookmarks, brochures for entering books read, and certificates for the completion of twelve books were all designed in keeping with the pirate theme. Doubloon-like 'Pieces of Eight' were awarded after the completion of eight books. [Annual Report, 1966]

Recognizing that complete service to children includes service to their families as well, the Library has traditionally presented programs and provided materials designed to assist and educate parents. The Library's NEH-funded Jambalaya program included a session on the history of local children's literature.

An audience of young patrons at a summer reading club program at the Central Library, 1989.

In the branches particular attention will be paid to the children. [Annual Report, 1907, p. 16]

Student storyteller Rameisha Haqq, Algiers Point Branch, 1991. Rameisha and other students were practicing for a Storytelling Festival sponsored by the New Orleans Public Schools' Arts In Education program. The Algiers Point, East New Orleans Regional, Gentilly, and Nix Branches, along with the Central library, were all chosen as sites for the student storytellers to show off their skills.

"Clown Kids" at a children's Saturday crafts program, Central Library, ca. 1992.

In 1993, in connection with the tenth anniversary of the Disney Channel, Disney characters visited the Main Library (and several other public libraries around the country) to entertain NOPL children and to tape portions of a broadcast about reading and using the public library. Here the Mad Hatter delights the crowd.

Mayor Marc Morial greets young library patrons at the dedication ceremonies for NOPL's newest facility, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Branch, January 1996. As a child, the Mayor was a regular patron of the Gentilly Branch.