Leading the Way to the Library

How did the public library evolve from a hushed book repository for adults to the vibrant heart of communities? And when did children get to join the party? Jan Pinborough’s picture-book debut highlights a woman who defied customs and expectations and wrought a transformation that continues to this day.Miss Moore Thought Otherwise

Brightly illustrated with Debby Atwell’s playful acrylic paintings, Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children sprinkles colorful little details that reveal a likable, somewhat lively heroine. The child from Limerick, ME, who loved heart-thumping toboggan rides as well as the stories her father read aloud would one day pack her bags to attend the Pratt Institute library school in Brooklyn. She chose one of the few professions open to women in the early 20th century: library studies.

She first worked at the local Pratt Free Library, which had, to her mind, a delightful new feature: a library space just for children. In an era in which other librarians cultivated the reading interests of only adults, “Miss Moore thought otherwise”—a refrain Ms. Pinborough uses to delineate how her approach differed from that of the majority.

Word spread about Anne Carroll Moore’s abilities, and in time she was hired to oversee the children’s departments in all 36 branches of the New York Public Library. Finally she was in a position to make changes that would have an impact on thousands of families.

To her dismay, she found many librarians still did not allow children even to touch books, let alone take them home. She set about changing that. Unlike her contemporaries, Miss Moore did not believe the library was meant to be as quiet as a tomb. One cheerful, full-page painting shows Miss Moore in her floor-length skirt helping to take down a huge black sign with the word “silence.” She urged librarians to talk to children, to tell them stories. And what about those dull books no one wanted to read? Out with them! Instead, she brought in the likes of Tom Sawyer and The Swiss Family Robinson to satisfy children’s taste for adventure.

Then came a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A grand new library would be built at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Annie Moore had the chance to create the very best children’s library for New York City’s youth.

The innovations she introduced at the New York Public Library have now been adopted around the world. Such logical features include child-size furniture, bright, attractive artwork and displays; the inclusion of cozy seating; and kid-pleasing book collections. Reading clubs and visits by talented performers, artists, and authors enlivened the children’s room, then and now.

In her interesting afterward, Ms. Pinborough notes that in reality, Anne Carroll Moore was one of a number of strong, independent women librarians who revolutionized children’s library services. For that, we can all be grateful.

Reprinted, in slightly altered form, with permission from The New York Journal of Books.

Librarian of Basra by Jeanette WinterJeanette Winter’s important picture-book biography, The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq, should be read and discussed in every upper-elementary school library. Here’s a unique opportunity to meet a real hero, Alia Muhammad Baker, chief librarian of Basra’s Central Library. As war approached, she set about protecting her community’s precious books. When the government refused to help, she found a nearby restaurant owner who helped her store the books — just nine days before the library burned. Then she moved the 30,000 volumes to her own home and to those of her friends, hoping that peace would soon come. Winter based this picture book on the July 27, 2003 New York Times article by Shaila K. Dewan. She deftly describes and illustrates the events without overwhelming children with the horrors of war. This book can lead to thoughtful discussions of the vital role the library plays in a community and to an analysis of the characteristics of a hero. Storyteller's Candle

The Storyteller’s Candle/La velita de los cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez is a tender tribute to Pura Belpré, New York City’s first Puerto Rican librarian, whose name was given to the American Library Association’s annual award that honors Latino authors and illustrators.

Readers encounter Hildamar and her cousin, Santiago, as they enter the library in Manhattan’s El Barrio. Recently arrived from Puerto Rico, they are struggling to navigate new customs in a bewildering big city. Fortunately, the children find a creative and caring librarian, who lights her storyteller’s candle, speaks in both English and Spanish, and sparks imagination in her listeners. Soon, the children lead their family, friends, and neighbors to the public library, where they create a holiday play and, in the process, create a stronger community. Lulu Delacre’s oil and collage illustrations add warmth to this inspiring story, just right for ages 8-10.

Also see …

My previous post on librarians and

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Clarissa W. Atkinson
    Aug 11, 2014 @ 15:41:58

    I loved this post, in particular your reference to La velita de los cuentos which explained for me the origin of the term “candle-burners” which had so mystified me as a young person in my first job at Lippincott in the 1950s: http://oldestvocation.wordpress.com/2014/08/08/once-upon-a-time/


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Aug 14, 2014 @ 22:29:59

      Thank you, Clarissa. I’m so glad you wrote. I loved reading your post on your first job at Lippincott — what a fascinating time to be there. Harper Lee, curmudgeon that she continues to be, is one of my heroes, and of course To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the quintessential American novels. And how interesting to have witnessed the library evolve into a vibrant place for young and old, rich and poor, and people of every hue and faith. Thanks for sharing your story, Clarissa. I will happily follow your singular blog.


  2. Kathleen Krull
    Mar 19, 2013 @ 15:46:04

    Many many thanks for today’s review of our Beatles book. You totally got it.

    Kathy Krull & Paul Brewer


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