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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

8 - Public library services for children

from Part One - Enlightening the Masses: the Public Library as Concept and Reality


… we must produce original thinkers. School and college education train the mind so that it becomes an efficient machine for the purpose of thinking. The process is, however, more or less a compulsory one and reading done during its course is done for the most part as a task. This is not the kind of reading conducive to original thought, for that must be voluntary, even as thought is voluntary. All our great thinkers have been great readers, – voluntary readers.


This chapter considers the development of public library services to children and young people, paying particular attention to staffing, the provision of resources, teenage library users and links between libraries and schools. The provision of public library services to children, particularly in the early days, is well documented. Two key texts which have proved to be useful sources of anecdotal and statistical evidence are Gwendolyn Rees's Libraries for children: a history and bibliography and the more recent Library services for young people in England and Wales 1830–1970 by Alec Ellis. Since 1971 there have been few monographs that document the recent development of services except for Focus on the child by Elkin and Lonsdale, which covers issues such as child development and literacy as well as providing examples and commentary on recent library developments. The dichotomy between the role of public libraries in education and their place as a provider of entertainment is considered throughout.

Pioneering libraries for children

Prior to the passing of the 1850 Public Library Act few children had the opportunity to use a library, either for borrowing books or for reference purposes. Those libraries for children which were in existence were to be found in schools or Sunday schools and were supported by donations from agencies such as the Religious Tract Society or the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK). The children of the middle and upper classes who attended private schools would have had access to collections of books and other material to support the curriculum but children from the poorer classes of society had little chance of finding materials to support their intellectual development.