Age Restrictions And Opening Doors

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By the 1890s public libraries were eliminating age restrictions and opening their doors to children. They shelved collections of children’s books in closed stacks with the adult books, or in open shelving within adult reading rooms. Eventually, children in the adult reading room created a nuisance for the adult patrons. At Denver Public Library John Cotton Dana remarked, “for the comfort of the elder reader it is certainly desirable that children not come in large numbers into the part of the library in which the public is given access to the shelves” (Kimball, 2014, p. 491). As a solution, libraries began to house their children’s collections in separate children’s room away from the adults. The term “children’s room” appears in library professional literature in 1890 (McDowell, 2014, p. 523). That same year, the first children’s room was opened in Brookline, M.A. under the supervision of the library’s janitor (Sayers, 1963, p. 9-10). In 1896, Lutie Stearns published her “Report on Reading for the Young,” a survey of children’s work in 195 libraries in the U.S. and Canada, and found that between ⅕ and ½ of the membership of responding libraries were children under sixteen, but only a handful had a separate children’s room (p. 82-85).
The first architect-designed children’s room also opened in 1896 at the Pratt Institute Library and according to supervising librarian Mary Wright Plummer, Pratt’s children’s room was built “chiefly to relieve the pressure of circulation in the
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