Kate Grafelman: Looking back at the history of the library’s children’s department

By Kate Grafelman

For The Republic

This year’s National Library Week, which occurred April 3-9, invited library users to connect with their library. In the Children’s Department, we decided to connect with our library’s past by researching the history of the Bartholomew County Public Library Children’s Department. It was as fun and charming as we expected!

Our first stop was a research appointment in the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives, which is just down the hall from the Children’s Department. We pored over pictures of storytimes past, toddlers choosing books, and fashionable library staff at the children’s circulation desk. Further research was done from our desks as we made use of the library’s online local history resources, available at mybcpl.org/resources#LocalHistory.

We learned that the first library storytime was held on Oct. 22, 1904. Storytime was called “Story Hour” in the library’s early days, and it looked very different than the storytimes we currently lead. This first Columbus library story hour was held in the basement of the then-new Carnegie library building. This building was located approximately where the library’s Large Arch sculpture currently stands. Rather than the picture books, songs, and rhymes our current little ones know and love, this event was an hour long talk, with no books, given by Lydia Newsom about a trip she had taken to Italy. Children age 14 and younger were encouraged to attend these story hours.

A Republic article from the fall of 1969, when our current building opened to the public, explains how story hours would work in the Cleo Rogers Memorial Library building. In this article, families learn they can register children age 4 or 5 for a series of 30-minute storytime sessions. These storytimes were held in the library’s Red Room, which the article points out has stairs that are perfect for storytime seating! While we do still have storytimes for this age group, we have expanded our offerings to include storytimes for babies and storytimes for toddlers. Now that our remodel is complete, we also make use of the Red Room for our storytimes when it is too rainy to have storytime in our preferred location: the patio outside of the Children’s Department.

While these differences in children’s programming are interesting to read about, it’s the ways that our current programming echoes that of the past that I really love. When it became too cold for storytimes to continue outside in the fall of 2021, our community partner, The Commons, allowed us to move our storytimes to their Miller-Tangeman Lobby. This meant we could continue providing weekly storytimes through the cold months while the Red Room was remodeled. I learned from my research that the library has conducted storytimes at The Commons in the past, including a series of storytimes in 1978. As early as 1969, library staff partnered with Irwin Gardens to host storytimes in the garden. We have repeated this history as well! At the end of April we were lucky enough to partner with the Inn at Irwin Gardens to host a storytime in the garden, with another is on the schedule for Monday, May 23, at 10 a.m.

I love that storytimes have been a central part of library programming since 1904, and continue to be. We would love to see you at one of our six weekly storytimes. To find storytime dates and locations please visit mybcpl.org/events.