Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Evanston Public Library #2: Won’t Someone Please Think About the Children?

January 19, 2016

In a sense, it was because of the children of Evanston that there even was an Evanston Public Library (but more on that tomorrow).  As it happens, kids have always been integral to EPL’s success.  So much so that in 1899 that Library formed a school children’s league.  We don’t have enough leagues these days.  It just sounds neat.  League.

But I digress.  In the late 19th century this league had a single goal: “To create a deeper interest in books and good reading.”  If you wanted to be a part of it then all you had to do was sign the pledge.  Sign the pledge, get a pin, shown here:


If you can’t read it, that’s the league’s motto down below.  It reads: “Clean hearts, clean hands, clean books.”  Now when I was first starting out as a children’s librarian I remember thinking that the librarians of the past were a little kooky when it came to keeping books physically out of the hands of children.  After all, 1899 is about when the idea of a “children’s librarian” came into being at all.  Prior to that it was not uncommon to ban kids from the library entirely.  Librarians were under the distinct impression that children would ruin their precious books.  As a young librarian I pooh-poohed that notion.  Then, one day, I got my hands on a book for kids that had circulated widely in 1911 or so.  The pages were covered, just COVERED, in coal dust fingerprints.  Back when a major source of heat was coal, kids just got swathed in the stuff.  Think back to Harry the Dirty Dog.  It was like that.  So it was not ridiculous at all to believe that their hands would leave impossible-to-remove black smudges everywhere.  The motto of EPL’s league makes a lot more sense in that context.

I was granted a chance to look through a grouping of old photographs of EPL from the past.  Today, I’ve plucked out the interesting ones starring children for your reading approval.  enjoy.

1922 Children's Room

Let’s start off with the Children’s Room in 1922.  It’s interesting to note that the fireplace is already boarded up.  A nod to new ways of heating the building (and it’s not as if having open flames around books is the best way to preserve them, after all).

Model Boat

This one came with the caption, “Raymond Sandburg standing beside a model boat he built with the help of Library books.”  Not that he was posing or anything.

Boy Scouts

“Boy Scouts Fanning Miles, Gene Preetorious, Steele Martin, and Amos Matthews, earning badges in 1941 by using the Library’s collection.” Consider it an early predecessor to Boy Scout Troop 3 here in Evanston.

1947 Storytime

This is a storytime from 1947.  Please note that unlike a lot of photos from the past, the kids here are fully integrated.  It is actually a bit difficult to find integrated storytime pictures from this long ago.  I also love the number of striped shirts on the boys.  Classic.


Who needs DVDs when you’ve got stereoscopes?  It was a simpler time.

Remember too that if you’d like to see images of child patrons of EPL today, just head on over to the Readers of Evanston tumblr.  It’s like Humans of New York, but better!











Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.

Translate »