For the past century, libraries have focused on reaching the youngest members of the communities they serve—children. Starting in the late 1910s, the idea of developing library spaces in schools became a focus for educators, coinciding with a rise in literacy rates among young people. The movement for children’s libraries grew from libraries in schools to dedicated children's materials at public libraries or new libraries especially for children.
Children’s librarians began organizing a professional community of practice with the Section for Library Work with Children organized in 1901 (later, the Children’s Library Association) and the Young People’s Reading Round Table, which met for the first time in 1930. These groups later merged with the American Association of School Librarians to form the American Library Association’s Division for Children and Young People in 1941. As the ALA restructured, the children’s focused group changed names, eventually organizing as the Association for Library Service to Children in 1977.
Providing resources for kids was more than just a professional focus, but a programmatic one, too. Libraries have integrated things like reading programs, story hours, and stocking books on local schools’ summer reading lists. While some early children’s reading rooms, particularly in urban areas, were seen as a source of shelter and structure for young people, with a regimented order similar to a schoolhouse, later spaces were designed to be more creative and relaxed. At the center of these new designs and programs was public librarians’ understanding that they played an important part in helping children access and appreciate reading and learning.