A Brief History of the Public School Library

by, Jo Carol Hebert

October is International School Library Month. To celebrate this occasion let’s explore some fun library facts!

Sh.h.h.h.h! You have to be quiet in here…

Who Doesn’t Love a Library?

Oh, the joys of the ‘school library experience’. The freedom of getting out of class and the power to browse and choose your own book to take home. The joy of turning the pages to unknown facts and slick and shiny colored pictures. And the agony of losing the book and parents having to pay a ‘library fine’ (then you find the book later among the toys of your cluttered room).

A Brief History of the School Library

  • 1600s – The first ‘one-room fits all ages’ schools of earliest English settlers in America had only one Teacher. Six to thirty students crammed into a small area and the ‘outhouse’ (bathroom) was outside. The two main books for instruction in reading, writing, and spelling were: the Bible and the New England Primer with alphabet, sentences, and scripture.
  • 1740 – Benjamin Franklin, early advocate of public education, encouraged the creation of school libraries as a key element of ‘the ideal school’.
  • 1744 – The colony of Pennsylvania designated a specially designed room as a library.
  • 1800s – New York spent tax dollars for schools to buy books.
  • 1876 – One half of the nineteen colonies passed laws for specific school libraries.
  • 1900 – Mary Kingsbury became the first professionally trained Librarian assigned to a public school, the Erasmus High School Library in Brooklyn, New York.
  • 1913 – The United States Office of Education reported 10,000 public school libraries.
  • 2020. Almost 100,000 libraries enrich the American public school system.

Did You Know?

The ancient library of Alexandria Egypt had an equivalent of 100,000 ‘books’. Only the rich and very religious could read them. They were hand-written on roll-up scrolls of dried animal or plant skins. Each one was worth as much as a house.  

The first picture book especially for children was Alice in Wonderland in 1865.

The printing press was invented in 1455 by Gutenberg in Germany.

The first book off the printing press was the Gutenberg Bible.

Traveling libraries, called ‘Bookmobiles’ were very popular in the mid-1940’s.

A professional Librarian needs a college degree in Library Science.  

The need for Librarians is one of the fastest growing vocations because people are using library resources more in the future.

So let’s have a moment of silence>………………………………………………….for all our school librarians who are so much more to children than just a ‘book-checker-outer’.

Thank you for your sharing your love for books, for your patience with noisy kids, for your meticulous reshelving of thousands of books, and for maintaining that safe and memorable place of childhood:  the School Library.

Ode to a Library Book

An ‘ode’ is a literary style of poem that shows a serious, formal, or thoughtful approach to the subject. This poem is intended to encourage reading a book, but also uses the ‘ode’ as ‘humor’ (for fun), and ‘personification’ (presenting a book as a living, breathing thing).

A lonely care for books on shelves in vertical positions

that stare ahead, accepting with submission, their condition.

Stoic in their straightness (though some lucky ones may lean –

when someone takes their neighbor down

and leaves a gap between).

Waiting for a needy soul

to grip them with desire;

they grasp those precious moments

when they’re opened – to respire.

It strikes me that my life and limbs

can take me to my fate;

I can leave and close the door,

but books can only wait.  


  • Vertical – straight up and down
  • Stoic – suffering patiently
  • Gap – a space
  • Grip/Grasp – hold on tightly
  • Respire – breathe

Categories: Celebrations

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