During the first years of the establishment of the Windsor Public Library, children under 16 were not even allowed in the library. A great deal of discussion involved lowering this bar to the age of 14 in 1919. Since then, librarians at the Windsor Public Library worked tirelessly to educate children about books, reading, literacy and research, but emphasized the importance of sharing the joy of reading with children. A story hour had begun as early as 1918 at the Willistead Branch, with the Windsor library following suit the next year. Hilda Rankin was appointed the first children’s librarian in 1919.
In 1932, lack of space forced the children’s library at the Carnegie Branch to move to an exclusive space for children’s books at the John Richardson Library Branch. Subsequently, other children’s branches were established as in elementary schools (see Bricks and Mortar). By 1954, the board room at Willistead had been turned into a children’s library. Services for children at that time included, “clubs for children, including a girls’ poetry club, plays by youngsters, dolls and dollhouses, marionettes and schoolroom visits for book talks” (WPL Annual Report, 1954). Pre-school-aged children had their own story hours at the Hugh Beaton and Seminole Branches.
Children’s Book Week was first organized in 1920 and Canadian Book Week in 1921. These events fostered encouragement to Canadian writers and supported their work to the Canadian reading public. Young Canada’s Book Week was an annual event that encouraged children to celebrate books by dressing up as their favourite characters. At the inter-library finals of the 1950 competition, 300 Windsor children took part. Young Canada’s Book Week featured readings and plays presented by children and a series of short radio programs on the local CBE radio station. In 1961, during the 13th annual celebration the Young Canada Book Week was credited with increasing the number of children as a result of the event. At one library, the traffic of young readers was higher than that of adults.
The Windsor Public Library also supported families by developing programs with Parent-Teacher Associations, who organized literary quizzes at the Bartlet House, inviting young customers from the Detroit Public Library to compete with Windsor’s literary youth.
During the 1960s, Summer Reading Clubs were offered for children, and a prize was offered for the most books read and reported at the club gatherings. In the WPL’s 75th anniversary report, programs for children had two purposes: to let children know what programs, resources and books were available at the library, and to establish an enduring relationship between children and the library, “which will foster and promote an interest in reading for personal pleasure and enrichment” (WPL 75th Annual Report, 1969).
A diversity of programming was offered by 1969: a reading by local author John Spellman of South Asian folk tales at Willistead (and it was noted that meeting a local author was unique for children), Black History week, poetry reading and folk singing written by children for children and a visit with a popular British author-illustrator, Brian Wildsmith. Picture books for children were increasing in popularity at the library.
Services for teenagers began in the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. Librarians sought to “graduate” grade 8 students to adult books and encourage them to use resources at the library, although opinions varied as to what age this would be appropriate. Soon after its opening, the Seminole Branch librarians realized that local teenagers needed a welcoming space at their neighbourhood branch and that more than reading services were needed for them. The librarians called in the Family Services Bureau to arrange programs and showcase their resources for teens at that branch. New layouts of children’s and teens sections were developed to separate teen books from younger children’s books.
In the 1970s, chess games and tournaments were offered for children at the Windsor Public Library, with sometimes over 100 children taking part.
Collections of Teen-focused books grew, but a more dedicated approach was needed in the current century to meet the needs of teenagers. In September 2011, the first Teen Zone was introduced and coordinated by Librarians. Librarians of 1919 who first allowed children over 14 access to books would be amazed by the contemporary Teen Zones at Central, Budimir and Riverside locations in 2012. Over 2000 teens a year take advantage of the unique resources made available to them: laptop computers with wireless internet, video game consoles and large flat-screen televisions, at Riverside, a selection of musical instruments and sound mixing equipment for teens to be able to make and mix their own music. The selection of graphic novels has grown and teens have access to local graphic artists for advice about writing and illustrating their own graphic novels. Teen Zone activities are available during after school hours, and equipment is available to the rest of the WPL customers in other hours. Chess sets are still in use.
More programs for pre-school-aged children began at various branches. In 2002, an Early Years Advocate encouraged the Board to allow the opening of a new Children’s Learning Centre which was focused on providing resources and programs on the critical early years of childhood, 0 to age 6.
The after-school Library Live programs are the contemporary equivalent of children’s story hours, with programs developed by WPL staff for elementary-aged children with activities ranging from interactive readings to crafts, music and drama.
The days are gone when children had to “hush” when they came to the Windsor Public Library; but according to library policy today, “children under 10 years should normally be accompanied by a parent or guardian.