The Children’s Library in Downtown Orlando
The Albertson Public Library 1923 – 1964
When the Albertson Public Library opened on November 8, 1923, the Children’s Room was located on the ground floor or basement on the east side of the building at the corner of Central and Rosalind. Weekly story hours, monthly birthday celebrations, special events and vacation reading clubs drew large numbers of children and parents.
The Children’s Room featured smaller versions of the furniture used in the rest of the library. Blueprints of the library show the east side of the building with the street level entry doors to the right.
Blueprint 225-2 below, shows the ground floor or basement of the Albertson Public Library with the Children’s Reading Room on the right side at the corner of Central and Rosalind.
This portion of blueprint 225-1 (below) shows the east side of the building with the retaining wall and gate detail for the street level entrance. The area just inside the gates noted on the blueprint, is where the children’s garden was later located.
Using newspaper clippings and flyers, the Children’s Department scrapbook documents all the events presented for children of all ages from 1924 to 1930 at the library and in the community, including the Beacham Theatre! Attendance statistics and notations provide the names of books and movies shared with the children in Orlando almost 100 years ago.
In 1935, Miss Annetta O’B. Walker of Portland, Maine made a donation reported to have been between $3500-$4000 dollars to create a beautiful garden just inside the gate on Rosalind.
1966 – ORLANDO PUBLIC LIBRARY
The Albertson Public Library was demolished in 1964 and the new Orlando Public Library was dedicated and officially opened to the public on August 7, 1966. The Children’s area was in the basement of the new building at the corner of Rosalind and Central.
A recently digitized black and white film shows two young African American children visiting the Children’s Library and the 2nd floor of the 1966 library. The film was recorded for use by ITV (Instructional Television) at Orange County Public Schools in the early 1970s. While the film’s audio did not survive, the visit to the library is fun to watch, especially if you remember the library way back when.
The basement’s low ceilings, quiet surroundings, and furnishings that were just right for youngsters, created a cozy setting for families with children. Puppet shows were presented in the children’s area, as shown in the photo below.
Although only about one third the size of the current Children’s Library, the Conference Room and the auditorium, with seating for up to 200 people, were available for Story Time and other events.
The Children’s Department initiatives to encourage reading included “Catch ’em in the Cradle,” “Sharing Literature With Children” and “What’s So Great About Books” which received the CINE Golden Eagle and John Cotton Dana Awards in 1976. The film was recently digitized and can be viewed on YouTube.com
1986 – ORLANDO PUBLIC LIBRARY EXPANSION
Not very long after the opening of the 1966 Orlando Public Library, it became clear that the current library was too small to accommodate the needs of the growing Central Florida community. A referendum was passed in 1980 to fund a major expansion increasing the floor space from 60,000 to 290,000 square feet.
The Children’s Department was greatly expanded and moved to the center of the building but remained in the basement as it had always been. The basement floor plan (below) shows the layout of the furnishings and shelving.
NEW CHILDREN’S LIBRARY OPENS May 1999
Dorothy Field became the fourth director of the Orange County Library system in May 1995. One of her lasting accomplishments was relocating the Children’s Library from the basement to the first floor of the Orlando Public Library.
Gregg Gronlund, former member of the Storytelling Troupe, explained the reason for the move:
“When Dorothy Field became Library Director, she decided to move the Childrens Department from the
basement to the first floor of the Main library. Children, parents and staff had fond memories of the
basement department, enjoying its safe, separated space with low ceilings and dedicated program
spaces. Nevertheless, Dorothy felt the basement location had an inadvertent stigma of relegating
children to being out of sight and separate. She felt the first floor location made a statement that the
children were important to the present and future of the library and put them front and center. So the
move was done to create an artistically stunning space, with stimulating storybook themed design,
which has been very successful ever since.”
The focus in the new Children’s Library is on literature, floating pages of books adorn the entrance; a castle and mural depict illustrations from The Wizard of Oz; a cracker-style “Cross Creek” porch is reminiscent of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and a colorful mobile “Under the Sea” hangs from the ceiling.
The new location comprised the entire first floor of the 1966 Orlando Public Library, originally the location of the Young Adult Department and Business and Reference areas.
The new Children’s Library opened to the public on Sunday, May 23, 1999, at 4 p.m., with a special event for staff members and their families earlier that afternoon.
The OCLS staff newsletter reported on the event: “On Sunday, May 23, over one hundred staff members and their families gathered to celebrate the storybook opening of our new Children’s Library.”
“After enjoying refreshments and welcoming remarks from Dorothy Field and Ron Harbert, the crowd was treated to the first view of the Children’s Library as Jake Fry pulled the curtain away and everyone entered under the floating pages of children’s literature. The light, bright and spacious area with its unusual and dramatic artistic touches was immediately accommodating to book lovers of all ages.”
“Storytellers Charlie Hoeck and Richard Peeples gathered the group again for song and story and were a great hit. Later that afternoon staff welcomed a huge crowd of adults and children to the opening festivities for the public.”
As a nod to the library’s director, Dorothy Field, scenes from the Wizard of Oz books by L. Frank Baum, including the castle were part of the new Children’s Library decor.
Be sure to view the many photographs of the Children’s Department in the 1966 Orlando Public Library, the 1986 expansion and the Grand Opening celebration of the Children’s Library on the first floor of the Main library on May 23, 1999, below under IMAGES and DOCUMENTS.
Children’s Librarian Margaret Wells passed away on September 19, 2023. She was a caring and amazing Children’s Librarian. She is featured in many of the photos below.
Basement layout with furnishings for the Children's Department 1986 building
The Orlando Public Library Children's Department hosted a traveling exhibition called "The Story of Dick and Jane", March-April 1997
Staff Newsletter - Opening of the Children's Library
February 1974 flyer offering ways for parents to share literature with children.
1976 What's So Great About Books Script accompanied the 16 mm film when loaned to organizations to show at meetings or sold to other libraries and institutions.
Catch 'em in the Cradle booklet encouraging engaging with and reading to infants circa 1980.
Catch 'em in the Cradle flyer circa 1990, to help new parents inculcate their little ones with the love of reading.
Programs for Parents flyer describing programs like Catch 'em in the Cradle, Sharing Literature with Children, and more.
Sharing Literature with Children book created in 1980 by the OCLS Children's Department.
Sales flyer promoting the 16mm film created by OCLS Children's Department staff on Sharing Literature with Children.
Art of Storytelling on the back of the December 1994 Calendar.