Here’s something you may not know about the World Famous (or at least Los Angeles Famous) Children’s Literature Department at Central Library. If it weren’t for a puppet show, it might not ever have existed. Okay, make that a lot of puppet shows. And a cadre of dedicated librarians and volunteers who fought for a library for the children of Los Angeles…especially downtown Los Angeles. Let’s take a trip in the Way Back Machine with former Senior Librarian Renny Day, back to 1976…
"Whoever gets this job must make it inconceivable that the Children's Room would be closed!" That was the pronouncement from Loyce Pleasants, Director of Central Library, who was a tall, handsome woman with high cheekbones and a forceful personality. Across the desk was an extremely nervous children's librarian from one of the smallest branches in the system. The Board of Library Commissioners had already voted twice on the suggestion to close the department. The vote was 3 to keep the department and 2 to close it and use the space for adult collections since, as one Commissioner said, "There are no children in downtown Los Angeles."
The new Senior inaugurated a Saturday series of story times and puppet shows, contacted local schools to book walking trips to the Library for book talks and puppet shows, and set the puppet stage (built by her son) in a corner of the reading room so that children could put on their own impromptu plays.
Soon, the halls were full of families on their way to the Children's Room, which was in a remote wing of the first floor. The Director of Central Library insisted that the hours of the department be extended to match all the open hours of Central. And the vote to close the Children's Room? That never came up again.
Today, the Children’s Literature Department puts on an average of 40 puppet shows a year, usually in the fabulous KLOS Story Theatre. We have lighting, microphones, plenty of props and puppets (including some made especially for the library by artist Carol Onofrio, who also creates the puppets for the annual FOCAL Award), and a pretty amazing collection of puppet show scripts, some adapted from other sources, others original.
For many children, a library puppet show is as close to a live theatrical performance as they may ever get to experience. For librarians, it’s a fun way to share stories. And for the Children’s Literature Department of Central Library, puppet shows are one of the main reasons we are now able to do what we do in one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.