Full details in the 1900 Annual Report of the Children’s Library in the Providence Public Library, at its opening in mid March 1900. It was on the second floor, had well over 4,000 volumes, open 10am-9pm and 2pm-9pm on Sundays. At the opening H. P. Lovecraft was aged nine and a half years, and no doubt revelling in his amazing new library…

“No portion of all the building has apparently given more pleasure to adult visitors, as well as to the young people themselves, than this attractive room with its growing plants in the windows, its open book-cases extending around the room, its choice photographs on the walls, its picture bulletins, its low tables, its flood of sunshine, and the smiling faces of the children themselves. On the shelves are 2,602 volumes of juvenile fiction, 1,941 volumes of non-fiction, and 175 volumes of juvenile periodicals, bound, making a total of 4,718 volumes. […] Two of the gratifying achievements of the year have been the reclassifying of the juvenile fiction, so as to give it an alphabetical arrangement, on the shelves, and the completion of a card-catalogue for the use of this room, with a low table, near by, on which to use the drawers. This catalogue, and the books of reference in the room, are by no means the only instructive and civilizing influences by which the children are affected. Habits of order inculcated in returning the books to the shelves; of neatness, in keeping hands and books spotlessly clean, and of taste, in making the acquaintance of the literary and art treasures which the library has to offer [the third floor offered a dedicated art library, and the main Lecture Room exhibitions on the second floor had opened with the inaugural “Photographs of Rome” exhibition, repeated there in October 1901] are of no little moment.”

“Personal contact of the child with the Children’s Librarian [Mrs. Mary E. Root, with Miss Lilla R. Burge in the evenings] has been the aim kept in view throughout, and it has been abundantly realized. The study of pictures, an hour of story-telling; an evening of lantern-slide pictures; a consultation in regard to summer trips; confidences in regard to the child’s own natural bent, as for instance, mechanical ingenuity, or amateur photography, are some of the phases of this admiral intimacy between the child and his library friend. […] The equipment and resources of the Children’s Library have repeatedly been put to practical use in connection with the teaching of nature, of literature, of history, of art, and of geography. The two-book system, already mentioned above, has been of constant service, in supplying an additional book for use in connection with school work. The Class Room, adjoining the Children’s Reading Room, has been utilised by teachers, with classes, for the study of such subjects as King Arthur, and has also been used for posting picture exhibits. The interest in this room, on the part of the public, has shown itself in repeated and most cordial gifts from those who have witnessed the plan of work in this room. […] One prime object of work in a [Class R]oom like this is to introduce the children to books which are not “children’s books.”

A footnote to this 1900 Annual Report is interesting, since Lovecraft was about to break into the adventurous phase of middle-childhood, and he became in his own words “a veritable bicycle centaur”, exploring for miles around on the bicycle…

“At the beginning of the summer [1900], a map of the vicinity of Providence, showing the routes favourable for cycling, trolley, or walking trip, together with about twenty views of attractive places in the vicinity, were posted in the Class Room.”

A few weeks later Lovecraft was given his first bicycle, on his tenth birthday.

Additional details from Proceedings of the Montreal conference of the American Library Association, 1900, pp.63-64…

“Into this children’s library, with its 4000 books on open shelves, were turned loose on the opening day some two or three hundred children, who had never before had access to open shelves in this way. Their interest was intense…” [after an initial struggle to get the children to understand the need for accurate re-shelving…] “Often our boys are seen going to shelves and straightening out rows of books which some less careful child had displaced.” […] “We desire that these few pictures [shown] on the walls shall be old friends; and so we allow every League child to select his favourite from among them, in the shape of a “Perry picture,” [mass reproductions of art works as very cheap paper prints] which he may take home and mount, and thus have for his own. […] Not only have there been no disturbances or disorder, even on days when the rooms were crowded with almost twice as many children as there were accommodations for, but there has been only the very slightest tendency to disorder on any occasion.”

The Children’s Library issued the Maxton Bookmark with each book, which contained guidance on care for the book…

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Elsewhere in the 1900 Report (p.23) the account of the new 1900 library notes a “Library League”, on which the Montreal conference conference paper adds that this was for those children who were not yet grown to be “large boys or girls”. The League’s inaugural helper members were treated to an evening lantern slide show on Sept 12th 1900, although the subject of the slides shown is not given. Having established itself, the League later expanded to a membership of hundreds.

There was also The Short Story Club which had a lecture on “The Islands of the Pacific” on 27th December 1900, by a Mrs E.S. Colcleugh, who had evidently visited Tahiti and photographed there. One wonders if the young Lovecraft might have been a member of one or both of these clubs, since he was at that time both an avid book-hound and a budding short story writer.

Also noted (p.58) in the 1900 Report are details of the series of 1900 interior photographs, and who made them…

“A set of 20 photographs of the building, and its exterior and interior details, by Mr. A. L. Bodwell, was suitably mounted, and exhibited in the American Library Exhibit [presumably at the Montreal conference of the ALA, June 1900], at the Paris Exposition of 1900 [World’s Fair, April-November 1900], and afterwards at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901. Other views have been published and are for sale by the Providence Albertype Company and Abraham Mendenhall, Providence. Any of the above may be ordered through the library.”

So if I am correct in identifying the 9½ year old H.P. Lovecraft in an 1900 interior photograph, then the picture would have been made by a Mr. A. L. Bodwell and Lovecraft’s young face might once have been seen in Paris. The picture would then most likely have been taken mid to late March 1900, in the week or so after the new library opened, so as to be ready for shipping to the opening of the Paris Exposition in April.

The following 1901 Report noted of the Children’s Library…

“The larger of the two rooms, the Children’s Reading Room, has repeatedly been full, to overflowing. In such instances the overflow is, very naturally, into the next room,—the Class Room,— or into the Lecture Room, on the same floor. […] The habits of order and cleanliness which are so firmly and successfully inculcated in this department (and yet without in the least impairing the perfect spirit of freedom, everywhere manifest), are most impressive; and are undoubtedly closely connected with the fact that the “Library League” formed among the children themselves now numbers nearly 1,000. Some progress has been made towards facilitating the “graduation” of young readers from this department into the other departments of the library.”

By 1901 a Sarah E. Albro was the evening librarian at the Children’s Library, replaced by Harriet A. Tourtellot in 1903. The amount of users had necessitated the appointment of a day assistant to the Children’s Librarian, and by 1902 a further assistant was needed but not yet appointed. The 1901 Report also mentions a Library Art Club. 2,820 volumes were in the third-floor Art Library by 1902, one floor above the Children’s Library.

In 1902 Mrs. Mary E. Root, Children’s Librarian, gave a large number of lectures to its users on the methods of accessing and using any library. One presumes that the young Lovecraft attended one or more of these.

The 1902 Report mentions an Alfred M. Williams Collection of Folk Lore, then standing at a massive 1,909 volumes, and recently catalogued. The name strikes me as being somewhat similar to Lovecraft’s fictional “Albert N. Wilmarth”, professor of literature and folk lore at Miskatonic University. The Annual Report of 1922 confirms its ongoing presence there. Rhode Island Heritage has a biography online for Williams. It appears his collection was and is especially strong on Irish folklore. Williams’s books are scanned and on Hathi Trust, including The Poets and poetry of Ireland and Studies in folk-song and popular poetry.

The Library issued a public reading list on “Arctic exploration” in 4th October 1902, perhaps co-inciding with strong interest on the topic among the boys? Lovecraft was obsessed with polar exploration, but this interest pre-dated the 1902 list. And by 1902 he was newly entranced by the Antarctic, in preference to the Arctic.

So, all in all, it appears that from the vital years from 9½ to 12 Lovecraft had access to a really superb new local library, perhaps one of the finest the USA has ever seen. Not only that, but the Library was also uniquely one that gave its child users ‘free reign’, in exchange for their good conduct.

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