The smallest of Library patrons find their way through alephbeys and ABCs at the Norman Berman Children’s Library (NBCL). Like the adult library, the NBCL offers children and their families books and other materials in five languages (English, French, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian). For children from six months old and up, the NBCL is an often raucous space for learning and fun.
Children’s and young adult education was a priority in Jewish Montreal; indeed amongst the first early childhood education programmes were developed by the Yiddish secular school systems. By 1920 more than 10% of the JPL’s circulating collection were children’s books. In 1951, a donation from the Naturman family enabled the newly created Mr. and Mrs. Naturman Children’s Library to move into its own separate space and hire its first librarian, Shulamith Boxer. By 1974, the Children’s Library was re-born in the Cote Ste-Catherine library location through the donation of books from the National Council of Jewish Womens’ Boys & Girls Library of the Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association. Anticipation for the opening of the new Children’s Library was so high that the Library was forced to open weeks ahead of schedule. In 1981, it was renamed the Norman Berman Children’s Library (NBCL) in memory of Norman Berman.
Engaging youth began with “Story Hour” during the early days of the JPL. Designed to offer children access to the vast riches of Yiddish literature, the weekly programme was led by many well-known Jewish Montrealers including Yiddish poet Ida Maze and theatre director Dora Wasserman. Given that the JPL hosted many authors, poets and musicians, children throughout its history have had the opportunity to interact closely with scores of international literati. On some occasions children would even have the opportunity to recite works in front of the authors themselves. This tradition has not changed as the NBCL continues to present authors and musicians such as Monica Hughes, Gordon Korman, Libba Bray and Grammy-award winner Jennifer Gasoi. Through these lectures and workshops, the youngest Library members are encouraged to find and share their own stories. The NBCL is the gift of learning and understanding from one generation to the next.