1928: The First Summer Library Program

In 1928 newly hired children’s librarian, Miss Helen Keating, created a program to keep children interested in reading throughout the summer.  This would be recognized as the first Summer Reading Program offered by the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.  The theme was travel and the program consisted of reading books that correspond to twelve different countries.  Miss Keating, who married Louis Ott in 1930,[1] had an interest in librarianship her entire life.  After obtaining her degree in library science from Case Western University, she became the first children’s librarian at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.  She would later serve four terms as president of the library board and serve as librarian of the First United Presbyterian Church for the last 19 years of her life, where she was recognized for her hard work in 1977 by being awarded the distinguished service award by the national Church and Synagogue Library Association.  In addition to this, she continued her work in encouraging children to read by publishing a bibliography called “Helping Children Through Books,” in 1974.[2] On April 22, 1982, the children’s room of the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library was dedicated in her memory.

Mrs. Helen Keating Ott

The program began May 28, 1928 and children were encouraged to pick up their “ticket” at the library.  They were required to read one of four books to begin their journey: either “Friend in Strange Garments” by Upjohn, “Peeps at the World’s Children,”  “Young Folk’s Books of Other Lands,” or “Little Lucy’s Wonderful Globe.”  After that they would travel onto England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Tyrol, Italy, Spain, and Russia.  After children would read a book for a country, they would have to report back to the librarian to have their ticket punched.  Once completed they would receive a certificate bearing their name and school.[3]

Mrs. Ott in the Children’s Room, around 1928.

On July 4, 1928, it was announced that a first grade school student completed the tour. His name was Robert Emmer, a 10-year-old from Western Avenue School.  The following week, Agnes Contra of St. Peter’s Perochial School became the first girl to complete the tour.  This was followed by Ruth Roesch, Anna Menrath, Evalyn Gross, and Mary and Helen Baughman by the end of July.  Thirty Children completed the tour when in ended on October 1, 1928, each having read 15 books.  The program proved successful and the following year the theme of “treasure hunt” was selected.  Each child received a folder with thirty treasures listed and clues led to certain books where the treasure might be found.  Forty-eight children found fifteen treasures and seventeen of these children had completed the travel tour the year before.

Children gathered around the circulation desk, date unknown.

The Summer Library Program looks different today.  It is not only open to children, but now adults can join in the fun and the prizes are much larger.  MRCPL’s Summer Library Program starts Monday, June 7, for more information check out the library website at https://www.mrcpl.org/visit/slp2021/.


[1] Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 09 Oct 1930, p. 14.

[2] Helen Keating Ott. Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 06 Aug 1979, p. 12.

[3] Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio). 28 May 1928, p. 16.

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