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All Are Welcome: A History of Nolen Library

Kamaria Hatcher
April 29, 2020

Nolen Library reader

Storytime reader in Nolen Library

"The [Uris Library and] Resource Center should be the place where beginners of any age can start learning what the questions are."—Caryl-Ann Miller Feldman, Uris Library and Resource Center Study Report, April 1984

Nolen Library began as the Junior Library, part of the Junior Museum, dedicated to serving The Met's youngest visitors. From the beginning, The Met's only all-ages library has been a peaceful gathering space, an epicenter for visitors to learn more about the artwork at The Met, and the home to a unique and wonderful collection of picture books.

Early Nolen acquisition

Front cover, An Art Reference Library for Children (New York, 1965), compiled by Catherine Crask

The Junior Library opened on Thursday, October 30, 1941, two weeks after the opening of the Junior Museum and coinciding with that year's Children's Book Week. An article from a 1942 Met Bulletin describes the Library's original collection as "154 Museum publications and 357 other books," and its role in Museum life: "[The Junior Library] is not only used as a pleasant place to relax after touring galleries, but is the main goal of a great many visitors, juvenile and adult. It is unique in that its scope is carefully limited to subjects which have a bearing on the Museum's collections, with a few books chosen as works of art in themselves" (Alfred Busselle, Jr., The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 37, No. 2., Feb. 1942).

Nolen books

One of the oldest picture books in Nolen Library next to one of the newest. Left: Kate Greenaway, Under the Window: Pictures and Rhymes for Children (London; New York: F. Warne, 1880s); Right: Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, The Undefeated (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019)

The Junior Library underwent several changes in the following decades, the first taking place in 1958 with the renovation of the Junior Museum.

Nolen Library

A photo of the Junior Library as it was in 1958

"[The Library] is very pleasantly situated… some two thousand carefully selected illustrated books make this a restful and rewarding spot even on the busiest days. Here children seek answers to their many questions about art, work on school projects, or spend a quiet hour browsing and looking at chessmen in small, lighted display cases and examples of American painting from the eighteenth century to the present on the walls above the open shelves." Such paintings continue to decorate the walls of Nolen Library today. (Louise Condit, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Vol. 16, No. 9, May, 1958).

Painting in Nolen

Mark Baum, Seventh Avenue and 16th Street, 1932 (1983.122.2). "On view" in the Nolen Teacher Resource Room

In 1983, the public space on the Museum's ground floor was transformed into the Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education. While many of the original features and the name of the Junior Museum were removed, the educational mission remained, and The Junior Library became the Uris Library and Resource Center, serving not just children, but teachers and people of all ages as well.

Uris Center 1983

Photo of the Uris Center Library after the 1983 renovation

Volunteers have long been an integral part of libraries at The Met, and Nolen is no exception. Several of Nolen's current volunteers have been with the library through many changes, remembering its history while continuing to contribute their hard work and dedication to its present and future.

Christine Wierzba has volunteered in Nolen for thirty-five years and remembers some of the wilder, more elaborate resources that the library once held: "There were suitcases [of resources] for Egyptian, Greek and Roman, and other collection areas but the trunk—yes, a small trunk—for the Indian collection was everyone's favorite: beautiful fabrics were included in this trunk, as well as reproduction objects. Teachers were advised to bring a carrier if they planned to borrow this trunk."

Volunteer Karen Rosner recalls, "I also remember that at our first location, you'd walk out of the library and be immediately confronted with a model of the Parthenon on a pedestal. It included a large statue of Athena."

Parthenon from 1958

A photo of a model of the Parthenon from 1958 (sans Athena), situated in the old Junior Museum

Sadly, the Parthenon model in the Uris Center is no longer there. In the mid-2000s, the ground floor underwent yet another renovation, and in 2007, the new Uris Center for Education opened, and the library was at last the Nolen Library, named for Roland and Eliot Nolen.

Under a new name, in a new location, and in a new and beautiful space, Nolen Library has continued to play a vital role at The Met. Library staff collaborate with the Education Department, of which the library was a part until its management transitioned to Thomas J. Watson Library. Over the years, Nolen has presented and participated in a number of great programs for visitors of all ages, such as hosting children's book authors or acting as an activity hub during events like Teens Take The Met.

program flyers from Nolen events in 2015

Examples of program flyers from Nolen events in 2015

Most notably, the long-standing and wildly popular Storytime program regularly delights over a thousand children and their caregivers every month. Now you can even participate remotely!

Family Storytime

Afternoon session of Family Storytime (usually for ages 3 and up, but all are welcome)

Nearing the 80th anniversary of its founding, visitors are not the only ones who have been delighted by Nolen Library's presence at The Met. We'll conclude with another long-time volunteer, Jenny Lando, sharing one of her favorite Nolen experiences:

"A moment I loved was when the Museum had to remove some volunteers from desks and asked certain departments and libraries to come and present to these one hundred or so volunteers who needed to be relocated. I was asked to attend for Nolen... I stood up and spoke about our open shelves, the families who rejoiced in Storytime, and the patrons who came for quick questions, or to watch a video. I mentioned how all the 'librarians' were not necessarily that and how our team of 13 or so was constantly in flux but that we all loved research and art and art history. At the very end, a few ladies stayed and spoke with me about how to sign up for a shift. One of them was tall and lovely and had clear eyes which looked right into you, but with compassion and warmth. She reached out and shook my hand and said that she wished all one hundred volunteers could work in the library. I thanked her for the compliment and she said 'No, thank you.' She then asked my name and I told her. She responded with 'I'm Eliot Nolen and I am so glad people who love art are in our Museum libraries.'"

Kamaria Hatcher

Kamaria Hatcher is the assistant museum librarian for reader services in Thomas J. Watson Library.