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Who was Jella Lepman? What is the International Youth Library in Munich?

Jella Lepman (1891-1973) founded the International Youth Library in Munich in 1949 and the International Board on Books for Young People (I.B.B.Y.) in 1953. She was a German-Jewish journalist who fled to England from Nazi Germany in the 1930s and returned in October of 1945 with the U.S. Army as Advisor for Women and Youth’s Issues.

Her autobiography Die Kinderbuchbrücke, was published in the English-speaking world in 1962 as A Bridge of Children’s Books. In 2002, O’Brien Press issued a new edition of A Bridge of Children's Books: The Inspiring Autobiography of a Remarkable Woman.

In her memoirs, her encounters with homeless children in the ravaged landscape caused her to posit, “Wars have always been, from time immemorial, the enemies of children. Wars force children to grow up without a childhood; if only for the sake of children, there should never, ever be another war.”

She organized a traveling exhibition of children’s books. She wrote, “I proposed an exhibition of the best books for children and young people from different countries.”

This exhibition led to the establishment in 1949 of the Internationale Jugendbibliothek München (“International Youth Library in Munich”). Publishers from twenty-three countries contributed 8,000 books.

The International Youth Library was first housed in a large house or mansion on Kaulbach Street. Today, the International Youth Library (I.Y.L.) is the largest library of its type in the world.

Since 1983, it has been housed in Blutenburg Castle, also known as Blutenburg Palace – one of the former residences of the Wittelsbach dukes and kings of Bavaria – and the International Youth Library holds annual exhibits there.[1] When Blutenburg Castle was first built, it was a country retreat, but the Munich has grown to the extent that the castle is now in the city’s Obermenzing quarter.

The I.Y.L. has thirty-two full-time and part-time staff members at Blutenburg Castle. The book stacks are in the cellar under the courtyard. Visitors of all ages and speaking many languages visit the I.Y.L. in the halls of Blutenburg Castle.

Exhibits, which are designed to be enjoys by adults and children alike, consist of original works of art by children’s book illustrators, surveys of children’s literature in various countries or cultures, and current or historical aspects of children’s literature. The I.Y.L. also generally offers programs for school groups that visit the exhibits.

The exhibits usually come with an accompanying catalog or recommended list of books. Some of the exhibits have become traveling exhibits.

One of the most popular traveling exhibits is Hello, Dear Enemy! This is a selection of children’s books on peace and tolerance.

It has traveled in assorted European countries, India, Japan, and the United States. Updated with a new catalogue published in 2006, it now has eighty titles from twenty countries (for a total of 120 books) accompanied by twenty text and picture panels.

Since 1996, a foundation, Stiftung Internationale Jugendbibliothek, has maintained the International Youth Library. Most of its funds come from the German Federal Republic’s Ministry for Youth Affairs, the Bavarian State Ministry for Education, and the City of Munich. Private individuals, institutions, and publishing houses also donate money and books.

[1] The Bavarian Department of State-owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes, as it has been known since 1932, evolved from the in the 18th Century stewardship division, one of four administrative divisions in the court of the dukes/prince-electors of Bavaria. Under the 1808 constitution of the Kingdom of Bavaria, the royal palaces were named an inalienable part of the heritage of Bavaria. In return for the royal government paying the cost of the royal court, the royal family agreed they could not sell any of the palaces. After the last king, Ludwig III, was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1918 (at the end of World War I), the palaces on the civil list became state property. Over time, the department acquired ownership of other historic properties, many of which are tourist attractions, such as King Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein castle and the Imperial Castle of Nuremberg. Today, the Bavarian Department of State-owned Palaces, Gardens and Lakes has a staff of about 850 people, including conservators, art historians, and gardeners, who maintain forty-five palaces, castles, and other residences; St. Bartholomew's and some other churches; the Hall of Liberation in Kelheim and some other monuments; twenty-seven gardens, and twenty-one lakes.

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