(c) Internationale Jugendbibliothek
Sep 24
Sep 24

Anniversary conference

Jella Lepman: New perspectives on her life and work


The founder of the International Youth Library, Jella Lepman, is one of the most influential figures in German post-war history. Born in Stuttgart in 1891, she grew up in a middle-class Jewish family and became involved in women's issues as editor of the Stuttgarter Neues Tageblatt in the 1920s, writing stories for children on the side. In 1936, she emigrated to London via Italy, where she worked for the BBC, among others, and, under a pseydonym, wrote a study on Women in Nazi Germany, which was the only study of its kind for a long time. In 1945, she returned to Germany as part of the United States' re-education programme and worked for the American military government with the military rank of major as an "advisor for the cultural and educational interests of women and children". 

Jella Lepman was an initiator, activist, and networker who wanted to make a contribution to the democratic transformation of society through children and young people. She considered children's and young adult books to be the most suitable medium for communicating intercultural understanding and Western values. In 1946, she opened the "International Exhibition of Books for Young People" at the Haus der Kunst. The selection was later turned into a travelling exhibition that toured major German cities with great success. In 1947, Lepman travelled through the USA to win over influential partners and sponsors to support her idea of an international youth library. The founding of this library in Munich in 1949 was her greatest success and is regarded as her lasting achievement. Today, this innovative and globally connected institution is the largest specialised library for international children's and young adult literature in the world. Jella Lepman was its director until 1957. In 1953, she also founded the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY), an international network for the promotion of children's and young adult literature and reading that now comprises about 80 country sections.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the International Youth Library, a conference will be held to the life and work of this extraordinary woman, focussing on previously lesser-known aspects of her multifaceted work. 

The conference programme will be published here in spring.