The first place we went when we moved here was the Farmer's Market - we went there even before we had unpacked the truck, so eager were we to see some of the very best this little town has to offer. (We weren't disappointed!) The second place, two days later, was the library. As is the case in many families with small children, the library has always been a safe haven for us, a place where we can all find something for ourselves, whether it is a fairy tale, a field guide, or a pile of puppets. We feel pretty welcome in this library - most of the librarians know the girls by name and are not bothered by their endless questions and offers to help with all of the mysterious jobs librarians do (stamping! beeping!). I was excited to learn that they welcome kids as volunteers, and Eliza spent 4 months this year taking care of "her shelf" of fairy tales. The other jobs given to the youngest volunteers - those not able yet to return books to their proper place on the shelves - ranged from dusting to putting new stickers in the DVDs to selecting books to display in their adopted section. These jobs seemed to be done rather quickly, though there were the occasional odd jobs of putting all the puzzles together to make sure none were missing pieces, and the bulk of how Eliza spent her time was doing craft busywork (think decorating paper gingerbread men). This did not thrill me or her and rendered the volunteer position...boring. I came up with a couple of projects that I think will appeal to her, and perhaps to other young volunteers, and in the fall we hope to embark on a new era of volunteering. Some of my ideas included:
- writing a monthly book review, to be posted in the children's section
- becoming involved in the process of donating books to the area's various shelters and hospitals - packaging the books, creating bookmarks
- interviewing some of the regulars - this would be a parent/child collaboration - why do they come to the library, what are they currently reading, what was their favorite book as a child (if they are an adult). This could be paired with creating a portrait of the person as well, all to go into an exhibit - somewhere along the lines of "Friends of the Library".
I am trying to find ways to give Eliza (and other young volunteers) a sense of who the library community is and how the library can operate as the hub of a town. Her favorite thing to do, aside from poring through the fairy tales and graphic novels, is to chat with whomever is there hanging out near her section. She has her library friends - completely separate from me - and even invited one of them to her first Irish Dance performance (which was held at the library) - and he came with his wife! This is where the idea of an exhibit of regulars came in - I think it would be a great experience to interview and draw some of the people she sees there every time we go.
I mention all of this because I think connecting children to their libraries is not a difficult thing to accomplish, and giving them some ownership and deeper connection is valuable. I am looking forward to the day when Eliza is capable of shelving books (ok, was that a dorky sentence or what?!), wheeling the little cart slowly down the aisle, quietly alphabetizing...but in the meantime, I think there might be ways to expand her experience a little more. I also think it is incredibly valuable to have the experience of volunteering, and I'm always looking for places that welcome a family of volunteers. I would encourage you to check into volunteer programs at your local libraries, and if they don't have one, maybe they would be willing to consider starting one!