Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Library Love

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!


Stacy (mama-om) said...

Those are GREAT ideas!

I was traumatized at our local library a few months ago... there is a new managing librarian there. This library is one room... there are three shelves, a few tables to a sit at, sitting area with stuffed toys, the librarian's desk, six computers and the check-out desk. All in one room.

We've been coming to this library for YEARS.

Until one day, when we were there, the new managing librarian came over and told me, "Can you please encourage your child to be more quiet?"

She meant Mica, who is maybe 2 at the time who was picking up the stuffed animals and saying "uh" to them. He was not yelling, just saying "uh."

She was nice enough, in fact, overly polite in her request, but my face turned bright red anyway, and I didn't know what to do. I just felt like crying right then and there. I wanted to ask this woman whom I had never seen before but who suddenly had so much power over me, "Do you know how hard it is to go places, anywhere, with two small kids? Especially during the winter in Seattle?"

But I smiled, and then packed up the kids and cried while walking them home. It took me weeks to go back to the library. In the meantime, I found out that the woman who had spoken to me (I had asked her her name at the time) was the new branch manager. I even talked to the regular librarian, who knew us, about it. Like, isn't most of their clientele children? Why do they have the stuffed toys? How quiet is a two-year-old expected to be? Etc. She really commiserated with me and even implied that everyone felt a little oppressed by the manager's expectations.

But, I digress. :)

[Can you tell I was traumatized?]

Anyway, since then I've thickened my skin and can handle seeing her there but I have to admit that I feel really anxious about how "loud" we are when she is there and not so much when the other librarians are there. I really only feel comfortable there before/during/after storytimes now.

But, you, Debbie, have inspired me to take ownership of my local branch of the public (PUBLIC) library. :)

So, thank you.


poppy said...

Stacy, wouldn't you agree that that Debbie is just amazing? I think we all (and by all, I mean you and me) have had times when we felt publicly ostracized for supporting our children as individuals, and for supporting our own needs and strengths to be positive and inquisitive and, yes, even considerate growing-ups. I for one am much more likely to be clever or ironic or rude when confronted with this sort of well-meaning opposition. But you and that Debbie persevere and in fact come up with an Inspiring Solution. I spend probably two-thirds of my life these days in the library, but not the public library; rather I hide in the stacks of the university's library. And while I'm doing that Debbie is coming up with Brilliant ways to Engage People (of all ages) with one another. I am in admiration. I just love her. I'm going to go upstairs and crawl into bed with her (with Ani between us) right now! Thanks for having this talk with me. Good night, Moon.