It may come as no surprise that I was a library kid. Libraries are a very fond memory of mine, from childhood through college and into adulthood. I remember going at least once a week – sometimes twice! – with my mom and sisters, sometimes the kids she was watching, too. (That was around the time she was an in-home nanny.) I still know the layout of the first library I frequented, from where the videos were to the carpeted children’s area, the paperback display and (unless the layout has changed, which it surely has) I could also go directly to a few of my favorite books, so long as they weren’t checked out. Anyone with young children who wonders how they’ll make an avid reader out of their kids should consider having a library schedule. I plan to for my son, and I hope it will be something he comes to enjoy.
A child’s first library card is a wonderful thing. I don’t remember what age I could have one, but as soon as I could I got one. There was a one-book limit for the first checkout and you had to return it in a week. If you did that, you were upgraded to a THREE-book limit. THREE! I was so excited. I checked out The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and I know this was a time when we were doing twice-a-week visits because I didn’t realize I could have turned my book in early and upgraded to three books right then.
Childhood series are a great way to get kids reading, if they can get hooked on a character or two, then they’ll keep reading for as long as that character is written about. For me there was Encyclopedia Brown (Donald J. Sobol) – a young boy who was so good at solving mysteries because one summer he read through an entire set of encyclopedias – and the Wakefield sisters of Sweet Valley (Francine Pascal) – blonde twins as alike as night and day. The Sweet Valley series was so prolific that there was even a television series. (Again, note to parents.) Spend a little time looking through existing series, because some (Sweet Valley) have the potential to grow with your child, advancing their reading level as they track through middle school, high school, and even college.
Frequenting a library with your child can have other positive consequences. As I got older and fewer of the events were geared toward my age group, I instead began to volunteer. Every summer our library had a summer reading contest, where as you read books you could get different prizes. When I was too old to compete (probably 6th or 7th grade) then I would volunteer my time to get other kids signed up, suggest books, hand out prizes, and even just help out around the library by putting away books or helping people use those new-fangled computers. Time for a quick plug to my parental friends in east Tennessee – the Knox Library Summer Library Club for Children just started accepting registration. Even if you don’t have time for a library schedule, just reading at home with your child is enough to shoot toward this year’s prize – a stretchy supper hero. (Probably not infant safe – I’ll be asking what else they have since last year they did have safe rubber ducks.)
Through high school I know I didn’t spend as much time in the library, but in college the library because a great place to not only study, but to grab a bite to eat, relax, or even sneak a nap. I was in awe of the size of my campus library, I’d only seen another like it downtown. Not just for books, there were also museum-like displays about the history of the college and notable alumni. It wasn’t until my third year that I discovered a small, walled-in section with sheet music and CDs which became a great place for musical inspiration. If I ever find it, I’ll even post the poem I once wrote while sitting in that college library. A silly little counting thing to get my mind off exams.
In the last few years, my husband and I have moved a lot, and one constant has been libraries. It’s always great to seek out public libraries in a new town, and even better when they turn up just across the street! We lived for six months in Arizona, a time made stressful by the excessive heat and dirt (even the cacti looked dead, but I just didn’t know any better). We lived in an apartment and the highlight of our time there had to be the library. It was very nearly just across the street (it might have been two blocks away) so I could easily walk back and forth, even in the dry desert heat and loaded down with books. This particular library had one of the more extensive manga collections I’d ever seen so I spent a lot of time playing catch up since I hadn’t been an avid reader since high school.
So now we circle around to the present day where I pop over to the library about every other week, sometimes taking my son when I can so he can be a part of the Baby Bookworms program. We have another move planned, and so in our trip to scope out Los Alamos I made sure to look in on the library. (It’s very nice.) In the digital age, I’m glad libraries are still around. Staring at a computer screen can’t compare to holding a book in your lap, and the expansiveness and searchability of the internet is still no match for just browsing the stacks and picking up an old favorite or trying out something new. Library – here’s to you.