I was twelve when I first stepped foot in a public library. I remember walking up the steps precautiously, wondering what lied on the other side of the door. I knew there’d be books and a librarian, and perhaps other things; who knew? I wondered if they would be able to tell that I was a newbie, if my excitement would be obvious and if I’d find that I belong in this world of books. I had read few books up to that point. I was a great student and considered a good reader, but books were not readily accessible, so I read the same books over and over until I committed them to memory. But on the other side of that door I knew there were new books, more than I had ever read, more than I could imagine reading.
That first visit to the library in a small neighborhood of Haiti turned out to be more than I could have possibly imagined. There were a few hundred books in the 3-room library. The squeaking of the floors as we walked on the old, manicured wood was the loudest sound we could hear. It was serene, and wait for it…there were others. That quiet afternoon, there were nearly a dozen students in the library, easily identifiable by their school uniforms, all reading. It was a haven, and I am quite sure my overwhelming excitement was oozing through my pores.
I sat with my friend, and we read. We stayed for maybe an hour, perhaps longer and I checked out my first book with a new library card I received that day, with my own name and signature. I remember feeling a tad unprepared because I had not perfected my signature yet at that point.
I went back to that first library many times…and I have since been a frequent flyer at our local libraries.
Now I get to take my children and share the love of books with them.
Their experience, though quite different from mine, carries just as much excitement, and I hope they will remember these visits to the library and the memories they make within the walls of that safe haven for book lovers.
Your story is likely different from mine, yet there are countless great reasons for you and your children to visit the library as well.
I narrowed down what I believe to be the top 10 reasons to visit your local library soon.
Read free books and borrow books for free. Did I say it’s for free? We have purchased a few hundred children’s books since becoming parents seven years ago. Yet, there are so many more books that we have borrowed from the library. Our home collection is no match to the public library. The sheer volume of books is thrilling. The library makes it easy to discover new stories and authors without incurring the expense of buying every book that peeks your child’s interest, adding up to substantial savings over time.
Attend classes for free. Lately I must admit that most of my visits to the library happen on Thursday or Saturday mornings. Why? Storytime, of course. Our library network hosts storytime once a week, at different branches. Since three of their branches are near my house, I would attend once or twice a week. It is a great opportunity for your little one to see and interact with other children without attending a formal program. This is however a benefit to those who don’t have children or whose kids are older as well, as the library offers classes for all age groups and interests.
Speak to a librarian. If you’re not sure what your library offers, do not fret. Ask a librarian. Really, do! This past summer I nearly missed out on a great opportunity to take a phenomenal science kit home for my inquisitive 6-year old that included two books, lesson plans, a microscope, specimens, and an iPad with preloaded science activities. That is, until I asked a librarian how to engage my 6-year old in science more. I was floored when she told me about the science bags they had available over Summer. I checked it out (for free) and had 2 weeks to use all of the items before returning the bag. We made great use of everything in the bag, and it was hard for him to part with the iPad. The librarians also keep a schedule of the activities taking place at the library and they will gladly help you.
Borrow movies. For those of us on a budget, the library beats going to the movies or even the Red Box. It provides free movie rentals. Granted the movies won’t be the latest releases, but in my experience the age of the movie does not matter to children, as long as they like it. I am always asked whether we can take a “new” movie home when we visit the library.
Hang out, and play or relax. Seriously! The library is a great hangout spot for the entire family. Our local library has a Discovery Room. Think specialized playroom with music instruments, farm and wild animals, puppets, blocks, books and a tower. If your child is not the seat down and read type, or is too young to read for longer than five minutes, you can read to them there while they engage in play. If your children are older, there are teen rooms and study rooms, designated for study and more mature kids. Check with your library and see what options are available.
Help with school assignments. I don’t know about you, but I was surprised to see how long my pre-Kindergarten Summer reading list was. My first grade list was even longer. My avid reader wanted to read every book the school recommended. Each of those years, I took his list to the library instead of the bookstore and we checked out almost every book on his reading list. Our librarian recommended close substitutes for the books we did not find. It was such a breather, particularly at a time when I had to spend on other school supplies. We have since gone back to the library for other projects and reports, the most recent being his Black history book report.
Bring the world to them. The library is one of the most diversified places I have ever walked in. Regardless of where you live, inside of your library, there are countless individuals that your child can meet who are different from them. Expose them to new worlds by reading books from authors who are from different parts of the world. Help them to see how people lived in the past by reading historical books, or simply by reading books that are now out-of-print.
Use the computer. Initially I was reluctant to let my little one use the computer. I thought his time could be better spent since we have a computer at home. (Newsflash, we have books at home too!) I have since looked at what programs they have available to kids. To my delight, the library has computer programs tailored to children and their developmental needs. Use of the computer there is not a passport to mindless web browsing. The time that children spend on the computer at the library can be quite useful.
Teach responsibility. The day my son got his first library card was a great one. He waited in line, spoke to the library helper and got a new card that he signed. We took pictures of him and his new library card and he checked out his own book. We talked about taking care of the books that he checks out.
Borrow a music CD. When all of this is done and you’re ready to leave, you can ride home listening to a new tune, that they will say “Encore” to. Why? Because you’ve checked out a music CD from their favorite band or TV show from the library as well. Our library has “The Fresh Beat Band” CD on shelf and I am simply thankful that we returned it before I went Banana.
Without getting too sentimental, I must say that my best reasons for going to the library are a 6 year old and a 1 year old. Really! If our library was a small room, with books, cracked floors and fewer programs, I would still love it. Raising my young boys to love books is one of my heart’s desires. Children who love books constantly discover new worlds. They are not bound to the here and now. They can learn about the experiences of those who came before them and the aspirations of those who live now and are shaping the future for them. They become participants in the literary dialogue, even if all they can read and understand now are syllables and rhymes.
The library tells children it is OK to read; it is OK to love books and there is a special place for book lovers to gather and feed their passion.