Why the Library is Our Happy Place

My kids are voracious readers — especially my youngest. On any given day, we’ll find her curled up with a book in her lair (a hallway closet outfitted with a kid-sized cot).

When my daughters were little, on days I managed to get us out the door without an epic meltdown, we often went to the library for storytime. I’d scour the shelves for Karma Wilson and Berenstain Bears books as my kids investigated the toys. If the weather cooperated, we’d visit the playground afterward.

Now that my kids are in third and fifth grade, our library experience has evolved. No longer am I the only one making decisions; now my girls are in the driver’s seat, too (though of course, I’m still the one doing the actual driving). Now my kids will ask me when we can visit the library and if we can put a book on hold. They’ve learned how to navigate the children’s section and know where to find the latest installments of their favorite series. Once shy about talking with the librarians, now they don’t hesitate to walk right up and ask for help.

Watching my kids grow in autonomy and confidence has transformed me as a parent, too. I’m not a laid-back mom. But at the library, I’ve learned to turn my kids loose without batting an eyelash, letting them dash into the building as I dawdle behind them. As they wander through the maze of shelves, inevitably I’ll encounter another mom I know and we’ll get to talking. These conversations — however brief — are a balm for my soul. Motherhood can be lonely, but meeting others who are walking the same path is a powerful reminder that I’m never truly alone.

I have vague memories of my childhood library in Mountain View, California. I recall poring over microfiche images of articles and feeding coins into the copy machine. My neighborhood wasn’t far from the library, but we had a bookmobile that visited regularly, which I loved. When I was a teenager, our library underwent an extensive remodel. Now it’s gorgeous, huge, and far more sophisticated than my little hometown seemed to warrant.

How will my kids remember their childhood library? I hope they’ll recall it as a place free of judgment and expectations, full of vivid worlds that uplifted and inspired them — or at least made them laugh. When we’re ready to leave and head home, newly borrowed books in hand, whatever might have troubled us earlier in the day is temporarily forgotten. Disappointment, heartache, and frustration fade if only for a moment, dwarfed by the excitement of fresh stories and intriguing characters.

As I drive, my daughters eagerly crack open their books. In the backseat, a peaceful silence reigns, punctuated only by the rustling of pages.

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  1. Glenn Inn
    October 7, 2019

    You have described a penultimate example of what is called the Apprentice Model of leadership and learning (and frankly, just being a good and effective parent).

    When exposed to a new situation, where one is a novice (like kids in a library for the first time), you walk with them and do the steps while they watch.

    Then a while later, you continue to do the steps, but now they start getting hands on to help. (here’s how you use the Card Catalog. Here’s how you talk to the librarian!)

    Next, you let them take responsibility to do steps, and you take the helping role (let’s them see they can actually do– this is a great confidence-boosting step)

    Finally, the apprentice has developed full confidence to the situation. They have been made aware of what can and should be done, what are the effective boundaries, and that they indeed possess the abilities to work in that framework.

    Plus – the kids get to see that HUGE smile on Mom’s face…

    1. Gina
      October 7, 2019

      Interesting, Glenn! It makes me happy that they are proactive about visiting the library and seeking out books that appeal to them. It’s also fun to watch their interests evolve and see what types of stories they’re choosing!

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