Dear Madame Librarian,
When I was a little girl, my mom took me to the library almost every week (as far as I can remember). The open foyer was breezy and sunny. To the left went the children; left again into the big kid section; right and into the little kid section. Low wooden buckets lines the walls in the little kid section, plus a little white shelf filled with teeny tiny peter rabbit books. And in the big kid section, my favorite section, there was a low desk sized perfectly for children to check out their own books with their own library cards. Sometimes I browsed the low stacks, but my favorite fiction books were in the tall stacks. The Wizard of Oz series was on the highest possible shelf which meant I got to pull over a stool to reach them. Each hard cover volume was huge. I loved the smell.
On the other side of the foyer was the grown-up section. It felt specious, littered with complex information and quiet, thinking grown-ups. I could always find my mom to the left, in the fiction. Sometimes I found fiction for myself there too, even though I was still a kid. Sometimes, I fingered the drawers that held the maps, wishing I had an excuse to pull them open. I didn’t; so I pulled open the card catalogue drawers instead and fingered through them. Curious. Like reading through a dictionary.
I don’t remember the name of my favorite librarian. She was the kid’s librarian. She sat behind the low desk and smiled and said hello so kindly. She seemed pleased when I filled out so many summer reading cards to pin up on the wall. I vaguely recall her help and suggestions. She was kind. She was part of the room itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if she actually lived there like Mike Mulligan and Maryanne in the basement of the new town hall.
Today, I brought my own child to the local library. Where you work. I wish it already held as many fond memories. But it doesn’t and, unfortunately, I don’t believe it ever will. Technically speaking, the children’s section is lovely. Tons of books. Big kids, little kids, buckets of picture books, a nice open area for group activities, a little play area with couches, plenty of tables to sit at. But you, Madame Librarian, are a unwelcoming cold breeze sitting behind your high desk. A high desk, I should mention, where you cannot check out your own books if you are a child.
Twice I have asked for help, and twice I have been glared at as if I shouldn’t be disturbing you as you cut our your shapes from your colored paper or gossip with the others. The first time, we spotted a picture of Maisy the mouse. My child wanted to know who she was. Modeling a love of learning and asking for information, I suggested we ask the librarian who she was and wether we might read a book about her. When we asked, we received a glare poorly covered up with a glassy smile. “Sure! We have plenty of Maisy books if they’re not all taken out. It’s a TV show!” I’m sorry, did you just say TV show to my toddler who doesn’t watch TV and is at a library for a reason? A reason having something remotely to do with, say, reading the written word?
The second time was today. My child has displayed a ridiculous fear of bugs. Who knows from whence it came since I spent much of my childhood dreaming of being an entimologist. Upon its discovery I declared, “We’ll just have to go to the library and take out some books on bugs so we can learn about how cool they are!” When we got there, I discovered that all the picture books were stories and the computer catalogue was no help, so I turned to the librarian. “Can you tell us where to find non-fiction books about insects for my two year old?”
You glared at me. “We don’t have any. They’re for older kids.”
“Oh, well that’s alright.” But what I’m thinking is, “Is there a rule somewhere that says little kids can’t look at big kid books?”
“You should have just typed in ‘Insects’ in the computer.” To which I opened my mouth to reply that I had, but you swept out from behind the desk and disappeared into the tall stacks. I grabbed my child and followed you. I had to look down every single aisle since you were completely gone. When we finally found you, you stood there impatiently but then proceeded to list through every single kind of insect we could read about as you pointed to every single shelf. Did you think I was daft? And then you left us, turning back briefly to comment that the books with a brown stripe were for children in grades one through three. Other than showing us where to find the books, that was the most helpful thing you said the entire time.
We found plenty of appropriate books. As it turns out, nonfiction books for first graders to read to themselves are perfect for parents to read to their toddlers. Not too many words, simple sentences, and great pictures. If you were the good childrens librarian I wish you were, you would have known that, and been excited at our search for bug books, and encouraged my toddler to explore the stacks, to one day call libraries her second home. But you aren’t. And that is extremely dissapointing at a time when my child needs to love the library now.
In a few years, I’ll have lost her to the internet. She won’t know how to use a phone book or an encyclopedia. She will not feel comfortable wandering through the stacks alone, pulling random books out to poke through, rubbing her hands across the cover as if it could tell her more than the words. She will love the smell of dusty keys and frying screens instead of musty books that breath their own history when you turn the pages. I need your support now, because in a few years, it will be too late.
As for the dismal toddler and preschool activities you offer, I won’t even go into it. It’s not worth. But you, Madame Librarian, need to get your priorities straight. Encourage the seeking of knowledge from the very books that surround you. Encourage the desire to reach up higher than anyone thinks you should. Welcome us gladly into your day. Are these things not why you became a childrens librarian in the first place?
Single Mom with Tiny Tot
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