What I Want My Son to Learn from Libraries

Oleg Kagan
Jun 17, 2019 · 4 min read

On this, my first Father’s Day, I sat down to reflect on what I would like to teach my son to help him be a good person in his life. Naturally, my thoughts drifted towards libraries, and not for nothing; libraries and librarians have had an essential positive influence on my life. Out of so much that I have received from the institution and its heroes, the ideas that stand out the most aren’t necessarily the ones I’ve gathered from a lifetime of reading. Certainly, those are in abundance, but it is the very values of libraries themselves that speak to my heart asking to be passed on:

Sharing is caring (the commons)

If there’s anything that I would like my son to learn from libraries it’s that there is a great power in sharing with others; if everyone contributes a little then we all get so much more in return. The very existence of the commons is easy to take for granted, and the library is one of its most enduring examples. The commons, generally, is a symbol of members of society caring about each other’s needs, isn’t it? I can only hope that my son will grow up to understand, treasure, and fight for this deeply humane concept.

Appreciation of our differences

Another thread that runs in parallel with the caring that is inherent in the commons is the library’s “Open to All” ethical stance. This hasn’t always been the case, but I am proud to say that today’s libraries are trying to be at the forefront of treating our differences with sensitivity. One day, I know I will walk into the library with my son, hand-in-hand, and he’ll see people at the rough end of their luck. He’ll probably wonder about them. What a moment for a lifelong lesson! Despite their circumstance, we are all people and should treat each other with respect. A situation many librarians live every day.

Take it slow

Reflecting on such an experience will take time — quiet, unhurried, and thoughtful. Libraries are the type of place that encourage a “slow information” approach to life; a salve for constant emphasis on the now and new. Recently, the NY Times ran an article on “listening bars,” a subset of Japanese coffee lounge or bar (kissaten) culture where highly curated music is played through high quality sound equipment and patrons are asked to keep their conversations below the music. Libraries have long been proponents of this sort of interaction with books and space, and while many libraries get rowdy during high times like after-school, most are ideal reading/thinking lounges during the morning and evening hours. I’d like to develop in my son the ability to attain pleasure from a deep focus on a sense perception, or simply uninterrupted contemplation.

Long-term thinking

One of the tenets of developing library collections is to consider the long-term need of particular items or subjects within a community. The purchase of books for a long keeping, and the general notion of thinking well beyond the present moment is a vital skill for a successful life. Academic librarians and archivists know this very well; when I worked at the Pacifica Radio Archives, I had to be cognizant that future archivists would come into contact with every change I made to the way the collection was organized, every mark that I made on an item, and every piece of metadata I entered into the database. Would they be able to understand what I was thinking? I had to be mindful, as we all need to be about the actions we take now both in our personal and public lives — actions by which someone in the future may be affected.

Curiosity and a love for learning

Between my parent’s emphasis on learning and our weekly trips to the library, I was always encouraged to be curious about the world. I’ve kept this quality as an adult and feel that it is one of the most important characteristics we can have as people. Libraries are the cornerstones of curiosity! Their existence is a paean to questioning and a reminder of the beauty that there will always be more to know. I would like my son to be curious and will do everything I can to make this so. One of the first steps? Regular trips to the library!

The good thing is that the little guy is just three months old and already has his first library card! While looking ahead as a new parent is completely daunting, I do look forward to the time when he is older and we can joyfully trounce into the library together on the hunt for new books and so much more!

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Oleg Kagan

Written by

Author, editor, speaker, writing coach, and librarian. More at olegkagan.com


Stories about libraries and librarians around America. We cover the breadth of experiences that people have through their libraries, and showcase the amazing people who work there.

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