Visit your local library — it’s changed a LOT

G’day, fellow readers.

I have written previously about how important reading to children is, and about dragging kids kicking and screaming into reading, and how to do it well.

Today I would like to reintroduce you to that priceless resource, place of wonder and endangered species in some areas — your local library. Now I have known libraries in Australia and Japan, and apart from the dominating language of the books on the shelves, I have always found libraries to be just like this:

Whether you are a writer, reader, two-year-old, two hundred-year old, mother, father, butcher, baker or candlestick maker, the library is there for you — it is your place, you are welcome there and you can discover magic inside its doors.

A walk down Memory Lane

I remember as a small child, aged around four or five, when I lived in a little country town, the mobile library van would come out once a week or so and we could climb up the steps and into a book-laden paradise on wheels. The van was packed to the rafters with books, on shelves, in boxes, on the floor — and we were welcome to climb in, crawl around and explore. We were allowed to borrow a couple of books each and take them away in the certain knowledge that the next week we would see the van again and get a chance to discover new friends and their adventures.

What a happy memory that is for me. Mobile libraries are a thing of the past in that country town, and I suspect, many others.

Always welcoming

I never felt unwelcome at a library, probably because of that early experience. I always felt I could go in, pick a book off the shelf and sit myself down there to comfortably while away an hour or two.

In fact, in my college days and my early working life, if I had time to kill between classes, or shifts (in another life I worked as a lift attendant and Santa Helper at a department store, and sometimes had to work a split shift, with several hours off in the middle of the day), I would often wander down the street to my local library.

With libraries in many schools and cities worldwide being defunded and devalued by authorities all around the world, you really need to revel in your incredible luck if your town even has a library, and seriously celebrate if they value the library, its staff and its role in the community.

I challenge you to jump online right now and google your local library. If you have one, I can tell you for sure: you’re in for a surprise!

Libraries today

If you haven’t set foot in your local library for a while, you may not be aware of the wide variety of resources, training, books, newspapers, DVDs, music, workshops, events and activities that are on offer. Emerging from social isolation, having a new baby, or even reading this article, are perfect excuses to check your local library out!

Shhh! No talking! This is a LIBRARY!

The problem is, I think many of us might have the idea in our heads of the forbidding librarian glaring at us over their glasses and shushing loudly. Library staff have always been instrumental in creating either a welcoming or a forbidding atmosphere. Back in the day, libraries could be quite intimidating places, with knowledge seemingly locked up within hard-to-access books, which only the initiated were permitted to open.

But today, libraries are much more family-friendly. Children are allowed to run and get excited, there are often cafes in larger libraries, and there is usually a cozy corner for parents to sit and read books with their children in peace. Librarians are trying very hard to foster an inclusive atmosphere rather than hiding the magic of books behind stern rules and regulations.

Here are just some of the great things that your library may offer:

  • It amazes me today, the number of parents, new and experienced, who don’t know that even newborn babies can get their very own library card.
  • And that libraries offer activities for kids, nursery rhyme mornings, story and craft times, school holiday activities, author visits and more.
  • Libraries also these days are a great resource for people who don’t have the internet at home — free internet usage, and even tutoring on how to get around it, can be found at the library.
  • If you are an internet user, you can usually go to your local library’s website and look up books, even put them on reserve, all from home.
  • For those who aren’t book readers, most libraries stock a good selection of magazines, newspapers, and CDs and DVDs.
  • For those who can’t get out and about so easily, some libraries I know of offer a volunteer service, where people can order books online or over the phone and a volunteer will bring them to your door, and collect the old ones.
  • If there is a book you want, and you can’t find it or it is on loan, you can order it — libraries don’t always buy every single new release, but they will often order it in if they get a request for it.
  • The library staff, in a well-run and well-regarded library anyway, are highly trained and at the very least are great readers, and can often make recommendations for books appropriate for kids — or recommend books in the style of a genre or author that you like. If you go to a library fairly regularly, you will become known to the staff and you will find that they are friendly and willing to help.
  • Some libraries offer a research service, in which you can bring your questions about Richard the Lionheart’s eating habits, and they will come back to you with all the details you need — this can be great for people writing fiction or non-fiction who need a little professional research help.
  • Libraries have no dress code, no behavior restrictions other than the simple rule of live and let live (often translated as don’t disturb other patrons!), no age restrictions, and best of all, they are free! How many places can you go in public as a single mother, with dirt on her shirt from the lunch battle and ragged old yoga pants, with a squirmy, hands-into-everything toddler, and be not judged, but welcomed as an old friend?

I am a firm supporter of libraries. And I encourage you to be the same.

In the United States, getting kids into reading is definitely on the agendas of many major libraries. Incredible designs, kid-friendly areas where there are activities, space to run and play, and a great range of books and reading-related activities all add up to awesome options for families who want to help their kids fall in love with reading.

Check out these awesome examples in Chicago, Salt Lake City and Dallas, for starters. Or these in Arlington, Avon Lake, Boston, Brentwood (LOVE this one), Long Island (LOVE this one too), Cerritos, Clinton Township, Franklin Lakes, Charlotte, Keller, Crown Heights (Brooklyn), Magna and Kensington.

The best thing to do is to search your local library or libraries online and find out what activities they offer for kids.

I recently got the opportunity to interview a wonderful librarian at my local library in Australia — a fairly small suburban library which is still a hub for the community, hosting kids’ activities, writing and drawing competitions, art exhibitions and regular community events and services. This awesome professional told me all about two very common activities for children which are run all across Australia. See if your local library offers something similar and if not: make some noise!

What is Rhyme Time?

Rhyme Time is a session for babies incorporating action rhymes and songs; its aim is to encourage parents to sing nursery rhymes, play with finger puppets and have fun with the language — an important part in developing baby’s awareness of the sound and rhythm in spoken language and an important foundation for early literacy. But most of all, Rhyme Time is a fun session for babies and parents (at least it is supposed to be) and a great introduction to the library and its resources. A lot of “Rhyme Time” babies “graduate” to Story Time sessions (for toddlers, incorporating reading stories and simple craft activities) and parents continue to bring them to the library to borrow books and use our fantastic collection.

What is Story Time?

Story Time is another program for kids and it is an ideal session for toddlers. It is more involved, as in addition to singing we read books and do simple craft activities. At our library, Story Time sessions are on twice a week in the mornings.

Most if not all of the libraries run story sessions — those have been around for years — and many have a weekly Rhyme Time. Also, some libraries offer comprehensive school holiday activities — workshops, visiting performers, etc.

What can the library do for a community — what is a library, in your view?

Many people think that libraries are quiet places: so often people tell me that I’m lucky to work in the library; it must be peaceful and quiet and all those books to read…Our library is not quiet and no, we don’t have time to read! It is a wonderfully dynamic place with lots to offer for everybody. People come here to read papers, borrow books and movies, use our computers for a variety of tasks, scan and email documents, book plane tickets, do banking, job applications and all sorts of things on the net. Kids come after school to wait for a bus or be picked up, parents bring babies in to borrow books or just spend some time out of the house. It does not matter who and why they come to the library everyone is welcome (Gee, I sound like an advertising board!!! But it is true!) Libraries are people’s places, full of things to share.

So get down to your place today and share something with yourself, or your child. And see what your library can offer you.

Top Writer in Parenting, Food and Cooking. Lover of language, history, travel, writing and life! Visit @EmilyMMorganMe or http://www.emilymmorgan.info.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store