I love books, but my relationship with libraries is troubled. There's the fact that I can no longer seem to return anything on time. Really, though, that's tangential. My main problem is with the book building itself and its caretakers.
I took The Boss to one of the larger libraries in the area and moseyed into the children's section for the first time. She was enamored of the big, blue Elephant book case and the lower laying alligator. She picked out several books and lured me to the "kitchen," which is Boss-speak for the "couch." It seems she has confused the "tch" of kitchen with the "ch" of the couch. She waved the books in front of me and bolted for the institutionally upholstered library seating. "Kitchen, mama! Kitchen!" When I realized the discrepancy, a lot of her daily dialogue made more sense.
We sat on the couch/kitchen and read some Clifford. The rest of the room was quiet, with a couple young boys milling about in the stuffed animal section and a few girls sitting cross-legged in aisles, books in their lap. I was overly conscious of my voice. I was unnerved by what I knew could only be the hawkish eyes of the librarian.
On our way out, enroute the check out desk, the librarian handed me my books and my card with this admonition: "For future reference, your daughter really needs to wear shoes. It's for her own safety."
I looked at the pink loafers in my hand and sighed. I pictured the moment, a half hour before, when The Boss ripped them off. It had been an authoritative gesture on her part. I would've been crazy to try to wrestle them back on.
"Yes, ma'am." I shoved my borrowings into a plastic bag and hauled The Boss into the rain.
We went back this morning. The Boss was properly geared in socks and double-knotted sneakers. As she was playing with a puzzle, I noticed a list of "rules" on the table.
1. Children must wear shoes.
Okay, I can understand that one. I am no more in favor of parasitic fungus on my daughter's feet than any other mother. It always chafes a little to be reprimanded, but I get it.
2. Please use library voices at all times.
A-ha! "Library voices." That is the crux of my problem with libraries, or at least the children's section. How does a place where one must speak in paranoid whispers lend itself to playful education? It doesn't.
This is what I'd tell the Friends of the Library, if I was so bold: take your puzzles, your stuffed animals, your toys, and donate them to a space where kids can be kids. Leave the books. Leave the uncomfortable couches. Leave your bifocaled librarians. Then figure out how to instill in your toddler zombies a quiet affection for literature.
I love books. I always have. Without exaggeration, I'd take out 14 books on each of my childhood trips to the library, only to return half a week later for replenishment of the exhausted supply. But I did not love the rules. I did not love the librarians. In fact, I retreated even deeper into the pages of every book just to get away.
I know there are libraries out there where kids are encouraged to act in an age-appropriate manner. Where two year olds can speak in the only way they know how: loudly, with animal sounds, with songs. Where the rules are designed around children and their spongey minds. I'm a bit saddened that I've never located one of these libraries, but it won't make me stop looking.
In the meantime, I won't tell my daughter to hush. Not yet. She needs to find her voice before she can modulate it.