Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Loving and Barefoot

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.


Major Bedhead said...

Oh, it sounds like our library out here behind the Tofu Curtain. The children's librarian kicked our playgroup out, refused to let us use the spare room, because the children made too much noise. It was a closed off room, separate from the rest of the library, that we used for one hour, once a week. I haven't been back since. Bitter? Moi?

I'm an avid reader, too, but I never remember the children's section of our library being a place of sepulchral silences.

I hope you can find a more child-friendly library.

Anonymous said...

As a librarian who regularly reads your blog, I was a bit disheartened by your love-hate relationship with libraries and librarians. (For the record, I'm not bifocaled, but I do wear contacts!) That said, I'm surprised to hear that there are still libraries that post these kinds of rules. I have worked in several libraries in the suburbs north of Boston and they tend to be loud community gathering places - especially the children's rooms, and especially when children's programs are going on. So much so, that sometimes I feel badly for the people who come to the library looking for peace and quiet.

Jenifer said...

This is precisely why we don't go to the library... and probably accounts for why we own so many books I not longer have any place to put them...

slouching mom said...

We're lucky to have a children's section that is comfortable and kid-friendly. And kids are allowed to be noisy.

Thank goodness.

jen said...

oh, amen. in fact, roll around on the floor covered in pages of books just like that scene with a naked demi moore rolling around on a bed full of money.

jen said...

i mean, if you are going to get in trouble, GET IN TROUBLE.

Meg said...

This drives me crazy. In my mind a children's room of a library should be welcoming and warm and well, encourage a freaking love of reading!

I am a regular at our library although I find the children's librarians to be cold and un-welcoming. I persist because I love the idea of going. I keep hoping they will upgrade the staff and really make the library what it should be: a place where it's more than ok for children to demonstrate enthusiasm for books, reading and learning.

I often go to the library and face fines. One thing that has helped is that I got a designated basket for all of the books and videos that we borrow. While it doesn't eliminate the fines- it has certainly reduced them.

I am thinking of talking with the director of the library about the feeling in the children's room... but I haven't gotten there yet.

Mrs. Chicken said...

Hear, hear! I get SUPER frustrated when we get admonished at the library. Thankfully, our library in Urbana isn't like that at all, and there is only one librarian who gets hinkey with the babies.

We try to avoid it on her scheduled days.

ps - love love love your last sentence.

toyfoto said...

I was so hoping to be able to commiserate with your laziness about due dates or of trying to adopt the attitude that the money in late fees is going to a good cause . ...

But WOW. I'm happy to report I can't relate to the attitude about children being seen and not heard at the library. How sad.

Our library's children's section is the happiest place on Earth ... especially on Wednesdays. Although I do travel two towns over for it ... maybe there's a better place for you, too.

Andrea said...

Seems to me a library and the librarians in it should be grateful that parents are bringing in their kids to discover books. What with the teevee and video games, reading is becoming less common in the younger set.

I'm with you. I love libraries and the idea behind them (who wouldn't love getting to borrow books for free?) and I even love the peace and quiet in them when I'm there as someone other than mother. But kids, they need a true kid space there. THere's plenty of time for them to learn the "library voices" moderation of the adult sections.

Chris said...

The library where I grew up was pretty good with kids as I remember. We would run around playing. I think screaming was frowned upon but definitely not laughing and talking. We were on a different floor from the "quiet sections" so that probably helped.
Oh well, you can always drag the director in there and have him explain how to quiet a 2 year old who loves books. Without the use of duct tape. That's reserved for home.

Anonymous said...

I was called out by the librarian as all the children and mommies were sitting and waiting for the Saturday morning puppet show.

"We all look forward to seeing the show, but we must sit still and the lady in the back must get rid of her cup of coffee."


The whole room turned to stare at me standing on the fringe of the circle. SO EMBARRASSED.

K said...

How very sad! As a child I lived one block from the library and the librarian was my friend! She was young and always ran fun summer programs and pajama story hours for us kids. I have no children yet, but I hope I don't encounter a library like that when I do. Some of my fondest memories are of the library!

Anonymous said...

I'm so distressed to hear about your ill treatment in the children's section. I truly hope that you and your readers with similar experiences will still keep believing in libraries and the power of reading despite the atmosphere in your library. I am a librarian myself, and while I have my cranky days when one of my 2 little ones have kept me up the night before, I like to believe that my job is to do whatever it takes to have the library be what people need. Children need to be free to read aloud, ask questions, play with puppets, laugh, cry...you know, be kids. That's what children's libraries are for! If I ever start to feel annoyed by and resentful of the people I'm supposed to be serving, I'll quit. That's my responsibility -- my investment in the future of libraries.

But maybe I'm not the best librarian to ask about this, as I am sometimes shushed by patrons. I am a teaching librarian. I like to share my knowledge about books and research with anyone who needs it. So I hold classes in the library. I encourage our students with children to bring their kids in with them while they research or study. This can indeed upset the people who still view the library as a place of utter quiet, whispering book pages the only sound to disturb the silence. Libraries are changing. For the good, I believe, so that they can stay relevant to today's user.

But that can make for a difficult balancing act. We want ALL of our users to be happy, and that can be a real challenge. And far too many librarians, like teachers, get paid next to nothing. And far, far too often I've seen the unhappy situation where parents drop off a young child (I'm talking 5 years old)at the library in the morning and return after work to pick up the child. Leaving the library to serve as a daycare. This can lead to disgruntled, jaded, unhappy employees, unfortunately.

I am in no way excusing your treatment. Don't get me wrong. I am the first to become outraged when I witness anyone receive less than stellar service in a library. But this may be why you run into some nasties out there in library land.

I truly hope that you will keep using libraries. That your daughter will grow up to love libraries. Those caring, kid-friendly librarians and libraries are out there. I do encourage you to talk to the director. Enough library users considerately voicing their concerns and suggestions for the GOOD OF THE COMMUNITY THAT THE LIBRARY SERVES can make a difference.

Oh, and before you feel too badly about the fines... You should know: librarians are the WORST about turning books in on time!!! I'm working on my library to abolish fines. Really -- we trust people to respect the books, dvds, etc. that we loan out and keep them in good shape. Why not trust them to bring them back?

Anonymous said...

I can't see how any parasitic fungi could attach themselves to your daughter's feet in a library. In fact, I can hardly see it happen anywhere where sewer isn't flowing out into the street.

Diddums said...

I was happily reading a library book (thinking I had plenty of time) and suddenly got an overdue notice.

I tried renewing the book online.

Wasn't allowed.

It wasn't in heavy demand or anything of the kind - it was the first time in years that the book had been taken out. Nobody recalled it. It was just overdue.

I went back with it (fuming), and they didn't even charge me. Just accepted the book back and smiled. I said to the person who was with me "they would have let me renew it at the desk, wouldn't they?" and she said "probably." So why couldn't I renew it online?

Still haven't finished that book.