When my sister and I were little, our mom brought us to the library about once a week. I have very fond memories of those trips: sitting at the miniature tables, pulling books from the shelves at random, gazing up and over the counter as the librarian scanned our books, and finally, loading my purple canvas tote bag with that week’s treasures.
I live in a city with a large library system, and the books I want to read are often distributed across multiple branches. For this reason, I make liberal use of our library’s online reserve system. Library trips can be as simple as asking Jason to pick up my books on his way home from school—there’s really no need for me to ever haul both kids into the library. Yet I do. Not every week. Sometimes not even every other week. But enough for them to be familiar with the library, its glass double doors, the carpeted path to the children’s section.
Sometimes these trips are traumatic. My daughter takes off her shoes and runs giggling through the stacks, announcing that she’s a doggy. She taps frantically at the computer keyboards and says, “I am just looking for a book!” Her little voice echoes in the high-ceilinged reading room and I find myself saying, “Shh. Shh. Whisper!”
But I firmly believe that children should be comfortable in libraries. While I certainly try not to inconvenience the other patrons, I think that making the library magical for children is more important than silence. I feel genuine pity for people who never spent time in libraries as children: never plucked a book from the shelf based on the title and fell in love on the first page, never lost track of time in a reading nook, never experienced the thrill of getting their first library card.
If you come upon my family in the library, you’ll hear us before you see us. We’ll have picture books weighing down our tote bag My daughter will insist, “No, I’LL DO IT!” at the self-checkout, awkwardly sliding barcodes beneath the scanner before grabbing the receipt and dashing for the exit.
What you won’t see is the scene that unfolds when we arrive home. I usually need the bathroom, and the baby needs to eat, and the house is a mess, but my daughter heads straight for the couch. She tries to heft the tote bag onto the couch, and can’t, and settles for lifting each book individually. She sits down expectantly until I am able to join her, her small body curled against mine, as we turn the pages together.