Parents know that reading aloud to their children is important. But in the age of two-day Prime shipping and the instant gratification of eBooks, do people even go to the library to get books anymore?
Library usage data says yes. Recent figures show an overall decline in library use, but tie this to a decrease in investment. User interest is still high. When libraries receive more funding, more people use them. Libraries are serious about evolving to meet the needs of today’s patrons.
September is Library Card Sign-up Month, which is a great reason to visit your local branch. Here’s why my family goes to the library all year long:
It’s free and easy
It costs me as much to take my three kids to the trampoline park for two hours as it does to foot our family grocery bill for a day. A stop at the library, whether for 20 minutes or a whole morning, costs nothing and pays extra dividends with the time my children spend poring over new-to-them books when we get home.
It’s cozy in the winter, cool in the summer, and the fish in the fish tank are always waiting for us.
There’s something for everyone
Libraries want families to use their resources, so it is in their best interest to make visiting pretty appealing. The library programs we’ve enjoyed in the various places we’ve lived include baby sign language classes, drum circles, toddler stay-and-play, art activities, parenting talks, community meetings, and more.
We pat the therapy dog who comes to listen to older kids practice reading. My kids usually run into a friend (or make one), and I get to commiserate with other tired parents.
You take the books home and bring them back
When I was expecting my first child, a book-loving friend wisely advised, “Don’t let a book into your house that you aren’t willing to read a thousand times.” Given children’s love for repeated readings, this is a good mantra.
Library books, however, supply a loophole. Christmas books in June? Sure, but we have to return them next week. Ten books about fire engines? Yep, and when we’ve read them all, it’s someone else’s turn. When my kids are older, I hope they’ll find series they want to devour, just as I remember doing. I don’t want to buy dozens of installments, though, or store them. Cue the library.
Libraries are shared spaces
Our visits to the library always begin with negotiations about which child gets to push which buttons for the automatic doors and elevator. Then there’s a reminder about using our “library voices.” The children’s section is a great place to practice this voice because there are other kids practicing, too. And practice is good, because it turns out a library voice is similar to a “restaurant voice”, a “bank voice”, and a “post office voice.”
Learning to take care of public property is a life lesson. It’s good for kids to know that another child probably wants to read “The Skeleton Pirate” just as much as they do, and the book just isn’t as good with the giant whale page ripped out. Let’s just say that the time one of my kids had to empty his piggy bank to pay for a library CD he broke in half made a lasting impression.
Waiting can be good
My on-demand kids don’t know what it’s like to wait until Friday night for a show to be on TV. They don’t know even know what it’s like to wait for a cassette to rewind. At the library, though, they have to wait. A book they want might be checked out by someone else. The newest story by a favorite author may take a while to arrive on interlibrary loan.
So we wait, and then we enjoy.
Before Google, there was the nonfiction section
Kids ask a lot of questions. While it’s flattering to be considered a fountain of knowledge, I’d like for my children to become self-directed learners. Looking for answers to questions about what sharks eat or the rules of soccer in the nonfiction section is a concrete and satisfying way to respond to kids’ curiosity.
When I’m bigger, I’ll read that book
Libraries are not only full of books, they are also full of people who read them. What better place for young children to envision fulfilling reading lives stretching before them than in the company of picture-book loving peers, students curled up with chapter books after school, and adults engaged in research or work or reading for pleasure?
Parenting is busy and full of feelings of obligation. It’s easy to feel like you “should” take your kids to the library and not make it there. Make the library work for you and your family. The fish in the tank will be glad to see you.