Last week many in libraryland celebrated National Library Week, so, basking in the afterglow, I thought I’d take an entry to give a nod to our libraries. The theme this year was #LibrariesTransform and patrons and staff alike were encouraged to use the hashtag on social media when commenting about how libraries transform individuals and communities. We had a banner week – kicked off by our municipal budget being approved during the Town Vote – which really demonstrates that we must be doing something right. (Whew!)
I’ve always believed that in order for someone to really understand the value of a library in a community, they have to experience an “Ah – ha” moment. A patron has to connect with the right book or service that meets their needs at the right time; making the value of the library very personal.
My hometown in New Jersey didn’t have a library, and though I was a voracious reader — and writer, eventually receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Playwriting from New York University — my “Ah ha” moment came much later. We had just moved to Indiana where my husband was getting his PhD, and I wandered into the public library with two small children. As a kid I hadn’t been familiar with the public library, I pretty much lived in the school library during the year, and we didn’t have many books at home. My mother (who, ironically was a pediatrician – nowadays pediatricians partner with librarians and educators about developing language and vocabulary through parents reading aloud to children) thought reading was a frivolous activity that would only contribute to our already poor eyesight deteriorating worse. If I desperately needed research material for a school paper (and our set of Encyclopedia Britannica couldn’t resolve it) Dad would drive me to the Shrewsbury or to the Freehold Public Libraries twenty minutes away…with their threateningly tall floor to ceiling shelves, 1970’s boxy architecture and shushing librarians (another fun fact: my current library’s addition is one of those 1970’s boxy structures, so it was oddly familiar to me from my first visit). So visiting the main library in South Bend was a real eye-opener. The room –imagine, a room dedicated to children’s books!– temporary as it was, since they were renovating the actual Children’s Room – was bright and spacious. The shelving was low. My kids surveyed the landscape like natives, immediately at home.
When I mentioned to the librarian that I was struggling with toilet training our oldest, the librarian offered me a canvas bag of stuff – books, an audio cassette/book combo and a VHS tape – something from their themed bag collection that they had for parents and teachers, and this one was all about toilet training. Ever skeptical, I checked out the bag and shared it with our oldest, and, as it goes during “Ah ha” moments, Something happened. A patron was matched with exactly the right item at exactly the right time. Adelia sat with her dad and I, reading Alona Frankel’s classic Once Upon A Potty. Then we tried the VHS tape, depicting an different animated potty story. Something clicked with our daughter. We started to talk about Prudence (the character in the book) and her struggles with waiting and sitting (and sit and sit and sit and sit) on the potty, and Adelia somehow, as a 3 year old, identified with Prudence. She saw a character in a book mirroring and validating her experience, and she saw this character endure and overcome. It was amazing. This bag of stuff from the library – that I had been so skeptical about – had been the very thing that our family needed to get through this crisis. It was the Ah-ha moment that made me a believer in the value of libraries to transform lives.
During April, I’m participating in The A to Z Blogging Challenging, blogging 26 days of the month on writing topics while systematically moving through the alphabet. The goal is to develop a more regular blogging habit and network with other bloggers. Join us!