If I may, a tale of two libraries…
The two towns are similar in size and socio-economics. One town is close to a major city, the other about a half hour farther away. Both have libraries, and both libraries have children’s sections.
Library A has a weekly story time for ages 2 and up. There is a once a month story time geared for the 0-1 and 1-2 sets. There are some board books, but almost none. The librarian is an middle aged woman who sits at the desk and glares at the children. On several occasions when approached for help, it has seemed like she was doing me a huge favor. When asked what time the weekly story hour was, I was told that my child and I were not welcome as Elanor is not 2 yet. I wondered aloud if I would have to present her birth certificate or how they were going to determine who was 2 and who wasn’t.
Library B has a weekly story time. There are two cases with just board books. The librarian is a middle aged man who welcomes the children by name. When meeting a new child, he introduces himself and whips out his slide whistle to play them a little song. Everyone is welcome for story time.
Unfortunately Library A is my town library and Library B is where my friend lives.
I have been planning to talk to the head of my town’s library for some time. The culture of the children’s room, as it currently stands, is that babies and younger toddlers are NOT welcome. The age restricted story time insinuates that they don’t believe that children are capable of becoming interested in books at a young age, or that they are not interested in being part of the effort in making children interested in books. The dragon-lady librarian is not going to get anyone excited about reading–although she’s definitely a woman who’ll shush you in a heartbeat.
This is such a contrast with my childhood. Sure, it was 30 years ago, but I remember our weekly trip to the library as a HUGE deal. I knew the librarians by name (Mr/Ms whatever) and they knew me in turn. My mom found community and support from other moms at story time. All of these, combined with an innate love of stories is what helped me become an active reader.
I’m lucky in that I can afford Mommy & Me classes…to pay for community, as it were. But for many other new moms, especially as we head into the winter months, community is hard to find. A story hour is one of those places, and I feel like my town is doing the exact opposite thing it should. There should be a weekly story time that is all-ages (I mean, what happens if I have a three year old and a six month old–am I supposed to leave them in the car so that there isn’t a six month old in the same room as two year olds?). There should also be space for more community building (a new parent support group, perhaps…a volunteer could lead it) for new parents.
Early literacy is key to academic success. Not all parents are good readers themselves (I had a parent who named her child “Jeremiah” and misspelled it on the birth certificate…not to be all adorable…but because she genuinely could not spell it) or can read in English. Story time at the library creates a space where they can bring their children to encourage early reading.
There are many ways in which I am underwhelmed by my local library, but the active dismissal and disinterest in helping our youngest town citizens develop a love of reading is shameful.