Grateful for Public Libraries
Rio got her first library card today.
Yesterday we were biking home from somewhere, and she said “Mommy! You and Daddy have a lot of books for you, and for Daddy and for other people, but you have not bought enough books for me and Serena.”
We own, for the record, over 500 books for young children, and at least another 200 books for older kids and young teens.
So I said, “What? You need more books?”
“I need more chapter books!” she shouted. “I am starting kindergarten, and I am going to swimming classes and gymnastics and music lessons. I am growing so big and that is why I NEED MORE CHAPTER BOOKS!”
Chapter books? My baby needs chapter books? I know what to do about a lack of chapter books.
This afternoon, we put her baby sister to nap and biked over to the Somerville library, where I introduced her to the chapter books section. She was exquisite, walking around and around the flimsy wire rack loaded with worn copies of Magic Treehouse books and American Girl novels like a connoisseur. Like a traveler seeing a beautiful exotic island for the first time. Like a kid in a room full of endless books.
We walked all around the chapter book section. I showed her some of my favorites from my own childhood, and helped her read the titles of all the books she showed an interest in. As previously agreed, she selected five books. She never once tried to push that limit. She took about eight books down, and looked carefully at their covers, flipped through them, and chose five.
Then the library card. In our town, one must be at least five to get a library card, which Rio conveniently is. She wrote her name on the form and they issued her a card. After the librarian handed it to her, she walked away from the desk with a look on her face both dreamy and powerful. Two of her best friends came in and she barely saw them, just nodded in their direction and then said, “Let’s walk around the library. Let’s go up these stairs.”
A word here, about our local library. It looks awful outside; a small, old building. Every time we go I wonder when the city will get it together to do a fund drive and build a new one. The children’s room is barely adequate – small, dark, equipped with a threadbare story corner, a few puzzles and a quantity of books that could seem vast only to a very small person.
Since I tend to go there with my kids, I had actually never been upstairs into the adult stacks, but I pictured more of the same. I’m incredibly grateful today that I hadn’t gone up, because when we climbed those stairs we both gasped. The center of the building is open, filling the whole room up with light. Around the perimeter, racks upon racks of books, two stories tall, a balcony skirting the room with more books. Beautiful.
“Can I go in there, Mama?” she said in a whisper.
Yes, little one. We went up the stairs. We looked out the windows and enjoyed the view of the city. “Mama! Look how high we are!”
We sat at a study table tucked away behind a bookcase and read two chapters of a Magic Treehouse book. We went up and down the rows of stacks. She asked me if I knew the man on the cover of a biography. Together we hunted down the section of sewing and handcraft books, and dug through a box of old sewing patterns looking for something she liked. The whole time, she moved and spoke quietly. She treated the library like a church, moving from an inner awareness of the grace in the room.
Finally, she was ready to leave. We went downstairs and she proudly laid her books on the checkout counter and then produced her card. “Don’t get out your card, Mama. Not this time. I am checking these books out.”
She carried them out, put them in her own bike basket, and proudly rode home.
During the hour we were there, she put that library through its paces. It was as if she understood without being told that the card gave her power over the place. Before, the library belonged to me, to the grown-up world, but today it became hers.
I have to say, there are days when I resent being a stay-at-home mom, and question my choice to give up my journalism career to do this. Today was not one of those days. I might well have traded the chance to write a book in the past five years for that hour in the library with my daughter, but I’m pretty clear it was worth it.