Thoughts on Going to the Library

Thoughts on Going to the Library

Often I worry that my deep-seated introverted, nay hermit-like, tendencies are depriving Isabella of experiences that she should be having: playgroups, outings to all sorts of toddler-centered activities, story time at the library, baby gymnastics and other classes and fun-filled outings. My sister-in-law seems to have one for every day with her four kids. Just talking about their activities with her exhausts me. I do try to make a point to go out with her; but in these short, cold days of midwinter (while my belly is expanding and my breath shortening and my sciatica prohibits me from carrying her if she should get tired) it is much harder than in the balmy days of summer.

The one activity that it strikes me as most odd that we haven’t embraced is the trip library. I used to go to the library all the time to stoke my reading habit. Now I’m perhaps reading a bit less but the biggest difference is that I’ve joined Book Mooch and now many books are coming straight to the house and I’ve got less time to browse the shelves in a leisurely fashion when I do go to the library. Isabella likes to climb the stairs, but not wander through the stacks. It takes more time to do things with a toddler and that’s part of it. Our library has no off-street parking and that’s a huge part of it. I hate trying to parallel park on a busy street and then maneuver a toddler out of the car and down the sidewalk, especially when there’s snow and ice on the ground. But that’s not really the root of my ambivalence about trips to the library with Bella.

I know many moms with toddlers go to the library once a week or so and come home with a big bag full of picture books to read. I’m just not tempted to do that. Why not? What have they discovered that I haven’t? What am I missing?

Perhaps part of it is that we have quite a large library of picture books here. I started collecting them before she was born and have been adding to the shelves steadily mostly via Book Mooch; but also occasional gifts from friends and family and the odd book I snap up at a store or library sale. I know we haven’t read all the books on the shelf (though some of them are just too old for her as yet) and Bella doesn’t seem to have grown bored of our selection. Also, I dread having to keep track of library books for her and I don’t like the short lending time. only keeping them for two weeks hardly seems worth it when she usually gets stuck on a book for longer than that. Getting books from the library is a relatively recent thing in my own life. I’ve always preferred to own books. And picture books especially. If it’s worth reading once, it’s probably worth having a copy to keep.

I’m sure there will come a day when we will start becoming regular library patrons. When we need to avail ourselves of the resources the library has to offer. Either because she gets bored of our limited selection or I feel that she needs a wider diet or some other factor I can’t forsee. But for now i just don’t feel any motivation to change.

So far I’ve only once given in to the depths of mommy guilt over this issue and when I stopped in to pick up a book i especially wanted from the library we went down to the children’s room and I browsed through the bins of picture books while she played with the toys. I was overwhelmed by the numbers of books they had, by the odd mixture of so much that I just wasn’t interested in, by how hard it was to find any particular book. I found two books with dogs in them, checked them out. We read each a couple of times; but she never really got into them. All in all it didn’t seem like an experiment worth repeating. Especially given her complete disinterest in the books while we were there and the difficulty I had prying her away from the toys and the almost complete meltdown she had when I told her she couldn’t bring them with us. 

It’s funny because I am such a book worm; but I also didn’t read to her at two weeks or eight weeks or two months or eight months even. And I felt similar guilt and ambivalence about the whole thing, especially when I read other moms who started reading to their babies when they were very young. Yet it didn’t seem worth it when all she wanted to do was tear the pages or bat at them. When she finally started to be more interested in looking at pictures than eating books, we started reading them. I don’t remember how I knew; it just seemed that at the right time it sort of happened. That later start doesn’t seem to have diminished her current pleasure. She loves reading books with us and reading them to herself as well. Perhaps hands-off and waiting for cues from Bella that she needs more is the best policy here too.

Am I a bad mother? Am I depriving her somehow that I’m just not seeing? Or am I just falling into the horrible old trap of comparing myself to other mothers instead of just trusting my instincts about what works for us?

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And while we’re on the subject of libraries and kids, another thing about our library that puts me off. (This has been bugging me since long before I was married.) That’s their policy about who can access the children’s room. Actually they have two policies pertaining to children. The first makes eminent sense to me: Children must be accompanied by an adult at all times. I heartily agree. The librarians are not babysitters and should not be expected to keep your children safe. That’s your job as a parent.

But the second policy confounds me: adults are not allowed into the separate children’s room unless accompanied by a child. I ran into this policy when I was tutoring a young boy who was struggling with reading. I went to the library in hopes of finding some books that would appeal to his specific tastes. I went straight to the front desk and presented the librarian with my request: could I browse the shelves and look for something that might be suitable. She was very reluctant to do so. Wanted me to ask for a specific book, or to guide me to a specific shelf and hand me some books. I wanted to take my time and browse; but that was evidently not allowed. I had a legitimate reason to be in that part of the library, she was aware of my presence and could see the stacks where I was from the desk and there were currently no children present; but I was still rushed off before I found what I wanted.

I recently witnessed another patron receiving the same treatment. A young man, either in high school or college, obviously working on some kind of school project. He was trying to browse through the picture books and the librarian came over to harass him, saying he needed to just grab five books, take them upstairs, and then come back for another batch of five when he was done. Now it’s possible this young man was being unreasonable in his demands, but given my previous experience I doubt it.

When I was in college I took a class in children’s literature and as part of our required reading I spent many hours browsing through the stacks, picking up picture books and putting them down. I’d have greatly resented this kind of policy. I’d never have got my assignments done.

The implicit assumption of this policy is that children’s books are only for children or that only people with children can have legitimate reason for accessing this collection.  Both assumptions I heartily disagree with. I can think of many scenarios of adults unaccompanied by children who still have good reason to want to browse the books. What about parents of sick or hospitalized children? Educators? All at the mercy of arbitrary librarians who will deny them the possibility of browsing at their leisure to find just the right book. It just doesn’t seem right to me.

I think the first policy should be enough to protect children. Parents are responsible for their children’s safety. I’m a parent now and I don’t feel any less hostility toward this policy nor do I feel like it does anything to assure the safety of children in the library.

Sorry for such a long rant; but I’m curious about what other parents think.

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  • I like how they’re all in the rainbow pattern too.  We had to go straight to ponytail holders because Kasandra’s hair is too thick and determined for barrettes.

  • Catherine,

    Funny that you noticed that. Since the day I learned the pattern of the rainbow, I’ve been compulsive about putting objects into correct rainbow order. As a girl I used to draw rainbows obsessively…. always in the correct ROYGBIV order. And I hate to confess that it bugs me that Bella’s set of stacking cups, which has all the colors,  doesn’t stack in the proper order.

  • We’re only just now able to keep barrettes in the little one’s hair (or, more accurately, she keeps them in).  I love seeing the small girl with her hair pulled back, but it’s also a reminder that she’s growing so fast and isn’t really a baby anymore.