I have always enjoyed reading to my children. My parents had saved (probably as a result of my anguished cries against even the thought of getting rid of them) many of my childhood books (although there is still a missing box of picture books, which has bothered me to no end and which resulted in needing to purchase some replacements). Adrianna's bookcase is filled with slightly brittle but still colorful pages, stories and rhymes I know by heart from 25 years ago. Kristina has an entire shelf on her bookcase filled with chapter books that she's not quite grown into, but are just so awesome we need to read them now anyways. Adoring relatives love to give the girls books as gifts, which we are more than happy to receive. And there's nothing like stumbling across a review of "strong female protagonist who saves the day by outsmarting everyone else, highly recommended for ages 5-8" to make me get a little order happy on Amazon. Indeed, I even have an assortment of books 'saved for later' on there because they sounded like ones we needed but are beyond my girls' current literary levels.
But there is another aspect of our bookly interests: the library.
Conceptually, libraries are great. A place anyone can go to have access to a wide range of books for free.
(Ok, I personally might have some weird book-possession-sharing issues, but still, libraries are awesome places even if I don't like being required to give the books back.)
Except that they're not that great with children. Sure, most big libraries have a reasonably sized children's section these days and a toddler story time once a week. But that doesn't mean it's a good experience bringing kids into them.
My children are now 4 and 6, and well behaved (most of the time). The following is an account of taking them to the library. Please keep in mind that toddlers are significantly worse, and I have deep empathy for those with more children. Or even just multiple toddlers at once. You poor, poor things. You really should be applauded for leaving your house at all.
The entire walk into the library and back to the children's section is full of shushing as they a-little-too-loudly inquire about the world around them and what people are doing in it. Walking is hard, when skipping and jumping are the much more natural ways for a young body to move. Once we are in the wisely barricaded children's section itself, they take off in opposite directions. I follow Adrianna, attempting to re-shelve some of the first thirty or so books she has decided she needs to bring home by reason of they were the closest to her. I attempt to get her to focus on the substantial pile she has now created on a low table, reminding her that we are checking out no more than half a dozen today so she needs to make some choices, and then go in search of Kristina while hoping Adrianna will be busy with her books and not decide to go exploring in the rest of the library. I find Kristina attempting to search for books in the online catalog system. It's more complicated than her simply spelling the name wrong though, since she doesn't really remember what the book was exactly called anyways, much less something as useful as the author. A couple quick attempts affirms that the online database cannot, in fact, read a kid's mind. I steer her away from the computer and to the racks of books, and attempt to talk her into something somewhere close to her reading level instead of the classic Jane Eyre and graphic novels featuring zombies. Reminders of how she needs to be trying to pick things to read on her own go in one ear and out the other, and I soon give up and go in search of the littler one while consoling myself that at least they're free and will be returned in a few weeks regardless of age appropriateness. Adrianna's pile has grown to at least 45 colorful volumes, and my adamant refusal to let her bring home more than 5 is met with tears. I hastily grab the top few picture books in one arm without bothering to even look at the titles, Adrianna in the other, and make a beeline to the check out while hollering too-loudly-for-a-library at Kristina on the other side of the room making eyes at the 7th Harry Potter book to come with me and mentally apologizing to the poor library staff being left with Adrianna's mess to clean up. Now comes the fight over the self-checkout, where the kids want to scan out their own books but are truly terrible at making the scanner work even beyond how they're trying to scan the store item code instead of the library one and keep bickering over who gets to scan next. A line is forming behind us, and in an attempt to be a not-that-terrible library patron, I attempt to scan a couple of their books myself to speed things up a bit. My children, of course, reacting by loudly loosing their shit all over again, and it's all I can do to not threaten to never bring them to the library again. Once outside, skipping resumes right until they see the pretty spring flowers that they need to pick. More shame, and attempts to once again explain the difference between planted plants and dandelions bring us to the car, another library trip completed.
And so I want to create a different library experience.
First up, a library JUST for children, target audience ages 3-12. No cranky stressed out grad students or smelly homeless people muttering to themselves. And it will have significantly more picture books, because all the library money is going into the children's selection.
Put one of those squishy mall play areas in the middle (with literary themes, of course, a stack of books and some of the favorite classic characters like Eric Carle's caterpillar and Dr. Suess's Horton would be adorable), so parents can actually have half a chance to look at the books themselves or talk to the librarian (like, maybe even without a child climbing up their leg or needing to stop and holler at a kid to stop licking the computer screen every three seconds) and to pick out the ones that they actually WANT to bring home to read that week, instead of just the first couple the kid grabbed.
Have a rotating special display section that changes out every month, show casing everything from Classic Fairy Tales and Bedtime Favorites to Girl Power and Family Diversity. Include multimedia aspects, CDs and movies, puzzles and games, musical instruments and simple toys as applicable. Make this a cool and exciting new thing to look at every time you go to the library.
Expand story time sessions to happen more often for the little kids, and also include usually forgotten target audiences like "school age girls" and "special needs". Make this a place the family community feels welcome in, and keep things like a community bulletin board. Host once-a-month parent forums, complete with story time to occupy the children. Let it become the place everybody goes to when they need something to do, instead of the mall or McDonald's.
Have the walls painted in warm colors, with large prints of pictures from picture books hanging on them. Make it something the kids will look at and say, I want to read that one!
Most of all, make a place that puts what children are as the main focus, and not an after thought tucked away in the corner. Going to the library should be a wonderful experience for everyone, not just those who are good at talking in whispers.