In which Miss Molly meditates on the REAL use for a library

Schools are out and summer reading is upon us!

Last night, my library had it’s ever popular (and spirited) kick-off to our Summer Reading Program. I love this time of year, despite it being super busy and leaving work and feeling absolutely exhausted. Watching each child’s face as they come into the library and (VOLUNTARILY) choosing a book they want to read, without worrying about doing anything with it for school or ‘because mom said so’, is awesome.

The fact that we don’t give out chintzy prizes, but instead donate money to a child-chosen charity every year is also something I love; it teaches social responsibility and keeps kids from getting too “stuff” focused. I love this ethically minded movement that is picking up speed, not only in libraries, but also in general, everyday situations.  I helps kids learn early to give back, to realize that not every one is as fortunate as we are, and to take steps to help those who need it. It keeps them reading for the fun of it, rather than reading for a little plastic toy they will either break or forget about in a day and a half.

So, our kick-off is always packed; it’s loud, it’s crazy, and (in my personal opinion–an opinion I share with the other children’s librarians) it’s fun. We hold it inside the library so we don’t have to worry about adverse weather conditions, and closing down any or all of our limited parking lot. That being said, the space does fill up quickly. With people. With laughter. With noise. But not unnecessary noise–it’s well-mannered frivolity. Not chaotic screaming, but children’s laughter. This year, we had a comedian/magician performing for the kids and I had the rare experience of being able to work the Reference/Adult side of the library while this was going on. This means I didn’t have to run around doing things for Children’s, but could observe the proceedings.

This situation prompted a conversation that I had with someone about the REAL use for the library. Yes, notice the capitalization. It was this person’s opinion that the Kickoff was NOT a real use for the library. A library should be quiet. A place to study, to be alone, to think. The Kickoff was too loud.There were too many kids. It was too noisy, too chaotic, too kiddy. What if there was someone who needed to study? They wouldn’t be able to focus. What about the people who’s routine we disrupted because we moved all the chairs and tables? People aren’t using the library for it’s intended purpose. They aren’t checking out books. They are being loud and watching a show and interrupting ‘legitimate’ library goers.

Essentially, the argument can be summed up like this:

Had fun once

Only throw in an addendum: So terrible, no one should have it ever.

This opinion almost felt like a personal insult and a slap to the face. I knew this person didn’t particularly like children because of many other conversations we’ve had. But this was, in MY OPINION, extremely close minded. Especially when taking into account that we are trying to improve our overall statics, and customer service, in order to expand our library. (And, if truth be told, the Children’s Department is absolutely carrying the weight in programming, circulation, and attendance of the entire library….) I also knew this person was testing me, albeit in a sneaky way.

With a deep calming breath, I countered the argument:

Having such a large and boisterous program gets people excited about coming to the library. Our town has a lot of new families with children moving in, drastically changing the demographic of the library population. Sure, they are not checking out books at this EXACT MOMENT, but when the show is over, what do you think they will do? What they always do–head to the Children’s side and pick out books and movies, and magazines, and games. Parents wait until after the show to pick out items, so they don’t have to worry about keeping track of anything other than their kids.

A program like this, not a dry book talk, or book club, or author talk (I’m looking at you Dark Side of the library), is great for kids. It’s snappy. It’s quick.  It gets their imagination going. It gets them excited. It keeps them engaged. It makes them want to come to the library because of the awesome and magical things we have. They make fun memories and associate those memories with the library. Of course they’ll want to come back. And when they come back, they check out items, ask questions, learn.

A library should be full of energy, laughter, excitement.  It shouldn’t be a dry, desolate place, void of creativity, passion, and sound. The face of the library is changing. The idea of a traditional library, one that is silent, solely studious, and solemn, is what’s killing libraries around the country. It should be a place that is indispensable. And what better way to create such a space than by injecting some excitement, something out of the ordinary, some magic into the everyday mundane.  And it’s not like this happens every day, all day. This level of excitement happens twice a year.

There are so few places where magic is left, I think the library should be one of them.

I agree that those who use the library for study purposes should be provided for and shouldn’t feel slighted.  However, if 1 hour is really enough to completely screw up their study plans, I think they might need to re-evaluate their options. And it isn’t as if the Kickoff was a surprise. It had been advertized in and around the library for at least a month and a half–so people had time to plan accordingly. It was also in the newspapers. And on the front doors, and all the tables in the library for a week. Letting people know what would be happening, what time it would be happening, when it would be happening, and that there would be an increased level of noise. It shouldn’t have been a surprise.

And no, I’m not sorry. I love the enthusiasm. I love the laughter, the fun, the smiles.

By providing this level of service, entertainment, fun, and products for FREE only enhances the public view of the library as indispensable. It helps people see that the service we provide is necessary and not something that should be glossed over. So, when the time comes to rally the townsfolk to see if we should expand the library, they can remember what we do for them and vote that with a resounding YES!

So, all I have to say:

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2 thoughts on “In which Miss Molly meditates on the REAL use for a library

  1. Well said Miss Molly! Even I remember the magic my library was as a kid 🙂 Keep up the good work (the kids will appreciate it…. and eventually the older ones will too). Good Luck!

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