I do not want to imagine what our family’s life would be like without the library. The Library. The Library is the North Star of our weekly schedule. We — the three Gong Girls and myself — go there at least once a week, as we’ve done since Fiona was less than a year old. Other activities may come and go with the seasons or stages of life, but The Library is always there.
I have my own fond childhood memories of libraries. Growing up, the library in our town ran a film for children every Saturday morning, and my father always took me to see it. My mother took me to the library weekly while I was growing up, too, and later I went there with friends to work on research projects for school. I still remember the smell of old books and paste, trying not to giggle too loudly in the stacks, and using the card catalogue to look things up. (Remember the card catalogue?? The one with the actual cards???)
In college, the library took on less cozy connotations. I spent hours there, but it was now associated with late-night studying, caffeine headaches, undergraduates holed up in carrels for days on end. Post-college life coincided with the mega-bookstore boom (Barnes & Noble and Border’s) and the advent of Amazon. It was suddenly more convenient to just buy your books. So, it wasn’t until the end of my years in New York City that I finally stepped back into the public library. The New York Public Library, at that.
It was a revelation: all these books! Every book you could possibly want, and you could take them home with you for FREE! Not just books, either, but music and movies. Why didn’t more people KNOW about this?!?
I became re-addicted to the library. And then I had kids, which sealed the deal for good.
I love taking my girls to the library for so many reasons. The Children’s Room in most libraries these days is much more fun than when I was growing up: not only books, but TOYS! Which means that the library is one of the few places where all three of my children, aged 1 through 4.5 years, are happy. The library is (usually) indoors, which means that you can go there in all weather — particularly important in Vermont. Finally, there’s the social aspect; libraries tend to have many children’s programs, which create opportunities for 1) learning and entertainment, 2) children meeting other children, and 3) parents meeting other parents.
Am I forgetting anything? OH, the BOOKS! Obviously. We love going to the library every week because we can check out books: new books, old books, a tote-bag full of books. Our girls love to read. They also have relatively short attention spans and ever-shifting tastes and interests. We have a house full of books, but I often wonder why we bother to own any; the truth is that our girls mostly read the books they check out from the library each week. These are the books they’re excited about, because these are the books they’ve chosen for right now.
There are also (ahem) the videos. We’ve decided not to own a TV, but we are not above using our laptops to watch DVDs. (Back when Fiona was born, I was so good, SO GOOD, about not letting her watch anything on a screen until she was a full 2 years old, as mandated by the American Pediatric Association. And then I was pretty good about making Campbell wait…except that by then Fiona was already watching videos and I was pregnant with Georgia and just exhausted. And Georgia, frankly, doesn’t stand a chance — she’s already sneaking peeks at her sisters’ DVDs). I don’t love the idea of my kids spacing out in front of a video, but sometimes survival trumps ideals. For me, not using the occasional DVD to buy some peaceful time (we allow four 30-minute “video tickets” per week) would be like choosing to forgo indoor plumbing because trudging to the outhouse builds character. I could stick to my principles, and brag about them to the orderlies at the asylum when they slip my meals through a slot.
So, the girls also get to check out DVDs.
Middlebury has two libraries: there’s the Ilsley Library in town, and the Sarah Partridge Library in East Middlebury. The Ilsley is the main library. The entire lower level is dedicated to children and young adults: there’s a train table, a puppet theater, a craft table, a fish tank, and an old-fashioned claw-foot bathtub filled with stuffed animals. Sarah and Kathryn are the children’s librarians, and they do an amazing job putting together programs for almost every day of the week. There are two story times per week, a music hour, and a rotating selection of special events. Last summer we lived at this library because, in addition to story time, there was a weekly performance for children and an “Itsy-Bitsy Yoga” class for children and parents.
The Sarah Partridge Library is closer to us, but we don’t go there as often because it’s only open three half-days a week. Nonetheless, it’s the girls’ favorite. It was recently adopted as a second branch of the Ilsley Public Library, but it’s served East Middlebury as a library and community house since 1924. It has three small rooms: a community room, a children’s book room, and an adult book room. The book selection is much smaller than over at the Ilsley, but there are even more toys and stuffed animals packed into the children’s room, and usually our girls are the only children there, so they have the run of the place. Mona Rogers is the librarian at Sarah Partridge, but it’s more accurate to say that Mrs. Rogers IS the Sarah Partridge Library. I start sounding like Eloise whenever I talk about her: “Oooooooh, I just LOVE Mrs. Rogers!” Fiona’s preschool walks over to Mrs. Rogers’s weekly story time at the library, and Fiona adores her. Most Thursdays, Mrs. Rogers also brings along her Bassett Hound, Harry, who sits next to her desk.
We went to the library every week back in Berkeley, too. Berkeley has a much larger library system — 5 branches throughout the city — so there are always story times and special activities for children. Apart from size and number of programs, the main difference I notice between the Berkeley and Middlebury public libraries is that the Berkeley libraries all have self-check-out computers. The Middlebury libraries do not, but then again, we usually don’t even need our library card to check out here. Often, before I reach her desk, Mrs. Rogers has already pulled up our account on her computer. Life in a small town.
This will never be a political blog, but regardless of your politics (and, as I’ve spent my entire adult life in New York City, Berkeley, and Vermont, you might be tempted to draw some speedy conclusions about mine), there is much to be distressed about in our country these days. Whenever I start feeling depressed about where things are heading, though, I think of this: wherever you go in the United States, there are public libraries. As long as a country has public libraries, I’m pretty sure that there’s still hope for it.