Eye contact is free, people

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Yesterday I took The Tiny Dark Lord to a local library, mostly because he was getting bored and cabin-feverish after nearly a week of being stuck at home with lame me. The holidays spoiled him, what with all the other kids and adults and toys and dogs and nonstop excitement.

This is the first time I've ventured into this particular library in months and months. Because I have weekly access to other libraries with bigger collections through work, it's easier for me to get the things I need through them. So I don't go for books. TDL is too young for the story times offered at our local library, and even if he weren't I wouldn't take him anyway because you have to pay to attend. I was completely staggered when I learned this. It's a nominal amount, used for craft materials, but I still say that's creating a barrier to early childhood literacy. Reading stories and singing with kids doesn't cost anything. They can freaking color at home.

Now, I get that it's extremely difficult being a small library with a limited budget, limited collection, and limited space. I worked in one. We couldn't help the funding/space/collection limitations, but we still provided quality service and created a space where the community felt welcome. Something about the vibe of this library just does not do that for me. Instead I get a decidedly "I am busy with my solitaire game do not bother me or make noise" feeling. But I did get a good sense of what is really important to them: there were 25 printed signs in the adult section, letting me know that cell phone use was not acceptable. I'm not kidding, I went around and counted.

The hard thing is, it takes a lot of work to change a vibe. It's this intangible thing that isn't a line item in your budget but it makes a huge difference in how your organization is perceived. How exactly do you put your finger on and then explain to staff members what needs to change? "Stop being yourself?" Do you just fire people because they aren't smiley enough? I have been there. It's not fun. I do think that taking down about 20 of those signs would be a start, though.

Now that he is walking and since it's still cold outside (except for yesterday, holy cow it was in the 50s), I will probably start taking TDL back more often because there is more room for him to roam around than the 18 square feet of grody shag living room carpet currently available to him. Plus he needs to spend more time in libraries so he knows that they are true. Maybe my heart will soften about this particular one, or I will see that I am wrong in my current assessment. Maybe.

But, back to you. Anybody want to dish on the things your library does really well (or maybe not so much)?


Liz Johnson said... [reply]

My (tiny) local library is terrible at letting kids make noise. The children's area is right by the study rooms, and if you come in for anything but storytime (which is held in a practically sound-proof conference room), utter silence is expected and enforced. This means I usually just put books on hold, let the kids grab three on the fly and throw them into a bag, and get the heck out before we make a scene. And I think that's unfortunate.

BUT they're really good about buying a copy of virtually every book I suggest, regardless of how weird it is.

Andrew and Becca said... [reply]

My library has absolutely no quiet study area. They have a "teen corner" meant to be a place that kids can chill after schools (which of course is always deserted) with like a fake jukebox and stuff. They have like, 1 other table in the entire library, and it's right next to the information desk.

FoxyJ said... [reply]

I work for The Best Library in the World so I'm biased :) I think everyone should just move to P-town and enjoy the awesomeness.

Seriously, I do think we need to get some kind of county system going to spread the love around since it's kind of ridiculous that other places here have crappy libraries. Of course I'm assuming that sharing means that everyone else would be awesome and not that everyone else would become crappy. Ah--library politics!

I think putting patrons first and recognizing the needs of your community is really important. Even the small branch we attended in Seattle had a nice, friendly place for kids that managed to be at the opposite end of the space from the section for grownups. Librarians need to realize that children and people with children are going to use the library and get over it. Also, I think charging for story time is super dumb. I'd rather have free story time with no crafts than pay for story time with them.

Elsha said... [reply]

Our library is great for kids. They have a weekly "infant & toddler story time" complete with (always free) crafts/coloring sheets/various other things. (Seriously, we've come home on different days with stuffed animals, books, and fire chief hats, all free.)

They also have a play area in the children's section and don't frown on regular toddler noise-making. It probably helps that the library is set up such that the children's section is separate from everything else and the closest thing to it is the teen area. Plus all the reference books/materials are downstairs and away from the kids area.

Señora H-B said... [reply]

I got SUPER spoiled by the public library in the last town I lived in. They had a closed off quiet study area (with floor-to-ceiling windows), along with oodles of carrels around the stacks, and many tables with easy-to-access outlets. My current public library has almost no tables. It is a very tiny branch, but I could see a lot of places where they could have put tables.

That being said, the library system in my current city is pretty wonderful. They offer all kinds of interesting community programs about a variety of topics.

abby said... [reply]

I have to confess I worked for a month as a children's librarian in a public library. From that experience, I realized there is way too much emphasis on crafts. I don't care for crafts and even as a child I didn't totally love them. By golly, I'm not paying for them when I have kids. I also learned from that job that I hate working with children, so I went corporate where I work with adults who sometimes act like children. However, they know better and that is the difference.

I actually love our large central library. It has comfy chairs like Barnes and Noble and tons of light from its windows. It has an awesome collection of BBC dvds. It has a great children's area and the teen corner has good YA Books (and bean bag chairs but I'm 34 and shouldn't be hanging out on the bean bags since I'm an adult :)).

Another library in the area, hosts book lovers speed dating. I think that's an awesome response to the need of our community filled with single professionals.

My local dinky satellite library could probably have an update from the 1970s, but it has a great dvd collection. They don't really have a lot of books, but they have study carrels which are great when I want to work outside of my house. They have a childrens area and a graphic novel collection, but I haven't checked either of them out because I am more into the dvds. It is definately a small community hub and it is inviting in that sense. Although the lighting good be less glaring.

Maggie said... [reply]

I judge a library solely on their number of knitting books. And the libraries here in Virginia are sorely lacking. I know, I know, it's all online but I got a little spoiled by the selection of knitting books when I lived in Fairbanks, Ak. Now that's a library!

Desmama said... [reply]

I'd love a county-wide system here in CV, but alas, it was shot down in the last election. I think there are still some old schoolers who are skeptical of all that "book-learnin'". *Disgusted sigh* The L**** library is okay for kids but I really loved the one we had in TX--huge, really fun places for kids--and heck, it was a county library, so tons of books at my disposal.

Brandi said... [reply]

Much of our library is automated. You can check yourself out and pay for late fees at the self service kiosks. I like that, but if you have a late fee (which I always do because they only give you a week for books), and you require more than a dollar in change in return, it gives you Sacajawea dollar coins. It makes me want to punch people and never visit a library again. I suppose it's a good deterrent for late returns, though.

AmyJane said... [reply]

I love our library with all my heart. It's homey and cozy and the children's section has a great view of the marina and the ferry coming and going. There are toys and puzzles and puppets and a happy amount of children noise and two of the best librarians ever who adore my kids a snow everything about them and would probably adopt them if asked. They have multiple story times for littles and fun things like Rookie Readers and Art-a-palooka after school for slightly bigger kids. There teen events are good and well attended as well.
My one and only beef is that its. Of currently possible to check anything out inn the childn's section, which means a long wait time up in the front where my kids always combust and I end up looking like "that mom" with too many kids.

Maggie said... [reply]

Our library is almost opposite with the kid situation. I realize that kids will make noise, but shouldn't it be expected that kids are taught to not run through the library? I guess that's sort of a hard line to draw, but it does make it hard when I bring my two and expect them to behave even when they see sixth graders running through the kids section.

Also, they include in the kids section two computer stations for small kids computer games. I have a hard time with this at the library because we come here for books, not for more computer time.

BUT our library in Minnesota does have a great variety of kid's story times (that don't include crafts because we're here to read stories) for various ages and they also even have Saturday programs that include kids films and music.

westcoastsoul said... [reply]

Wow I'm absolutely shocked to hear of a library charging for story time! You're right, that could definitely be a barrier!

P-Cute said... [reply]

i think you should help them out and start taking down a "no cell phone" sign or two on every visit :)

Bridget said... [reply]

I think I've always been lucky to have good libraries. I'm shocked that a library would charge for storytime! They're doing it wrong.

Momma Marketer said... [reply]

Our local library is tiny. There's a very small children's section, a local/stat history reference area, and maybe 10 shelves, total, of other books. The movies they have are all VHS, and have a $5 deposit each. Add 4 computers, and you have it. Also, they have plumbing issues, so it always reeks. At any given time, there are maybe 3 cars in the lot.

The library in the next town over rocks, though. Up to 25 books at a time per person, tons of shelves, new books every week, 3 week checkouts, except on new releases, which are 14 days. Great kids and teens area, too. More movies than the local rental place, and around 20 computers. I try to plan mid-week trips there, because if you go on a Saturday, there's nowhere to park.

mj said... [reply]

Our local one is not bad--probably about average. It's small but it does have a children's section with little tables and chairs and stuffed animals which is somewhat far from the quiet study area (since the whole place is pretty small it can't be THAT far, unfortunately). It's a little hard for us to be there very long because my child is insane with energy (she just turned two), but we have been working on it and she has now memorized the top two library rules that I drill into her every time we go: 1. No running 2. No shouting.

Ours has monthly story time for 2-3 yr olds which we have gone to twice and I found it makes a huge difference for my kid whether the story leader person is really engaging and chooses active books (yay--we took one of them home that time) or not (I spent the entire time chasing the toddler). I think they have story times for younger toddlers too, but she was too much of a terror in the library back then so I didn't dare take her for almost a year.

I was scolded once in the library about my child's behavior, and I cried like a baby all the way home (yeah, I'm pregnant), but I'm mostly over it now.

Anonymous said... [reply]

I lived in a city once that had the best library ever! It was a large central branch (in Canada I think all libraries are what y'all call county)and the set up the whole basement for the Children's library and had awesome things like a play area with toys and a fish tank and also many, many short stacks of books and videos and a kid's sized potty just for them! Also, there were NO LATE FEES for kids books and movies. Upstairs, the main floor had an art space where they featured local artists, and a large, multi floored adult collection with many places for study and many windows.

I later moved to a small town where the only library in town was attached the middle/high school and was meant mostly for that particular use. Their children's section was dreadful. The books were old and there was no where for the kids to sit. It was also crammed up against the adult computer/employment centre for the community and you got really ugly looks if your child so much as peeped.

The library the next town over was possibly worse since they did have places for kids so sit but they were not allowed to make any noise. I was asked to leave once because my daughter got too excited about a book she found and behaved in a manner that might be called jubilant. Also, they had toys prominently on display that you could borrow, but could not touch while in the library. I think what bothered me the most was that the library was empty while we were there and then asked to leave. NO ONE else was there. Who were we bothering?

Stephanette said... [reply]

We just got a new building for our teeny local library and we love it.

The Children Librarians work hard to make it fun and entertaining. We have a Mommy and Me story hour {yea, my hubby thinks it's hilarious when he takes our Monster} for 0-3 year olds that is solid singing and interactive stories, then an older story time that usually includes books and singing with crafts every other month or at holidays. All the kids can earn tickets to a movie at the library, special prizes, or treats by recording the books that they read. We've been awarded grants that provide each child with a free book each month and we have guest readers usually every six weeks or so {recently Santa Clause, a Police Officer, a Fire Man, the High School Basketball Coach, and a Farmer} and the kids love it. They have colorful murals, toys, and coloring pages and hot chocolate are available all of the time.

The middle school/high school students have a place to hang out and they actually do. Maybe it's the cookies and hot chocolate that make them show up?

At Halloween, they had a special scavenger hunt searching through the library for different things and the kids had a great time.

Our head librarian recently retired and I'm not too thrilled with the lag time on ordering new releases, but I can borrow them for my iPod on our state library site, so I can't complain too much.

Barefoot Cassandra said... [reply]

I have had two bad library experiences, and many good ones. The first bad experience was due to a patron who, well how do I say this, flashed me. But the librarians were great, they saw something was wrong any ran over to help me.

The second was when I was in high school, my Mom was running late to pick me up and the library closed. I asked the librarian if I could wait in between the double doors, because there was a homeless man laying on the grass outside. She said no because she did not want me to see her count the money. She really said that.

Those things aside I love the library. I take my nephew to mine weekly. They have a puppet show, he loves the hippo.

perkiwindy said... [reply]

Our NEW library has EIGHT alternative fuel parking spaces along with the same amount of handicapped (ok with the handicapped), spaces to park in. EIGHT! Then they have a few CARPOOL spaces... Where the crud do the mommies lugging five kids get to park? IN THE FARTHEST SPOTS!!! Yeah, it totally deters me from going. I can count on ONE hand the amount of times I have even seen someone in the Alternative fuel spots. And before I get any save the planet people hating on me...We happen to own a hybrid. It just doesn't fit myself and five kids so we also have a Suburban...that I have to park in the back...and drag the five kids (one is a runner)into the library...did I mention the last two are twins?

Jenny said... [reply]

You should leave a note or 50 in the suggestion box. Storytime is about literacy, not Stupid Crafts. And keep leving notes. Families with children and lower income families with children are probably most of the US's library patrons, so they should be accomadated accordingly.

Amen on the county library system. It would be the most amazing thing ever. I've never met a county system I didn't love to pieces.

Also, baby TDL can come to my awesome library with the other 900 children that attend one of the 17ish storytimes per week. He would love it.

Missy W. said... [reply]

I love how the Logan library will buy books that I want to read if they don't have them. It makes me feel really special :)

Bebe McGooch said... [reply]

I love our little library. The SL County system is great; I rarely have difficulty requesting a particular title. The story time for "tiny tots" is well done (and free, of course), and the building is a beautiful design, with a huge, awesome hanging sculpture. And pro-kid. I'm sure a keen librarian's eye like yours might be able to find room for improvement, but I have had no complaint. Except for some of the check-out kiosk card readers never work, and you have to manually type in your library card. I KNOW. Sigh. Such a horribly first world problem.

There's also two pet tarantulas, which I think is pretty cool.

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