I’ve been spending a lot of time in my local public library. It’s great and no one is there most of the time, which is wild if you think about it because they’ve got free books, a variety of strange seating solutions, and pretty much endless carpet to pee on. It’s an ideal situation, particularly because my wife and I take our two-year-old daughter to the library pretty much three times a week without fail. The reason why most parents do this is because of the storytimes and the singalongs. We like that stuff, too. But the long game is much more valuable; children’s librarians are basically personal shoppers for kids’ books, working tirelessly without an expectation for a tip.
If you’re confused about the benefits of taking your kids to the library, let’s first start by listing all the downside of visiting a neighborhood library:
- Library cards are preposterously easy to lose and the paperwork required to get them is a pain in the ass.
- Explaining DVDs and cassette tapes to a child.
- The fact you can lose yourself in the self-help section.
That’s it. These are the only “bad” things about the library as far as I can tell. Of course, many can (and do) argue that against the dreaded scourge of other children, who infect your kid with bacteria, viruses, and bad behaviors. But, other children are everywhere and their runny noses are not more contagious in the library than they are on the playground or in the coffee shop. In fact, the library’s rules limit their misconduct. The librarian is happy to play bad cop. It’s a beautiful thing.
Admittedly, as a pre-baby adult, I went to the library considerably less than I did as a child. I’m a reader and writer by both habit and profession and thought bookstores are cooler than libraries. But I was wrong. While bookstores are very cool and buying books with kids is fantastic, the joy of the thing is in browsing. This is doubly true when you’re hanging out with a two-year-old with a limited concept of ownership.
Let me tell you how to find good books in the library. Ask the children’s librarian. Thes people are warm, absurdly knowledgeable, and, above all, patient. Most importantly, they have time on their hands to know about things that you don’t know; specifically what’s good with kids’ books right now. It’s the job of a children’s librarian to know this stuff, and you don’t have to feel lesser or a bad parent because they know more than you do.
Before my daughter was born, I arrogantly presumed that I would be able to curate her childhood library without outside help. My wife is an artist and a poet; I’m a writer. We didn’t need anyone else, right? Wrong! There is an impossible number of children’s books coming out every day — far too many to keep track of while doing anything else and far too many that are, for lack of a better word, bad. This is why children need to be exposed to new books in an environment focused on sharing instead of sales. Again, as someone who recommended kids’ books to people at more than one bookstore, I can honestly say, there’s a big difference between the way a librarian recommends a book to parent and the push of a bookseller. Everyone’s heart is in the right place, but librarians’ tastes tend to be more refined and less hyperbolic.
For example, several months ago we struggled with adding a new bedtime book to our repertoire until we encountered the title This Book is Sleeping by Cedric Ramadier and Vincent Bourgeau. Published in 2016, this book is new relative to Goodnight Moon and not necessarily one everyone would recommend to you. It’s not under-the-radar, but it’s not the most popular either, meaning I would have probably never discovered it without the help of my local library. Now, we’ve purchased it and it’s part of my daughter’s life in a way that has created fantastic memories we would have not had otherwise.
From the excellent titles like Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi, to the newly released Egg by Kevin Henkes, to the story of a reptile who is also an accomplished abstract painter, Crocodali by Lucy Volpin, my family has figured out which picture book to buy next thanks to having thoughtful librarians introduce these books to my kiddo. This isn’t to say we like all the book the kids’ librarians read in storytime or recommend to us specifically. My daughter can be picky and your kid is probably the same way. That’s not the point.
The specific value of taking your kids to the library is giving them choices that don’t cost you money. The library is where children can learn to shop at zero cost. Tell them they can only get three books and let them figure it out. They will. In so much of life, parents spend their time calculating the equation of time versus money versus joy. At the library, the math gets way simpler. You can chill the fuck out. Just by being there you’ve already made a good decision.