Saturday, July 19, 2014

This week at the library; or, Celebrating the chaos

What's going on - in my head and in the library
  • This grew out of a conversation I had with another staff member last week, as we were encouraging each other to make it through a really exhausting week, as well as some, well, negative things I've been hearing/reading about the mess, noise, and general craziness of summer at the library. Summer can be, and often is, frustrating, exhausting, annoying, and just plain messy. I can vent with the best of them about the craziness. I strongly advocate for children's staff to have seasonal help! I work with families and kids to learn appropriate library behavior. I can't tell you how many times I remind kids "use your library feet!" every day. But you know what? I also EMBRACE THE CRAZY MESS and this is why:
  • Why I do not get upset when families leave a mess in the play area. When I see toys everywhere I see the family with four kids under 8 trying to check out materials and get out before the baby has a meltdown. I see busy working families with only a little time to spend with their kids - and they chose to visit the library. I see families with no background of visiting the library, or any other public family space (not that there are any in our town) who maybe don't know "how things work" but they are spending time with their kids, teaching them early literacy skills by using our play area, even if they don't know it. And I see the next family to come in, see the messy play area, and use it as a lesson in cleaning up. I see toys left over or in the wrong place because a four year old was totally absorbed in matching the toys up with the pictures on the shelves and had to leave in a hurry. I see families using our services to the best benefit of their family and that is more important than the children's area being tidy.
  • Why I do not get upset when I hear noise. I hear little voices yelling "choo choo!" and I know another family has discovered the joys of imaginative play at our train table.  I see the mom who has just moved to our town and brought her three year old for their first visit ever to the library and was anxious that they were "too noisy" as he excitedly showed me his block towers - and I was able to reassure her that there was no such thing as too noisy in MY library! I see my families who have children with special needs tell me how welcome they feel and what a relief it is to have a place where they don't have to worry about being stared at or asked to leave if their child makes loud/strange noises. I see the middle school boys loudly telling their just arrived friend how he should sign up for summer reading so he can get FREE BOOKS. I see the little girls who are so thrilled at being allowed to walk across the street and visit the library by themselves that they just can't stop giggling. I am surrounding by excited kids who are loud, enthusiastic, and just can't wait to tell me about how much they love books, the library, and that really cool fact they just learned. The library is about learning - and learning is more than just what's in our books. Learning is exciting, fun, and NOISY.
  • Why I do not get upset when the shelves look like swarms of locusts attacked. Studies have repeatedly shown that kids are more invested in reading when they choose their own books. When kids choose their own books, the shelves are messy. They put things back in the wrong places, the books get pushed back, they slide off the shelves, they set things down and forget to put them in the basket. They get excited and pull everything off, they remember something else they wanted to look up and race to another shelf. Every book out of place, every disorganized shelf, is evidence that kids are exploring, reading, and discovering on their own. A messy shelf is a happy shelf!
When I see mess and chaos, when I hear noise, first I stop and think - what could be going on in the lives of my patrons that I don't know about, that I don't see? Secondly, I tell myself: You are having a successful summer. This is what a library should be; the thriving, growing heart of the community where families are safe and welcome and every child feels ownership and has the freedom to explore, learn, and grow.

What the kids are reading:
  • Tale of Despereaux (added another copy)
  • Monster High - I still have not brought myself to buy these
  • mysteries to read aloud to a six year old - I told them Brixton Brothers was probably a little too involved and suggested Encyclopedia Brown
  • books for a 1 1/2 year old - showed some of our new board books
  • Minecraft - two more requests for this. i did find a couple things coming out this fall that i have put on order
  • books about injuries (for a preschool child with a severe burn). I was stumped on this one - asked on my listservs for help.


Miss Michelle said...

I always tell my patrons that I'm the loudest person in the library! I don't mind if kids are loud while having fun...shushing parents make me uncomfortable. :)

Ami said...

Oh, me, too! In fact, when I first got this job, rather than telling me how perfect the job was for me, everyone asked, "Don't you have to be quiet in a library?" I can be quiet! Hypothetically speaking.

Yes, we do want parents to teach their kids to keep the noise level down, and to put things back, etc., BUT - as with story time, we don't want them to wait until they have all that down before they come in! Libraries are places to learn, and we have no problem being part of that learning experience.

Jennifer said...

One of my previous colleagues recently posted a list of "libraries I have been shushed in" (-:)

I do understand the frustration with constant mess and so on, but to me the fact that there are blocks on the floor and the occasional louder than a whisper child is just...not important. At all.

libraryann said...

I used to list, "I just don't seem to hear 'loud' in the library. It doesn't bother me." as one of my strengths in interviews.

Along with "I speak Toddler."