By Renee Runge
In the back of my wallet, I still have my very first library card. The card may be getting floppy, the signature smudged and faded with age – and I have a newer, adult card to replace it – but I hold onto it for the memories and experiences I owe to it.
With technology becoming increasingly accessible to children, we are beginning to see deficiencies in children’s ability to read and focus in schools. Lately, it seems that when I visit the library, the children’s section is emptier and emptier every time.
The benefits of taking children to the library simply cannot be overstated. I firmly believe that if people knew more about what the library offers, or what children can gain by becoming involved in library activities, more parents would be encouraging their child to go. Read on to discover, or rediscover, the benefits available to your child at the library.
The Benefits of Taking Children to the Library
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Having a library card gives children an introduction to responsibility that will follow them throughout life.
At as early as 4 years old, you become eligible to apply for a library card with the permission of a legal guardian. With a library card comes the wonderful privilege of being able to check out books from the library. However, this privilege comes with a set of expectations that are to be upheld.
Every two weeks, my mom would take me to our local library branch to fill up a bag with picture books. Throughout the next two weeks, we would read the books together and decide which ones were worth renewing and which ones we wanted to return in exchange for new books. This routine established two primary ideas for young me: 1) I had the autonomy to choose the books that I wanted to read, and 2) whatever I took from the library, eventually had to go back.
In my earliest days of using the library, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just keep the books that we brought home. My mom explained to me that when you check out books with a library card, you make a promise to the library that you are going to bring them back; this is because the books belong to the library, and they are allowing you to borrow them. The books have to be returned so that other people can read them too.
And don’t forget the penalty for failing to return a book on time: the charge. I remember diligently marking off on a calendar the days until my library books needed to be returned so that I could avoid the overdue fees. My parents put me in charge of keeping track of the due dates so that I would get used to having deadlines. Even though a late charge seems insignificant in the grand scheme of things, having children, who likely have a very small allowance to begin with, pay their own overdue book fees is an essential teaching moment in the value of money.
Aside from the introduction to the concept of borrowing and returning, children learn that they need to keep library books in good condition. All of the books I checked out from the library that came with stains, tears, and crumbs inside served as reminders to me as a child to make sure not to repeat the mistakes made by other children. There were times I even reported books that were in poor quality to the librarians because I didn’t want them to blame me!
I can’t help but think about how my library card prepared me for future responsibility, from keeping up with homework assignments to paying off credit card charges. I can trace the origins of many of my personal values back to being taken to the public library as a child and believe that getting those experiences so young has shaped me in more ways than I can count.
Taking children to the library at a young age helps them learn what resources are offered there long before they’ll need them.
By the time your child hits middle school age, they probably already have experience with research projects. The older they get, the more time and labor intensive these projects become. It can be hard to figure out where to start when it comes to research, but the library can take away most of the stress if you know where to look.
All libraries have a reference section with catalogues to find specific books and databases for finding periodicals. Other references include dictionaries, almanacs, thesauruses, atlases, and encyclopedias. If there is anything you can’t find, or you aren’t sure where to start, librarians are trained to be able to help.
Libraries also make for a nice study space, especially if your child has difficulty focusing at home. Since libraries are quiet by nature and have all of the reference materials, as well as computers, right there for public use, you can bring children there to work on homework or projects while you find books of your own!
More than just books, the library offers all kinds of activities!
Although the library is known for books, there is so much more to be checked out there. Most libraries have extensive collections of movies, audiobooks, music CDs and tapes, and sometimes even technology. Depending on the needs of the community, they may offer other kinds of things for loan as well, such as cookware, board games, and more.
Aside from the physical item offerings, most libraries have spaces that are used for various social gatherings facilitated either by the library or by individual clubs. Most of these activities are intended for children or are child-friendly, so they can be a great way to get your child out of the house and engaged in something fun.
When I was younger, my mom would take my younger sister and I to our library for storytime. A librarian or guest speaker would read a picture book to the group, and then there would be an art activity related to the story. Events like this can help children become more interested in reading, and also give them time to get creative.
Often, library branches will host book club meetings, movie viewings, and technology lessons. Another popular activity for libraries to host is classes on speaking other languages, or time for people who are learning English to come and practice in a friendly setting. My local library even has Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! card trading clubs that meet monthly. Activities vary from library to library, so it is wise to take a look at your local branch’s website to find out what is offered there.
What are the other benefits of taking children to the library?
The library is full of hidden gems, whether those gems take the form of books, clubs, or your new favorite movie. Every library is different, but one fact stays true: the earlier a child is introduced to the library, the more they’ll get out of it. The benefits of taking children to the library are immensurable. On top of setting your child up for future success, taking your child to the library should be a fun and exciting experience every time. After all, according to Albert Einstein, “the only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”