How libraries shaped my motherhood

Guest post by Rodrigues

It’s National Library Week, and we’re celebrating on Offbeat Mama!

The baby is now a full-fledged four-year-old fan of the library!

On Arbor Day four years ago, I held two very important things: a positive pregnancy test and a library card. A first time mom, I checked out everything at the Alachua County Library with “pregnancy” or “baby” in the description, and put in requests for books not in the stacks. I signed up for the library’s free prenatal yoga classes and a lecture on breastfeeding.

Over the next weeks, my knowledge of pregnancy options went from centered completely around family experiences (almost entirely cesarean sections and emergency inductions) to including homebirths, lessened intervention, and mother-centered empowerment. In prenatal yoga, I heard women talk about birth experiences. A new world of possibilities had been opened up for those nine months alone, and I hadn’t even gotten to the books on childhood.

When my baby was born, he and I became library story time regulars. In a little room with a disfigured Hungry Caterpillar mural and stained carpet, I learned the Portuguese lullaby I still sing my boys at night and at least six ways my knees could be horses. My son learned to clap and sing.

More important than any book or song, story time surrounded me with mothers enjoying their children out in the community. I had very little experience with babies before I had that positive test, and I’d been squarely in the “undecided about motherhood” category. All the mothers in my family lived hours away. That story room was my mom-village headquarters.

After the songs and books, the library left the room open to us moms for as long as we wanted to stay. During this time, I learned about the kind of mother I wanted to be; I met mothers who could joke about the hard times and come back even if last week sucked. I saw moms coming to story time with three kids under 5, and suddenly taking my baby out didn’t seem so impossible. I learned how to be a friend to other moms; how to offer and accept help.

Sure, I’ve always loved libraries, but I realize now how my experience as a rookie mother has drawn me to fight for the future of these community powerhouses.

While libraries house extraordinary resources, it is that community aspect which lends libraries a unique relationship to families. A library offers a little piece of nearly everything in the universe through its materials… but so does Google. The difference is that physical, communal space. That space houses aspects of community living our kids can learn from, like sharing a resource or embarking on new interests instead of living in caves of personal taste.

This community experience was a huge factor in my decision to attend a graduate program in Library Science, although I’ve only realized it recently. Sure, I’ve always loved libraries, but I realize now how my experience as a rookie mother has drawn me to fight for the future of these community powerhouses.

I could write a long plea regarding the uncertainty of our libraries’ futures. Instead, I’ll just point out that with a government prepared to shut down nearly all services over budget issues, public libraries live in a dangerous climate.

So if you love your library, tell your local elected officials why it is important to you. And if you don’t love your library, tell them what would make it more valuable to your family. Your library really is your library—it exists for your use and will cease to exist when enough people don’t find it useful.

Although we’ve moved away, I keep my library card from those first years of motherhood in a box of baby keepsakes. It ranks in importance with the umbilical clamp and tiny name bracelet. I began my motherhood journey in the library, and it has been the backdrop of many brilliant experiences with my boys. In the library, we have listened to Mikey Dread talk about the early days of reggae; we have met arctic wolves and predatory birds; we have listened to countless genres of performances. We’ve had tantrums, diaper mishaps, book mishaps and more than one vomiting session. All anyone asks is that we come again.

Comments on How libraries shaped my motherhood

  1. As a book lover and library enthusiast this blew me away. I hadn’t really considered the community that could be built there. Another thing to look forward to, yay!

  2. Libraries are hugely important as community spaces — there are often rooms designated for free use by community members, which makes libraries places that serve the community beyond the information work that they are most known for!

  3. I had an expensive library habit. Oh the fines for late returns! Truly, they banned me. It was so bad that I had convinced myself it would be cheaper just to buy books and so we got out of the habit of using the library. I knew I had kept my kids out of the library for too long when we finally went back and one of my sons was sad because he wanted to check out a book but they only had it in hardback so he thought he would have to wait for the paperback. Sigh. Having relegated him to paperback books from Border’s for so long he didn’t think he was allowed to have a hard cover book. That’s messed up.

    Now that I have a clean record again I am so excited to bring my kids back and take in all the library has to offer.

    • Two years ago I rented a huge pile of wedding-planning books from the library. Some of them weren’t just wedding books but books with CD’s of images I wanted to use for stationary, etc. I put the books on top of my car while I buckled my kids in the car, and I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. I drove away and should have been charged with some sort of vehicular book homicide. This is all to say that there was a long period where I didn’t have a functioning library card as I paid for that mistake!

    • I’m right there with you. It brought tears to my eyes. I love the library (and I can’t wait to bring my little girl there to get books. I really hope that she has a love of reading like her father and I do.

      I haven’t looked into community events at my local branch but now I certainly will!

  4. As a library employee and future librarian, thank you. This was a heartfelt and beautifully written piece. I hope you don’t mind if I share it with some of my co-workers?

  5. The library around the corner from our home was my savior during the winter months with an active toddler. We’ve both learned so much and gained so many valuable friendships… Thanks for the beautifully written article!!

  6. I’m a librarian and I LOVED this post! It’s so beautiful and I’m so thrilled for you that you are getting your MLS-congrats! It also was just what I needed to read in other ways-I’m currently the only friend in my circle that is not pregant and I’m very much in the “undecided” camp, so reading your story and seeing how my favorite place in the world and where I worked became a wonderful place for you warms my heart. I can relate and I thank you!:)

  7. I completely agree! When I moved to Georgia and knew no one, I wasn’t really sure where to turn to meet new people. Me and Hailey were sooo tired of being cooped up in a house, the library seemed like the only option at first. Then after I forced myself to go one day, the library started turning into our regular “hang out” spot. They had a huge fish tank, (Hailey’s #1 reason for going), story time, and big classic barbie display. I had not realized until then that the library does have so much more to offer than just books.

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