Libraries are for everyone — even babies

Updated Oct 12 2015
Guest post by Sarah Schlothan Christensen

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


Charlotte kickin' it at one of her fave hang-out spots. Photo by Sarah Schlothan Christensen

The first time I brought my daughter to the library, she was three weeks old. I slung our bulging diaper bag over my shoulder, tucked her into the wrap, and marched inside with a pile of overdue books.

I worried for weeks about bringing my child to the library. It seemed to me that babies, not exactly known for their silence or their continence, and libraries might not mix. But then there is this: my daughter shares a name with E.B. White's famous spider. When you love books the way I do, with such fervor that you name your child after a literary character, nothing — not even a noisy ten-pound pooping machine strapped to your chest – keeps you away from the library for long.

I had hardly stepped into the building when the children's librarian came over and asked to see the baby. "I just love newborns," she said. I smiled politely. "People are always afraid to bring babies to the library. I say BRING 'EM IN! It's never too early to foster a respect for books and a love of reading and an appreciation for community services. So babies smell when they poop and they cry when they're hungry and they pull books off the shelves and make a mess. So what? That's why we keep the kids' books separate. I haven't met a perfect kid yet."

That was all it took. One woman came to me and told me to come on by, no matter the mess or the noise or the smell or the fuss, and boy howdy did I take her up on that. I can count on one hand the number of weeks that have lapsed since that day without at least one visit to the library.

Our local libraries are a treasure trove of community and fun. My daughter has found in our library a place filled with music, stories, games, crafts, puzzles, child-size furniture, picture-books, and OTHER KIDS. And since becoming a mother, I have found in our library a way to meaningfully connect with local parents and our community at large.

The library is a great place for us to bond together while reading books, of course; but it's an excellent place for us to bond together while bonding with our community, too.

While my daughter is busy dancing around on a brightly-colored parachute and doling out hugs to pint-sized pals, I read the bulletin board and chat with other mothers and collect the calendar of events that the children's librarian painstakingly organizes each month. Later, I take my daughter to the hiking group that put their flyer on the bulletin board. We go together to a "reading with the dogs" evening program when my husband is working late, and I'll call up one of the mothers from story-time to make a play-date at a park.

Little by little, Charlotte and I are building our web. The library is a great place for us to bond together while reading books, of course; but it's an excellent place for us to bond together while bonding with our community, too.

When I think of this web that we are building, a web that includes individuals from all walks of life, I am horrified by the thought that we almost missed out on this because I was afraid to bring a baby to a library. It sounds ridiculous to me now, because SO WHAT if the kid makes a little noise? Twenty months into motherhood, I cannot imagine my life without these people.

But more than that, I cannot imagine my life without the place that brought us all together.

  1. Wonderful post! I've also taken my son Oz to the library since he was a newborn. They host a weekly Rhyme Time and it's been a great place to be with other mothers and babies (and also re-learn all those nursery rhymes I'd long forgotten). It's also been a great place for me to stretch our budget even more by borrowing books instead of buying them.
    My local Library is being threatened with closure due to budget cuts and it breaks my heart. It's a wonderful hub of the community and I hope this week inspires more people to go out, babies in tow, to their local libraries!

    • Ashley – Isn't it crazy how we forget those nursery rhymes? A library a little ways away from here (too far for an every-week visit, sadly) just started a 'wondertime' story-time. It has rhymes, finger plays, sign language, verbal stories, a couple picture books, and then song-and-dance time and crafts afterwards. It's mostly outdoors and lasts about 90-ish minutes. It's the coolest freaking thing in the world, but what I've loved most about it is the nursery rhymes. I can't believe how many I'd forgotten!!

      Our library has faced budget cuts too. We're down two children's librarians and the hours are shorter. I wish more people would bring their babies to libraries now so that they're still there when our babies grow up!

  2. Hooray for libraries and community and librarians and babies! I love this. I took my girl (also named after a children's book character) to story time at the library when she was a baby. Some of the kids we met there have been in her elementary school classes. The library was an important place for both of us socially.

    • Amy – How encouraging!

      We've elected to home-educate our daughter, but I hope that some of the friendships we've forged will endure for years to come just as your daughter's friendships have!

      Libraries are really about so much more than books sometimes.

  3. Many people who work and patronize our local library need a reminder of the message in your title. Some are welcoming and nice to my children, some not so much. I try to ignore the ones that don't appreciate our younger community members but it definitely puts a damper on our experiences. Some people seem to think children should be locked away in a soundproof room.

    • Chante – I'm sorry =( That's such a bummer! Do you have another library nearby that might be more welcoming? One of my biggest pet peeves is people who forget that the noise of childhood is short-lived but very, very important. I'd rather listen to noisy kids in the library than dead silence. Kids in the library means that the library has a future. No kids in the library means that it doesn't. End of story.

      • My pet peeve is assholes who bring screaming kids into the library. You know damn well that your kid cannot obey the library rules. You know damn well your kid is being absurdly disruptive. You know what you're doing is something only an asshole would do. But you're doing it anyway. You know what that makes you? An ASSHOLE!

  4. Awesome! I spent loads of time in the library as a kid and have such fond memories of it. I still recall the special kid-size washroom with toilet, sink, and drinking fountain at MY level–unheard of in the huge world I used to inhabit.

  5. I think this is one of my favorite posts on OBM to date! I love love love it! My best childhood memories are of libraries. My mother was a single mom who worked full time and went to school, and she definitely used the public library as a day care substitute. (I think most libraries forbid unaccompanied children now, but we were ALWAYS welcomed then, and at least to my recollection never caused any disruption.) We were expected to walk ourselves over after school, starting in first grade, and amuse ourselves until she would pick us up.

    By the time I was about 8, I had literally read through the entire children's collection, and I got a special pass to go into the adult library (they were completely separate areas which separate security entrances, which might explain why they were so welcoming of kids ;)) AND a special dispensation to take out the "adult" amount of books (50 at a time, instead of 10). I cannot overestimate what that recognition did for my self-confidence and my sense of myself as "smart" and a "good reader". Those afternoons built a love of reading that has lasted my whole life.

    Which is all to say, libraries rock, for kids and parents of all ages.

    (PS – my future kidlits names are also all literary. No surprise there!)

    • Jenna Rose – My parents used to let us go down to the library unattended on weekends. I still remember the first time that the librarian allowed me to check out books from the adult section. It really did make a world of difference in my confidence too =)

      Also, I can't take all the credit for Charlotte's name. My husband picked it. I picked her middle name, though: Anais. After more beautiful literature.

  6. What a great piece. I've been holding off on taking my baby to the library, I guess because I'm afraid he'll make a noise and someone will shush us but the library has always been one of my favorite places and I want to instill in my son my love of reading. I think it is time we take our first trip to the library together.

    • Beth H – I say go! There's no time like now!

      If your library has a website, they might keep a calendar of events posted online. Story-times are the best because with that many other children around, you probably don't need to worry about being shushed. I always recommend that people try out a couple different story-times at different libraries if they can – best find one that you like and will be a constant participant in than find one that you just sort of put up with and don't mind missing.

  7. As a librarian and new mom I loved reading this post! Yes, bring your kids in – better yet, bring your kids and their friends in! The more we can get people involved in the library the more vibrant a place it is.

    Libraries need you even more than you need them. We're there to not only help foster a love of reading in your kids, but teach information finding skills, to computer classes, job hunting/resume writing, and host a wide variety of community events – and just about everything in between. But right now many public libraries are facing budget cuts; some are cutting programs and staff while others have been forced to close. The more the community gets involved the more likely it is seen as an essential service that will continue to be funded.

  8. I'm not pregs yet, but I always wondered where the library will fit into my schedule once mom-dom hits. I'm more confident now that it can factor in and create a strong community!

    • Cali – I mentioned this above somewhere, but definitely look into story-time. It's one of the easiest ways to fit the library into new motherhood. Sometimes they have weekend story-times or afternoon story-times too, so look around at multiple libraries and find which ones work for you =)

  9. I've been taking my 19-month old to the library for a while now, and we've just started going to storytime. Our storytime is wonderful, with songs as well as picture books. My daughter is in love with a song she learned there, and when she sees the Children's Librarian in the library, she runs up to her and sings it!

    She also just made her first friend there, totally independent from me (she has other friendships that I've facilitated). I'm looking forward to us seeing him there next week.

    • Hillary – How much does the librarian love that?! HOW SWEET!

      My daughter is nearing 21 months and I can't wait until she starts making library pals independently of me. Right now she's really into watching the other kids and then pushing me into a corner to snuggle and read =)

  10. This made me feel more confident about being a mom! I am 3 months pregnant and very worried about finding kids for my baby to play with because I don't have any friends with kids, and because of my social anxiety when meeting new people.

    I love my local libraries [I have 5 that I consider my 'regular' ones] and they all have lovely kid's areas which made me feel confident about bringing the little one; it just never occurred to me that it would be a good place for us to make friends too. I'm sure I'll also meet people at the park and various activities, its nice to know that whomever I meet at the library I will have one thing in common with–an enjoyment of books and reading. If nothing else, that makes me feel a little more confident that I'll find a way to make conversation.

    Thanks for such lovely advice! I will make sure I go confidently to our library, crying, pooping baby and all.

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