It has been an interesting journey, moving from library content creator, to library content user. By that, I mean, I never experienced library programs for children as a parent until now. I only knew what it looked like from the Librarian side. Now, the table has turned. It has been an eye-opening experience to use the library as a Mom with a young child.
Library X, where I work, is an excellent library where the staff has always worked hard to make every patron welcome, birth to 99 years old. However, I don’t actually live near enough to this library to attend programs there with my child. Library X has always worked hard at creating programs for working parents, but we have a ways to go.
Since Baby E is now getting to the age where she will sit up (kinda) and not randomly scream for hours (more on that another day), I wanted to take her to story time. Alas! Silly me! Libraries are not for babies! Library X (and others in the county consortium it is part of) has excellent programs for babies. So, of course, I thought I would find equally amazing programs for babies at the libraries near my home. An anomaly occurred; I was wrong. There were very few baby story times offered, and even fewer baby story times offered for families who may have working adults.
Why is Pajama story time for ages 3 and up?!?! Babies wear PJ’s, too! In fact, babies are the highest demographic of PJ wearers!
With only one option per week, I quickly realized that Baby E and I would be doing our own story time alone. We would have to wait for the once a month story time that welcomed babies and was at night.
It’s fine for me, but I started to think about what we are saying to parents when we do not offer programming for babies, or, when we create barriers in the library for them. Then, I put my librarian hat on and I am appalled at what little is offered for babies in the two neighboring counties.
So, I asked around and was really enraged over the experience friends of mine have had while visiting libraries with small children. Lots of shushing and mean looks when a baby is crying. There were no materials appropriate for babies (hello! You can wipe off board books even if they get slobbered on!), people making rude comments about breastfeeding moms, or little ones demoralized for eating snacks, crying, or talking too loudly. There were no toys to play with, no fish to look at. No place to “be” a baby. I started to wonder what we are saying to parents. Are we telling parents that their babies don’t belong?
Also, why is the only place I can take my child to play indoors without getting harassed, a fast food restaurant?
How could you NOT want to see this ALL. THE. TIME.
There’s been lots of research done that babies should be around books. Here’s a fun article about it.
Research has shown that babies start to absorb things from the moment they are born and now research shows even before they are born! So why wouldn’t we create a vast array of programming for our littlest ones? Not only during the day, but in the evening and on weekends, too. I know it’s not easy, but when we treat babies like an afterthought in the library, we are basically telling parents they don’t belong. If you catch a family with young babies, make them feel welcome, create FREE and fun programming for them, they will be library users for life. So, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we teach young Mom’s how to read to their babies and sing to them, and then educate them along the way?!
I suspect that there isn’t enough staff to create programming for babies on the weekends and in the evenings, but there has to be something we can do! So, I created a list of ways we can make libraries more friendly for babies. And by we, I mean the public library in which Baby E and I would like to attend regularly (it’s too bad they will never see this, or if they do, they probably will not know I am talking about them!)
How to make libraries more friendly to babies (specifically my baby).
1. Create programming for babies and parents with children under 2 and programs for children who have working parents. If you can’t do it every week, do it once a month. New parents are too tired for every week, anyway. Allow babies to come to programs for preschoolers. Most parents will take a crying baby out, so they will not disturb your story time and they will also learn a lot about how to behave from their older (and wiser?) peers.
2. Abolish limits on borrowing books! Lots of parents with young children don’t want to come to the library every week. They are also VERY tired (I know this from experience) and the thought of reading the same book over and over is something they can not handle until their child is 2 and sleeping through the night. Literally, there are days when I feel like if I read Goodnight, Moon one more time I will vomit and then light the book on fire. When you are a tired new parent, you can’t handle things like LIMITS on books. I get 2 hours of sleep at a time for about 6 hours a night and my baby doesn’t nap and I’m basically like a feeding, diapering, soothing machine. Ain’t nobody got time for limits! Let me take home 14 board books so I can read one each night to my baby for two weeks then bring them back.
3. Get a collection for babies. I know board books have high turn over, but guess what!? They are CHEAP! You can also wipe them off if they get put in someone’s mouth. I take board books home from my library and wipe them off BEFORE I give them to Baby E and then again when I bring them back. I bet a lot of parents do this, too.
4. Create a space for babies and parents of young children. Get a changing table in the bathroom, try to find a space for nursing moms, or at least educate yourself and your patrons about parents who may be nursing in public. Get some toys or a fish tank for babies to look at. New parents want to get out of the house and bring their baby somewhere! I know a patron who parked her baby in front of our fish tank and read a magazine for an hour a few times a week. It made her feel human.
5. Make sure the aisles in your children’s area are wide enough for strollers. I nearly had a fit in Target the other day because I couldn’t get a cart OR a stroller through the baby clothes aisles. HELLO?! BABY CLOTHES usually means baby, which usually means stroller or cart. UGH! Also, if your library has a “No Strollers Allowed” sign and it suddenly goes missing, I probably ripped it down. Seriously?! I know space is tight, but how do you expect a Mom of three, with a 5 month old to come into the library and leave with ANYTHING (don’t you want your circ to go up?!) if they can’t have a stroller!
6. Educate your staff and other patrons about why we welcome babies (and the noise and smells and mess that come with them) in the library. Make signs, or fliers, or announcements, or SOMETHING. If a baby is crying, don’t stare at the parents. They know the baby is crying. They may hear the baby crying all night long. Nobody is more frustrated that their baby is crying than the person who is caring for the crying baby. Give them a break. Give them a smile. Don’t stare. Don’t humph. Don’t roll your eyes. Remind your patrons that the library is for everyone. If someone came in and coughed, or had to yell because they were hard of hearing, you wouldn’t be rude to them, so why are we rude to babies. They can’t help their crying! I am sure they’d rather be talking!
I know my library isn’t perfect, but we do try hard to accommodate patrons of all ages. If your 18 month old wants a library card, they should be allowed to have one. It doesn’t hurt the library, and it makes your patron numbers go up. I think we need to seriously re-evaluate our priorities in a library. We are public service institutions. I know people will say we aren’t day care centers or playgrounds. That may be true, but I can tell you one thing from experience, nobody holds a grudge like a new Mom who was desperate for some human contact and to find a place to play, read, and sing with their baby and is turned away, hushed, or otherwise scorned.
No Strollers Allowed Libraries: You’ve been warned.