The Little Man and the Library

There are milestones in life about which we look forward to: birthdays, holidays, bar mitvahs and baptisms, weddings and graduations. But it seems to me that among these milestones, we often overlook one of the most exciting and significant:

Getting a library card.

That may seem like hyperbole, but it isn't. I can still remember my earliest days in the library and the impact that had on my life. I'll have more to say on that in another post. For now, I want to focus on this major milestone in the life of the Little Man. Today, I took him to the library and he got his very own library card.

The idea of taking him to the library occurred to me out of the blue on Monday. I was sitting at my desk, looking at my calendar to see what we had coming up this weekend. I noted almost at once that this was a rare open weekend–meaning that we had nothing particularly planned. I know that Kelly likes to get the kids out to so something so that they don't become bored at home, and it occurred to me that the Little Man might like going to the library to get some books.

We read a book before bed nearly every night. I was recently reading somewhere that you can tell when a child is ready to start learning to read when they begin to recognize that there is more to the story than just the pictures in the book. The Little Man has been doing this for a while. He has a book about trains, for instance, that he likes me to read. I always try to make the reading interactive in one way or another, and so I'll say things like, “What kind of train is that?”

Early on, the Little Man would reply, “It's a hopper car, daddy.” But now, he points to the text and says, “No, you read it, daddy.”

All of this must have been going through my head when I got the idea to take him to the library. Throughout the week, I've been prepping him for it, telling him we were going; telling him he was going to get his own library card; explaining to him what the library was and what he could get there. I could tell he was pretty excited about it, but I think I was more excited. Kelly took him to Gymboree this morning, and it was all I could do to sit still, waiting for them to come home so that we could rush off to the library.

They got back to the house around 11am and the Little Man and I hopped into the car and headed off to our local branch of the Fairfax County library. I've had a library card with the Arlington library system since moving to Virginia four years ago. But I never got a card with Fairfax when we moved here. I'd told the Little Man that we had to speak quietly in the library and as we walked in, he began to whisper. “Look at all of the books, daddy.”

We went to the circulation desk and a librarian asked how she could help us.

“We'd each like a library card, please,” I said.

She smiled at us, and gave us the forms to fill out. We then sat at a table together and I filled out the forms for the two of us. When we returned them, we were each given a library card. As it turns out, there doesn't appear to be any restriction or difference between the card that I got and the card that the Little Man got. I think this is great for two reasons. First, it allows the parents to decide what books are appropriate; and second, it gives the children a bit of freedom that they might not have in other places.

I thanked the librarian and the Little Man gave me a stern look, putting a finger to his lip, “Shhhh, daddy,” he said, “people are working.”

We walked to the children's section, which is quite large. I had explained briefly to the Little Man that he could check out whatever books he liked, and explained that after we read them, we'd bring them back and get some more. I didn't try to explain how the books were organized at this point. I let him have fun wandering around, looking. I think it was a bit overwhelming for him. He pulled out one book, on construction trucks, and I told him he could pick and additional book. He looked around a little longer and finally decided on a book on dinosaurs.

There were computer terminals set up for kids and he played on one of the terminals for a little while. I didn't rush him. He seemed happy. Finally, when he looked eager to go home and read his books, I took him to the self-checkout. We scanned his library card, and then scanned the books. I explained again that when we finished with the books, we had to bring them back, but that we could pick out others. He seemed pleased. We got into the car and he wanted to read his books right away. He “read” them to himself on the way home.

I think he enjoyed it, but I was just so excited about the whole thing. My plan had been to bring him back next weekend to return his books and find some new ones, but I decided that if he wanted to do it sooner, that would be fine by me.

I also started something that I wish I had done when I first started going to the library. I started a list of books that he has read (or that I've read to him). My list goes back to 1996, when I was 24 years old. The Little Man's list–should he decide to continue to maintain it once he is old enough–will go back to when he is three years old. And the first two entries on that list?

  1. Tonka: Under Construction by Gail Herman (Illustrated by thomas LaPadula)
  2. Harry and the Dinosaurs Go To School by Ian Whybrow and Adrian Reynolds

I doubt that the Little Man will remember his first library experience. But I hope he comes to enjoy the library (and reading) enough that he can never remember a time when he didn't visit the library. That would be wonderful.