When my child returned to elementary school this past year, so did I.
However, I stopped just short of joining the third grade with him and instead popped into the library, ready to begin my stint as a volunteer there.
For me, volunteering at my child’s school library felt like coming full circle. My mother brought me along when she volunteered at the parochial school where my older siblings attended.[*] Already a reader, I loved the library, its scent of books, the vast shelves of stories.[†] I remember the school librarian being a kind woman who drew the difficult number eights my hands couldn’t yet manage. Becoming a librarian’s assistant in turn seemed like an ideal way to pay forward the generosity I received at the many libraries I visited in my youth.
It also proved to be an eye-opening experience. I knew beforehand that my duties would include shelving, locating, and checking out books, not to mention helping the younger students select what they wanted to read. But I forgot about the crushing indecision children suffer when given so many choices, regardless of whether they wanted to read more books than allotted[‡] or whether they didn’t know what they wanted to read at all. Keeping in mind popular choices for their age levels, their specific reading levels, and age-appropriate material while trying to guess their interests made me long for telepathy. But every child we helped left with a book.
There’s More to Libraries than Books
Makerspace also surprised me. Alternating with “book week”, makerspace ranges from puzzle solving with plastic cups to stop-motion animation with leaves. My son previously mentioned some projects he worked on, but his limited explanation failed to convey their interdisciplinary nature or the labor behind their success. Even at the elementary school level, librarians’ responsibilities extend far beyond their being benevolent bestowers of books (see “Read More”).[§] But, it paid off. While I handed out supplies in the background so that the librarian could instruct the students, the kids learned how to do an impressive array of activities, like program robots wearing costumes the kids created. I often left amazed (if tired) at what the kids could do with some direction and patience. Well, a lot of patience and glue. And wouldn’t you know, some kids were inspired to read more about the projects they worked on the previous week.
After my year at the library, I realized I had even more reasons to appreciate my son’s librarians as well as the ones who shaped my own childhood. And I’m looking forward to discovering more next year.
Curious about what librarians do besides hoarding books? Check out these articles to learn more:
[*]And where I went to school…a few years later.
[†]From my then tiny perspective. Like most things that loomed larger than life in my memory, they seem shrunk now that I’m grown.
[‡]These kids are my people. When I take my child to the public library, he’s allowed to take out as many books as he can carry.