“Because of all the bad literature in libraries today, I haven’t found going to the library as a family to be a very enriching experience. My strategy right now has been to select books for read aloud myself, put them on hold, and then run in to get them. I would, however, like my kids to have a regular library experience growing up. How do you make going to the library a good family experience without coming home with a lot of poor quality books?”
I’ve struggled with this myself. I absolutely love the public library, but it is true that schlepping my crew there each week can be a trial. Not only are small children hard to manage in a library environment, the library shelves are literally packed with drivel- the kind of garbage that I don’t want any of my kids to read. (Captain Underpants, anyone? My local library actually has an entire shelf devoted to those treasures. Seriously.)
All books are not created equal. It would be better not to read at all than to read a bad book! You are what you eat, right? If I want my child’s soul to be nourished by the good, the true, and the beautiful, I’ve got to help him heap that onto his plate. I don’t allow my children to fill their physical bodies with junk, and I certainly won’t allow them to fill their souls with it, either.
Knowing the Risks
I worked in a rather large public library system for three years, and as an on-call assistant I was able to hop around to 14 different branches and see how they all worked. I loved that job, but I learned some things about the library world that bothered me greatly. Every single library I worked at operated from the same idea that everybody, children included, should have unfiltered access to any information they wanted. Those libraries had books of all kinds (and I do mean all kinds, ahem) on the shelves. If a child of any age wanted to check out a book on an adult-topic (and I do mean adult topic, ahem), we, as library employees, were not allowed to refuse them or even to suggest they ask their parents first. Furthermore, if a parent asked me what their child had checked out, I wasn’t allowed to tell! Freely dispensing information of any kind to whomever wanted it was the library’s die-hard mission.
In many (though certainly not all) libraries, the books that are prominently displayed as “great reads” may, in fact, be nothing of the sort. I was often surprised at the twaddle- or worse- trotted out and recommended on a regular basis at the libraries I worked in.
It wouldn’t be surprising, for example, to hear a librarian recommend Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass to a child who asked for a title similar to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the library world, both books belong to the child’s genre of fantasy- that one is twisted and dangerous while the other is noble and classic would not even enter into the equation.
The librarians are our friends, of course- and they do want to help our kids develop a love for reading- but it’s important that we stay tuned in to what our kids are plucking off the shelves. The idea that “any reading is good reading” is a common belief today. If we don’t subscribe to that theory, then we need to make sure we are the hard stop before anything comes home in the book bag. When it comes to choosing literature that develops a strong moral imagination in our children, nobody else will protect our children’s souls the way we will.
(Side note- I’m currently reading Tending the Heart of Virtue: How Classic Stories Awaken the Child’s Moral Imagination and it is excellent! How many of you would be interested in talking about how to use books to build a strong moral imagination in our children? I am slowly coming into a deeper understanding of this myself and would love to have a conversation about it. Anyone up for that?)
So… How Do We Do It?
First of all, we don’t necessarily have to. Jamie at Simple Homeschool has written about how (and why) she makes use of the library without bringing her kids with her. But many of us still want our kids to make library treks with us on a regular basis. How do we make use of libraries without caving on our literary standards? Can we find ways to encourage our children to choose good books and leave the drivel on the shelf? Can we manage to bring small children (even if only occasionally) without losing our sanity? Are there ways to make a family library visit an enjoyable and edifying part of our week?
Let’s see what we can come with in the comments. If you have any ideas, we would love to hear them. I’ve fixed up the combox to make it easy-peasy to participate in the conversation.
Go here to get the Read-Aloud Revival form if you’d like to track your time. There are no requirements to participate, of course. Just bring yourself, your desire to read-aloud to your kids, and a thing or two to say in the comments.
Now… let’s chat!