Giving your child a library card is like giving them the keys to a magical kingdom.
Some people dream of being given the key to a city – an invitation to visit, unimpeded, every nook and cranny of the place. So how much more exciting to be given the key to the world (or even the universe), and all for free! That’s what your local library offers your child when they sign up for a library card. Stand on tippy-toes your child may have to, in order to reach the counter to apply, but with that slightly wobbly signature, they enter a new phase in their lives.
With that new card, they are suddenly a VIP. Trusted (albeit with a little help and guidance from time to time) to choose their own books, games, DVDs, and puzzles, they are imbued with a sense of importance. Even more importantly, they know that an entire library trusts them with an ocean of items they don’t even own. Your child suddenly finds themselves an equal member of a big community – the readers of their town or city – and not only can they come and go, unimpeded, from their own local library, but they have the key to every other library in town, too!
What your grinning little one probably doesn’t realise, as they carry away their first bag of goodies from the library, is just what more is in store for them. Even on an unplanned visit, they may well be greeted by a giant Harry Hairy Maclary Dog reading books aloud in the story pit, or a gaggle of librarians sporting detective hats and moustaches as they lead a train of children on a book hunt through the shelves. But pick up a leaflet from the counter to check out what more is in store, and don’t be surprised to find that at least two mornings a week of the school holidays will be taken up with reading activities that include colouring competitions, craft fun, fancy dress, and kite-making.
Fun aside, a child’s library card is also an invitation to access, without cost, highly skilled professionals adept in the art of laying hands on the very piece of information required to complete that homework assignment, whether it’s from a book or the internet. With inside knowledge, they’ll be able to find the very book your child has been looking for and, even better, suggest 10 more they’ll enjoy just as much but may never have heard of.
As for saving your family untold dollars spent on the latest video game hire or most recently published book in a favourite series, the library is the place to go. Upskill yourself and your child on how to request books and other items in advance or suggest the library purchase a book about to be released, and your library will begin to feel like a bookshop as well as a place to borrow and return.
Just as children live out every other aspect of their lives through play, don’t be surprised if your child is so excited about libraries they suddenly decide to open their own at home. In which case, let them! So much fun can be had by helping children pop a hand-drawn barcode (which you can duplicate using your computer and printer) into each of their very own books, then issuing them! As they play librarian and show you through their selection of books, puzzles, DVDs, and games, let them “persuade” you as to what you should borrow. Of course, you can always turn the fun around by asking them to look out a book for you on a particular subject (such as teddy bears), which you just happen to know they have on their bookshelf. Or perhaps there’s a subject not already covered in their own collections, in which case it may be a case of your child turning author and writing the very book you need, complete with cover and its own ISBN (International Standard Book Number).
As children grow older, the lure of the library grows increasingly important as a way of connecting with peers, whether it’s through visiting to borrow, to watch a movie or live performance, or even to hear their favourite author speak. Very often there’s also the opportunity for older children to contribute to their library through becoming a voluntary assistant.
Libraries are important at every age and it’s never too early to take your children to visit. Look out for regular events to suit everyone from babies and toddlers to college-age students. Tap into holiday programmes and special occasion events, and start your children on a lifetime of interest and enjoyment.
Catlins author Diana Noonan is one of New Zealand’s best-known writers for children. A former editor of the iconic School Journal, she writes for a wide range of educational resources, and takes a strong interest in the New Zealand curriculum.