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Friday, June 21, 2013

"Why The Library Saved My Life"

I work with some amazing kids.

One of them has been volunteering at my branch for several years now. I'll call her C.R. 

(And at 17, she's not really a kid anymore, but since I already feel ancient, let's just go with that.)
The other day, after the Arts & Crafts class that C.R. helps facilitate, she came up to me and excitedly said:
"I have a gift for you."
Me: "Oh! What is it?"
C.R.: "I'll send it to you later. It's a surprise."

Later that evening, I got an email with an attachment labeled "Why The Library Saved My Life." I was immediately intrigued. 

There was also this message from C.R.: "So here is your gift. Fell free to post/edit/shorten it however you want. I hope this helps in advocating for the library. = )
What followed was a very touching letter about how volunteering at the library helped C.R. in ways I wasn't even aware of.

See what I mean about working with amazing kids?

I've posted my favorite parts of the letter below. I did, in fact, edit out some parts - mostly to save some space, girl can WRITE - but the words and the sentiment are hers alone. 

(The bolding is mine to highlight my favorite parts within my favorite parts, but the whole thing is great, so I really hope you'll read it.) 

My Safe Haven
"English is not my first language.
I don't really speak English with an accent unless I get excited or mad. Only then does my weird Americanized Spanish accent come out. It's funny because in all my memories, I'm speaking English; my parents showed me videos of four year old me speaking fluent Spanish, they were interesting to say the least. 
One of my first memories is of me sitting in my pre-school library reading a book. I went to private pre-school, which most likely explains why I picked up the English language more easily than my siblings did. Anyways, this pre-school had their own separate room as a 'library.' It was in the front, and as I remember it, there was a big rocking chair in one corner, shelves below the windows with books, and carpet floor. My memory is kind of skewed as I'm pretty sure the walls were not a pinkish-purple, but I'm sitting down on the carpet facing away from the window, reading a book, when my friend comes in and asks me to play.
I said, 'NO! I'm reading!'
So begins my advantage in the English language in the public school system, where the days when we went to the library were my favorite days. I can't remember my elementary schools librarian but I remember the room. There was a carpet in the middle of the room with this huge comfortable armchair in the middle. There was an easel with puppets sticking out, (surely for the pre-school-ers) and along its side where two huge shelves filled with baskets of books, pretty much overflowing. There were tables all around the room, at the librarians desk there was a computer, and all along the walls were floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books, books, nothing but books.
For me, it was the biggest place on Earth. I loved books, I loved reading, and the other kids couldn't really understand why instead of going outside to play, I wanted to read a book...you see, books are magical; they really are TV for your head. You can sit down in a comfy area and get lost reading so many different books. Discovering their worlds, what makes some characters tick, reacting to a scene you love, reacting to a scene you don't love, quoting your favorite lines from the books you've read to other people, and eventually you find yourself looking for certain genres, trying to figure out when your favorite author will release their next book. It gets intense."
"I didn't have the luxury of going to Barnes & Noble, as some of classmates did. I had the next big thing, a library card. I received my library card via a school trip, where they showed us how they used to check out books with the little card in the back, how the library was organized, the different books they had. I loved the chairs that library had. I probably should've mentioned that I live in Brooklyn, so these public FREE libraries I visit(ed) are all Brooklyn Public Library branches. I found out that there was a library near where I live, about a two-five minute walk, fifteen-minute walk if I'm feeling lazy and take the long way. But what really got my mom to take me was the fact that it was FREE!!!"
"So there was this time in my life, where I needed a place to go because I didn't like to go home, that was the library. Now let me tell you something; being a teenager sucks. The transition between a 'child' to a 'teenager' sucks. Not being able to find matching socks in the morning sucks. Every little thing will set you off; you're a little ball of pressurized energy that will explode when air touches it. It's not that I had problems at home or in school, it's that those places didn’t feel like home. They still don't feel like home. Hell, even church doesn't feel like home, but that’s another story. Library is home to me, it treated me like I was its child, and I know that sounds like a really weird analogy but hear me out. There were nice people who didn't judge me for receiving a 70% in seventh grade honors math. There were programs such as Teen Time, arts'n'crafts, games, and RIF that occupied my time. It was a quiet space (most of the time) where I could do projects, attempt to study, print out my homework assignments because my computer at home was broken. It was warm when it was too cold outside for a walk, it was refreshingly cool when it was icky and humid outside. And of course, an endless amount of books to read when I wanted to get lost in fantasy and not face the reality of my life.
I spent so much of my time at the library that I eventually started volunteering at my branch. I was a Book Buddy! It was fun, I met cool people who would become my friends, and I learned how the library worked and functioned...I assisted in Teen Time singing for Rock Band, which was awesome; I helped supervise games, which was cool until clean-up time.

Then there was Arts'n'Crafts and RIF. I get very emotional about these two topics. RIF was a program the library held where a kid could get a free book to keep so long as they come every week, they would get the book every third Friday. I ran RIF along with a couple of other volunteers, and let me tell you something, little kids would get so excited when it was their week to get a free book. They would actually ask us (the RIF volunteers) for input on the book they were going to choose. It was a program that encouraged young children to read books in a time period that is increasingly putting emphasis on technology. So imagine my surprise and shock when I heard that RIF would no longer be funded and would end within the next two months. I cried. This was a program that I participated in when I was young and volunteered for the past four years- on the last day of RIF I felt weird, empty. My home was falling apart.
Arts'n'Crafts is the program that really made the library feel like home. Currently I volunteer on Fridays, running the program that I loved to participate in when I was younger. After all, who doesn't want to feel like they're five using felt shapes, and paint, and markers, and glitter, although most of the kids who do arts'n'crafts are eight. I like arts'n'crafts for a multitude of reasons. One, I like glitter, two, it's such an enjoyable experience working with little kids, they're funny and look forward to it every week, three, in addition to being a program I participated in when I was younger, it was the first program I participated in at my library branch. I'm thankful that my branch has the resources and the space to be able to produce this program, and I know when I go away for college I'm going to miss this program so much, just as much as I miss RIF.
But what's scary is that one day Arts'n'Crafts might end, just like RIF did, because someone said, 'Hey, let's not fund a program that promotes reading, or provides a safe environment for kids after school.' If I didn't have the safe haven that was, no IS, the library, I am being so honest with this next statement, I most likely would not be typing this essay, I would be one of those delinquents that inhabit my school. That time period, where I was lost, I did some pretty stupid things, like really stupid. It was at the library where I had an adult I could trust to help me out and it was the library where I could sit in a corner and read Curious George and nobody judged me. It was the library where when I didn't feel like going home, I could have a safe place to waste away two-four hours. Now, it's place where I can help provide a safe place for other younger who participate in a variety of programs, where kids come to use computers because maybe they don't have one. Where they can print assignments, because their home printers are being jerks, where there are trained librarians to help you look for a book that has the time setting of the 1990's tension of the Persian Gulf War (history nerd over here).
I want the library to be the safe haven it was for me, to be a safe haven for other lost teenage girls or boys, even younger kids.
But the library can't be that if their funding keeps being cut, if they don't have the resources to keep having programs, if they're short-staffed because they need to lay off workers.  Being a volunteer, I see these issues and it hurts. At one point I wanted to be a librarian, it seemed like such an awesome job to have. I know a couple of librarians, Ally, Chris...I also know Dawn who runs a program for babies and toddlers, that encourages reading. And I know the amazing Rita, who advocates for the library, in addition to being another awesome librarian.
And I'll be damned if I can't take my friends children to the library one day and show them where they keep the Curious George books.
I've never been outside of Brooklyn, but I've traveled to so many different neighborhoods, worlds, and universes.
Thank you, Brooklyn Public Library for being my safe haven."

Thank you, C.R. This was the best present you could have given me. And, in many ways, libraries saved my life as well. All the more reason to keep advocating. Now if you'll excuse me, I have something in my eye...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rescue 311

Today's the day to start calling 311 in support of NYC libraries!

You can read the blog post I wrote on this last year, because it's pretty much the same exact thing again this year. (Isn't it SO great we have to keep going through this?) 

And here's the most recent post by Urban Librarians Unite (incidentally, I wrote this too, but that's neither here nor there) on what to do and how to do it. An excerpt: 

"On either Thursday, June 20th, or Friday June 21st (or both!), call 311 at any time and tell the operator you’d like to make a 'budget comment.' Then you can make a statement regarding library funding. If you want to keep things simple, here’s a sample script: 'I believe closing any libraries in NYC is unacceptable and I’m calling to request the complete restoration of library funding.' Easy as that! And it feels so good. If you don’t live in NYC, you can call 212-NEW-YORK (or 212-639-9675). In addition, the TTY Number is 212-504-4115."

I just made my call, and it was easy as pie. (Actually, pie is pretty hard to make. Easy as pouring some bourbon!)

 If you're phone-phobic, stuck in the office, or just don't feel like calling 311, you can submit a comment online and contact the mayor directly by clicking this link. It all counts the same.

Thank you endlessly, fellow fearless library supporters! 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ain't No Cure For The Summer Reading Blues

Last week, I had my very own little Summer Reading assistant. She (an extremely precocious 7-year-old) made the sign below and then, with a somber sense of professionalism, proceeded to walk around the children's floor with a clipboard, signing up other kids for the program. (I don't think she gave them much of a choice, to be quite honest with you. Subsequently, she got a lot of sign ups. So much for child labor laws!)
She also did the illustrations, saying to me: "The rabbit is a 'reading rabbit.' Get over it." SIR, YES SIR!

Yesterday she returned.
Kid: "I'm back. I'm going to do my job now."
Me (handing her the clipboard): "Okay. You're better at it than I am!"
Kid: "What do you expect? I'm a cute little girl, they love me."
Me (jokingly): "What are you trying to say, I'm not a cute little girl anymore?"
Me: "No, I'm saying you're not a LITTLE girl."

The truth hurts, my friends.

Anyway, even though we all love our jobs, summer is definitely a tough time for public children's librarians, especially if your library is short-staffed and under-resourced. I have no words of wisdom other than to say: like all the summers before, we WILL get through this one (although, unlike my little helper friend, I cannot necessarily promise that it will be fun. That's what bourbon is for).

Personally, I am going to try my best to have a positive attitude this summer (at least while AT the library), and think about the fact that summer reading actually is good for kids and we ARE making a difference, even in smalls ways, and even if we don't always know it.

Godspeed, librarians.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Stage Fright

Found this in the library. No idea who made it or what the context was. This was all it said:

I guess we all have stage "frieight" sometimes, but, luckily, admitting that you have it is the first step to getting over it. Good job, kid (whoever you are.)

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

When Kid Art Goes Wrong

Sometimes a kid at the library draws your picture and it's adorable.
And sometimes a kid at the library draws your picture and it's...not quite adorable.
Recently a couple of my tween girl regulars were hanging around the reference desk talking about horror movies (they both love them, as do I) and how they want to create a "haunted subway" for Halloween. The subway cars would rock and shake, rats and snakes would scamper and slither over the floor, and blood would drip down from the ceiling (although how that all differs from normal subway cars, I don't know).

I guess this conversation sparked something creative in one of the tween girls. She said to me:
"I'm going to draw you Tim Burton-style."

Me: "Oh boy."
Tween: "If I draw you weird, it's not personal."

Me: "No, of course not."
Tween: "I'm going to give you weird hair, like you're in an asylum. That's what I see when I look at you."

Me: "....."

This was the result:
No. No I would NOT like to play.

I don't know much about drawing, and even though this artist's rendering of me is not entirely Tim Burton-esque, I do appreciate what she did here and feel that she nicely captured my basic work persona: smiling, friendly, a little deranged. 

So wrong, it's right.