About a year and a half ago, when I was still pretty new at the library and just starting my bilingual storytimes, I was prepping an activity at the desk after school for that evening’s program. One of our regular kids, then a 4th grader, came in and asked what I was doing. I told her, and she said, “Cool! Can I help?”
I said yes immediately. I was a little behind, and I still needed to eat dinner and set up the room. I needed the help, and she sometimes hung out and got bored, so I figured this was a win-win situation. I handed over the scissors and explained what we were doing. She went to work.
Later though, when I thought about it, I realized that I was doing more than getting help with my program prep or giving her a treat because she got to stand at the desk and use the grown up scissors. I was giving her ownership of the library. I was letting her have a say and contribute to what the library offered.
Since that day, I try to say yes to kids as much as I can. I let them help with activity prep, or pull books for storytime. I ask for suggestions for program or display ideas. We are in the process of categorizing our picture books, and the same girl asked if she could do one. I let her tell me which category a book belonged in and she got to put the sticker on the spine.
I say yes when kids ask to help clean up after a program, or carry things back to the desk for me. I say yes when they ask if they can change the paper on our early literacy table or play with the Snap Circuits or Spheros in the evening. I say yes when a kid hears another kid ask a question and knows the answer or wants to show that kid where the Magic Tree House books are. I say yes when kids ask if they can get a library card, or if I will buy their new favorite book for the library.
Sometimes its not easy. A whole family of kids who comes in a lot didn’t have library cards. They asked all the time if they could get them- but mom is always working, dad is sick, no one would come in with them. One girl comes in with a tutor only- the parents won’t bring her. I love making exceptions, but sometimes there are restrictions I can’t override. It took some work and some time to bring it to our board, but I’m proud that we now offer an Explorer card, with limited check out ability. No grown up required, and now I can say yes when those kids want to take home books.
When I say yes, I am telling kids that the library belongs to them. That they have the chance to be a leader, to serve other kids, and to help make decisions. When they have ownership of the library, they will talk about why they love the library and count down the days until they can join our teen volunteer program. They show other kids around and answer their questions and talk about all the services we offer. They bring in their parents and spread the word at school. When kids have ownership over the library, they become library advocates.