It's National Library Week, and we're celebrating on Offbeat Mama!
On Arbor Day four years ago, I held two very important things: a positive pregnancy test and a library card. A first time mom, I checked out everything at the Alachua County Library with "pregnancy" or "baby" in the description, and put in requests for books not in the stacks. I signed up for the library's free prenatal yoga classes and a lecture on breastfeeding.
Over the next weeks, my knowledge of pregnancy options went from centered completely around family experiences (almost entirely cesarean sections and emergency inductions) to including homebirths, lessened intervention, and mother-centered empowerment. In prenatal yoga, I heard women talk about birth experiences. A new world of possibilities had been opened up for those nine months alone, and I hadn't even gotten to the books on childhood.
When my baby was born, he and I became library story time regulars. In a little room with a disfigured Hungry Caterpillar mural and stained carpet, I learned the Portuguese lullaby I still sing my boys at night and at least six ways my knees could be horses. My son learned to clap and sing.
More important than any book or song, story time surrounded me with mothers enjoying their children out in the community. I had very little experience with babies before I had that positive test, and I'd been squarely in the "undecided about motherhood" category. All the mothers in my family lived hours away. That story room was my mom-village headquarters.
After the songs and books, the library left the room open to us moms for as long as we wanted to stay. During this time, I learned about the kind of mother I wanted to be; I met mothers who could joke about the hard times and come back even if last week sucked. I saw moms coming to story time with three kids under 5, and suddenly taking my baby out didn't seem so impossible. I learned how to be a friend to other moms; how to offer and accept help.
Sure, I've always loved libraries, but I realize now how my experience as a rookie mother has drawn me to fight for the future of these community powerhouses.
While libraries house extraordinary resources, it is that community aspect which lends libraries a unique relationship to families. A library offers a little piece of nearly everything in the universe through its materials… but so does Google. The difference is that physical, communal space. That space houses aspects of community living our kids can learn from, like sharing a resource or embarking on new interests instead of living in caves of personal taste.
This community experience was a huge factor in my decision to attend a graduate program in Library Science, although I've only realized it recently. Sure, I've always loved libraries, but I realize now how my experience as a rookie mother has drawn me to fight for the future of these community powerhouses.
I could write a long plea regarding the uncertainty of our libraries' futures. Instead, I'll just point out that with a government prepared to shut down nearly all services over budget issues, public libraries live in a dangerous climate.
So if you love your library, tell your local elected officials why it is important to you. And if you don't love your library, tell them what would make it more valuable to your family. Your library really is your library—it exists for your use and will cease to exist when enough people don't find it useful.
Although we've moved away, I keep my library card from those first years of motherhood in a box of baby keepsakes. It ranks in importance with the umbilical clamp and tiny name bracelet. I began my motherhood journey in the library, and it has been the backdrop of many brilliant experiences with my boys. In the library, we have listened to Mikey Dread talk about the early days of reggae; we have met arctic wolves and predatory birds; we have listened to countless genres of performances. We've had tantrums, diaper mishaps, book mishaps and more than one vomiting session. All anyone asks is that we come again.