Serving Military Families in the Public Library

Have you ever presented a program and learned something unexpected about your library users? At Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia we ran a storytime focusing on military families and two nonagenarians saw the event listed in the local paper and attended, complete with walkers! They decided not to stay for picture books and songs, but first they regaled us with tales of traveling with their soldier husbands to ravaged, post-World War II Germany.

What did we learn? Firstly that “All Ages” in the local paper may be interpreted literally. Secondly, that there is plenty of community interest in military family lifestyles.

You may think services to military families are not relevant to your library, but consider that over two million American children have had a parent deployed since 9/11, and current military families total over five million people. If you include veterans, military retirees, Department of Defense civilians, grown military children, and parents of military members, interested people can live anywhere and be served by any library, including yours.

Military families lead varied lives, but are likely to experience the stressors of constant relocations and school or job changes, prolonged military member absence, knowledge of family member’s danger, distance from extended family, and living on a military base or overseas. Other children may experience these stressors, for example, the child of a long distance truck driver will experience prolonged parental absence, but the combined stressors add up to a definite military lifestyle.

Over two thirds of children with an Active Duty military parent are under 11 so the first program we offered was our all-ages storytime that focused on 3-7 year olds. Book selection is challenging because the books often touch on war which may be controversial. On the other hand songs involving marching are always fun! Our Saturday morning program was well attended and several parents said that they were pleased and touched to see military families featured at the library. They were also enthusiastic about displays, especially of picture books. You can see from the photos that real camouflage is effective, and if you don’t know someone in the military for old clothes, then try a thrift store.

For people who can’t come into our library I used a military family theme for several posts in our two widely-read review blogs, Blogging for a Good Book and Pied Pipers Pics The posts didn’t get a huge number of ‘likes” but received many comments and we heard from two of the authors.

These successful programs confirmed that military family life is a topic that doesn’t affect everyone, but the people who are affected are appreciative, so we are planning more storytimes, displays, reviews and I will keep adding to my long-term project of an annotated list of books featuring children with parents in the U.S. military Books for Military Children. If you have never considered featuring programs for military families in your library I urge you to reach out to this often overlooked group.

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Our guest blogger today is Jan Marry. In her twenty-one years as an Active Duty military spouse, she raised four children while living in six countries and four states. She works at the Williamsburg Regional Library where you can contact her at jmarry@wrl.org.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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