I used to think I understood children (and parents) pretty well. And I probably did. But becoming a mother brought me to a whole different level of understanding, and I think it made me a better person in general, and a better children’s librarian specifically.
These are my experiences.
- I’m now able to connect with my customers in a way I never could before. Conversation starters are easy (“How old is your baby? …Oh, mine is just one month younger than him!”), advice is given and taken more seriously, rapport is built nearly instantly.
- The roomful of babies and toddlers is cast in a different light. The passion given to the job is transformed by your love for your child.
- Each child’s developmental level is understood faster, abilities and intellect and age recognized better. The daily struggles of parenting are vivid and real, and expectations are adjusted accordingly. Sympathy sometimes trumps official rules.
- The children seem to know a mommy when they see one, and relationships are forged quicker. We were buddies before baby, too, but something small changed.
- And of course, I have a built-in audience for at-home storytime practice. I don’t need to worry about forgetting how to read baby books, and I can practice the new scarf song I just learned right away.
Practically speaking, here are some realities that I learned on the job:
- Children, especially young babies or curious or cranky toddlers, will often be uninterested in all the pages in the book or all the verses in the song or, if we’ll be honest, in anything you have to offer. And that’s fine. As a librarian, we might be bummed if a child doesn’t seem engaged at story time, but it’s not a reflection of you (unless, of course, you made a foolish choice for baby time read-aloud), but of their attention spans and external factors like overtiredness, teething, or hunger. Keep trying and believe that there is a benefit to your toil, even if the story or song seems to be going in one ear and out the other. They might surprise you with how much they’ve absorbed.
- Newborns don’t care a whit about the plot line, or even the rhyme scheme or color palette. This may be sacrilegious, but having a baby lent credence to my skepticism: Infants don’t seem to appreciate books until they can stay awake long enough to see what you’re showing them. After they’ve opened their eyes and focused on objects, reading seems more worthwhile. It wasn’t until about three or four months when my baby seemed interested in a bedtime story. Songs and conversation, though, are always good for any age, and establishing good literacy habits for parents is a noble enough cause to warrant encouraging reading to infants who couldn’t care less.
- My eyes were fully opened to the harsh reality that what I like isn’t the same as what a baby likes. I bought Corduroy because I felt nostalgic about this childhood favorite, and when I settled down to read it to my daughter, I was in for a rude awakening. She would much rather read Baby Faces despite it having a grand total of six words (or nine, depending how you count them) in the entire book. This is definitely a lesson I need to carry over into storytime: I sometimes pick story time books because of personal preferences, not solely because of their baby appeal and read-aloud merits.
How being a librarian informs my parenting choices
The converse of the above is also true: I think being a children’s librarian has made me a better mother. This plays out mostly in a general awareness of, and effort towards, early literacy, but also specifically in these areas:
- Stash of Songs. My repertoire would certainly not have been as rich as it is had I not chosen this profession. It is so easy to distract a wiggly baby mid-diaper-change with a screen, but instead I know how to launch into a favorite song, rhyme or tickle (though she’ll often dive for the phone anyways).
- Stash of Stories. I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, but my daughter is over the moon with joy when I suggest that we read a book together. It’s a favorite activity for both of us. But would I have been as assiduous in my collection development of our little board book library if not for my librarian background? Would I have thought that a baby as young as her would really enjoy a bedtime story? Could be bookworm genes, but could be that babies just enjoy watching their parents or hearing a beloved voice discuss the pictures on the page. I certainly know that my baby wouldn’t be excited about reading if I didn’t bother buying the books to begin with (I know, I’m a librarian, I shouldn’t be buying them–but a) the board books are probably full of germs, b) it’s kind of hard to get library books during quarantine, and c) I believe it’s important for literacy to own books in general, especially favorites that will be read and reread and chewed upon for years).
- Conscious Conversation. I learned that one of the greatest indicators of a child’s readiness to read is how many words they are exposed to on a daily basis. I taught parents about the five components of early literacy, including “Talk,” and privately wondered why in the world parents needed to be instructed to talk to their children. It seemed so obvious and natural. Fast forward a couple years, and here I often find myself silently going about my tasks–even baby-related ones like diaper changes and bath time–and need to consciously remind myself to chatter and sing to her while I work. I’ve lost my skepticism on this one.
Wishing the best of luck to all children’s librarians, parents or not, and all parents, children’s librarians or not. Anyone who spends their day with kids is awesome.
Disclaimer: this post was not commissioned by a maternity wear company or a diaper manufacturer.
Today’s guest blogger is Leah Hoenig. Leah is a wife and mother, and a children’s librarian for the Queens Public Library.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.