My two kids and I head to the library every week and it's one of my favorite things. I love getting a huge bag of books and feeling the excitement to get home and read them and see where they take us. It's a strong memory I have from my own childhood and I cherish getting to repeat it with them, but the more time I spend at the library with my family, the more I realize its benefits go beyond just a bag of new books to read.
The resources libraries provide and the values they reinforce are making my kids into better human beings and helping the planet along the way.
The original sharing economy
Libraries were participating in a sharing economy long before Netflix or Airbnb. There is a major environmental advantage to sharing copies of books, DVDs and other media over all of us purchasing new copies, but more than that it's how libraries foster a commitment to sharing that is so beneficial and can carry over into the rest of our lives.
For my kids, learning about how our library books are just on loan to us and belong to everyone in the community was a first lesson on how to take care of things so that they last and can be used by many people. The idea of treating things as important long-lasting objects instead of disposable ones was easy to drive home when it was connected to the library books that they love checking out. It also is a great way to talk about sharing resources and how we have to think beyond ourselves.
Just as importantly, libraries are institutions dedicated to the sharing of information and ideas. Our world can never progress without access to knowledge and libraries give the public open access to books, articles, documentaries and other resources and give us all a place to gather and share them.
Community involvement and connection
Libraries are community centers, serving everyone in their area. Just visiting the library is a way to connect yourself and your family to the community you live in, but libraries offer more than that. They host book clubs, LEGO clubs, story times, puppet shows, writing camps, family movie nights and information sessions on technologies and community issues (among so many other things). They serve us and they also bring us together and get us involved in our community.
They curate special collections about our towns, cities, states and regions so that we can learn more about them and feel a greater sense of place.
All of those things make a community stronger and people who feel connected to their communities are more willing and better prepared to work for what's good for everyone. Raising my kids to be involved in the library starts them on a great path to community involvement.
While we've taken some very long road trips with our kids, we haven't been able to do any travel out of the country with them yet. While I hope to one day be able to show them more of the world, for now their exposure to other places, cultures and ways of living often comes from the library.
Books from everywhere around the world, featuring stories and characters they couldn't meet otherwise let them see how big and varied the world really is while also showing them how much is the same from place to place.
Understanding more about different places and cultures will make my kids better global citizens, and hopefully give them compassion for all people and living things.
A lifetime of learning and imagining
At our last visit to the library, my kids picked out their usual big stack of books. The subjects ranged from how cocoa beans are made into chocolate to a duck who lost his socks. Every time they get to go and pick out books, whether they be informative or very silly, they're learning about how the world works and strengthening their imaginations. And by encouraging them to do that now, I'm hopefully starting a lifelong habit.
It's a habit I'm still engaged in. I learn from the library with an ever-changing stack of knitting books, cookbooks, nature field guides and more.
Even if you're not a bookworm, libraries offer classes on crafting and computer software for adults and host science and art events for kids to provide hands-on learning too.
If this sounds like a very strong ode to libraries, it is. I'm a better and more-informed person because I visit libraries and I'm making my kids into better people too. Knowing how to share, take care of things and protect resources, have a strong sense of community, understanding the world we live in and having a lifetime commitment to learning and dreaming. These are ideas I'm responsible for encouraging in my children and libraries help me to do that and those same ideas are pretty great for the planet too.