Chicago-Area Kids Using Library as Summer Camp


The Chicago Tribune ran a wonderful story about the powerful impact libraries – and loving librarians – have on low-income children, especially in the summer months.  Many poor children and their parents are using their local libraries as a makeshift camp or child care provider.  And Chicago librarians seem happy to report for parent/teacher duty.

Susan Neuman, professor of educational studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who is writing a book on public libraries and education, lauds librarians as “the hidden stars of our communities.” She adds, “Librarians act as substitute mother teachers. They have taken it upon themselves to fill this role. They are doing it and doing it well, even if it is not something they wanted to do.”

In Zion, a suburb north of the city, “the children without parents are especially welcomed,” reports Carol Cramer, the library youth services coordinator. “We like to see our library used,” she said.

It’s quite touching to read the stories of these unsung heroes, like Jan Brooks at Thurgood Marshall Library in Englewood, who “has at times checked out books in his own name for children and paid their late fines” and even “taken children outside to the fenced-in courtyard and shared his peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the ones who don’t have a lunch.”

Brooks admits that he’s a bit of a softie when it comes to kids. He says, “So you’re running around, that’s no big deal for me. If you’re talking, it doesn’t bother me. That’s so insignificant compared to what we could do to help a child.”

Indeed. Which is why it’s so sad that year after year libraries around the country have to fight for funding and in fact to stay open. Before my daughter was born, I’d only gone to the library at Lincoln Center to check for sheet music that I could photocopy for less than it would cost to buy. But one chilly Harlem day when the park was particularly empty, we stumbled into a small branch on 124th Street. I couldn’t believe what a treasure trove it was! There were puzzles and board books, a mat for her to roam around on, and even a few toys. Since then, we’ve been to libraries all over the state of New York, all of them the most child-friendly places you could imagine – and for free! Why struggle to pay for Mommy and Me music classes when the story lady will read to and teach everyone a song on her guitar?

If you haven’t already, take some time to get to know your local library. Not only is it a great place for your kids to play and learn, but you may end up, like me, saving tons of money borrowing books you’d otherwise buy at Barnes and Noble. Don’t get me wrong, bookstores are certainly intoxicating, but the library can feel like a second home, a secret room filled with books just waiting for you.

Photo: montereypubliclibrary via Flickr