Tell me: is this a New York City thing? Because it’s true that libraries here are different breed than those shushy places I grew up with – our dim little branches vibrate with screamy computer games, noisy kids (often mine), homeless-ish eccentrics waiting for their computer time and sharing theories on where the anti-Christ lives. (Brooklyn, I heard recently.) And oddest of all: the child-averse children’s librarians. What gives?
I love the library. I always have. I used to work in a library, for goodness’s sakes. I think they are so super duper important to civilized society and for that matter life in general. I go to the library several times a week; Harper shrieks and claps with delight at each fresh stack of new reading material. I’m writing all this so I don’t seem like a library curmudgeon. Because really, I’m annoyed with my local library right now, for there a grumpy librarian hath committed an act most foul: she snubbed my son.
Ollie’s obsessed with trains lately, so because I am attentive mother who wants to encourage my kids’ interests, the other morning while Harper was at school, I took him to the library. On the train! We took the train there. See, it relates. We took this most-fun-transportation-ever-invented to the shiny new Kensington library branch at 18th Ave, which I will take a moment here to recommend, in theory, because it’s actually the most gorgeous branch library I’ve ever seen. Two stories, a lovely atrium, eco-friendly tables and chairs in the kids’ section and an amazing selection of all brand-new books, plus a special kids’ activity room with bright, friendly Marimekko-esque wallpaper and an assortment of wooden toys – it’s a dream of a library. So I was excited when we got there for tot storytime. And I was greeted by the children’s librarian who said, “Welcome to you and your beautiful child!” JK, she said, “You’re late.”
“Oh!” I said, smiling, super pleasant, making nice, sending the brain message, Don’t be mad at me, lady. I am your people. I am bookish. I am the most bookish. We are allies. “I’m sorry. I thought the website said it was at 11?”
“That one is for babies.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought it said up to 18 months.”
“It does. How old is your – is that a boy or girl?” (ed note: Ollie is dressed in blue jeans, black and white sneakers, a blue button-down shirt, and is holding a train toy. Yes, he has luxurious curls, it’s true, but give me a break.)
“My son is 18 months old.”
“Sure, sure he is. That’s what everyone says. You may stay if you understand it is for one time only.” This, leaning close, a touch menacingly.
What a welcome! So I thanked her and told her it was a really beautiful space and we were excited about it. She sniffed and mumbled something about trying to keep it that way and then scurried around kicking families out of the room, because that storyplaytime was over and the next storyplaytime was about to begin. A few parents asked if they could stay and she assured them they could not, and that they didn’t want to anyway, because it would be the same stories again. I think this was probably an oblique, playful reference to the classic novel Catch-22, because similarly to that novel’s central catch-22 (war is insane, you’d have to be insane to want to go to war, but if you’re insane you can’t go to war, etc), it didn’t make a lick of sense. Why did it matter what age anyone was, if both programs were the same? Why couldn’t people stay? Why couldn’t the toys stay out? Because the room had to be cleared for the 2 babies who were reluctantly approved to stay for storyplaytime 2. One of which was Ollie.
Now the babies were told to sit on tiny chairs, and scolded when they moved, which makes for a very enriching educational experience according to the most up-to-date parenting trends of 1840, I’m sure. They weren’t even making any noise, these wee people, I swear! Just moving around. The librarian said to me that if Ollie couldn’t sit still, “There’s a beautiful park – Prospect Park – nearby, and luckily we don’t live in the arctic!”
So I screamed, “Are you kidding me? There’s a PARK?! How come no one told me?!!!” JK, I creepily-calmly said, “So you’re saying that because my 18 month old doesn’t want to sit in a chair while you mumble-read a picture book about planting bulbs that’s clearly for 6-year-olds, I ought not to take him to the library at all, but belong only in the park on a freezing winter day? Lady, do your job and I’ll do mine!” JK, I mumbled, “Hm, yeah.” Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I didn’t stalk out until 5 minutes later, when finally Ollie started protesting the banishment of all those delightful toys.
Anyway, if anyone is still reading this, thank you for indulging my therapy session, whew, and my point is: WTF. Why be a children’s librarian, why be the storytime lady, if you clearly are disinterested in kids, in the funny squirmy ridiculous kidness of them? If you clearly have nothing but disdain for parents? I recall one storytime when Harper was a baby when a hilariously misanthropic librarian visibly shuddered at a toddler’s touch. Why?
My real question ought to be why I keep dragging my kids to these things. Harper flat out refuses library storytimes of any kind. “I don’t think that lady likes doing storytime,” she said after a particularly lackluster session at a different branch this summer. This is a kid who loves books and stories and telling stories more than any kid in the world. She just got a storytelling medal at playschool! A medal, I tell you! And she hates storytime. Poor thing.
Okay, so I guess I don’t completely un-get it, now that I’ve had some time to cool down from the horrific outrage of subpar toddler storyplaytime. I mean, these people have the jobs they have because they love children’s literature, not children. It seems to me that these ought to be connected, but I understand that they might not be. I loved reading Gone Girl and that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with sociopaths. Fair enough.
PS: 3 notable exceptions to the child-hating librarian rule: the storytime ladies at the Central Library and the Cortelyou branch were pretty baller last I checked, and Miss Cindy at our own Windsor Terrace branch is completely amazing, what with her ukelele and all. So I probably shouldn’t complain so much.
But I’m just so good at it.