From the Teachable Moment January 1998 :
With the holiday season in full force, I have been reflecting upon gifts that last forever. Gifts which get passed on and continue to touch lives. One gift that was given to me many years ago which continues to affect my life every day wasn't even a Christmas gift. It was a summer gift and it was given to me by a complete stranger.
I was 8 years old and visiting my grandmother in her little town for a few weeks. As I was exploring the immediate blocks around her home one day, I noticed a place that looked fairly busy. People were coming and out with books. My grandmother told me it was library and encouraged me to go in. She did not come in with me. The only libraries I had been in before this were the ones at school. You went in with the whole class and were on a tight schedule and the librarians were usually grouches, busy shushing everyone and giving the impression the library was a very important place, but not a very welcoming one.
That I even took a few more steps into the library is remarkable. My report card for the year had remarks on it recommending that someone work with me on my reading. That I needed to talk less and put more effort into my reading. Needless to say, I had a negative mindstep towards reading.
I didn't get too far into the situation before I was approached by a librarian. I remember feeling scared, sure that I was in trouble for daring to intrude in this place without an adult. Instead, she talked to me for a few minutes and had me settled in a comfortable chair with a Nancy Drew mystery before I realized what was happening. Since she had treated me so kindly, I actually started reading the book. Guess who got hooked on Nancy Drew mysteries? (2012 note: Guess who is still hooked on mystery books, of all kinds?) I had never even known of the existence of a fictional character named Nancy before.
I reluctantly left after a short time. The best part of the gift was to come. This kindly librarian extracted enough personal information form me to track down my grandmother, encourage her to let me return and arrange for me to check out books while I was in town!
My love of reading blossomed from that point. I hit the ground running and have never stopped. Now I have 3 companions who run along with me. The sweetest sound to my ears is when one of the three older children (hopefully that number will be changing to four before very long) agitate to get to the library. I understand their agitation. I feel the same way when I am out of reading material. They are amazed when they discover friends whose families never go to the library. They have tried to share this also. With some of their friends, it catches on. With others, it doesn't.
While we have never officially been members of a reading club, we have an informal one going on all the time. We're always sharing the plots of our books with each other, always scoping out what everyone else checked out recently, and many times, temporarily stealing each others' books. This can lead to war at times!
I'm sure, being 8 at the time, that I did not properly thank that librarian. I hope she knew somehow that she had done a really nice thing. Something that probably wasn't in her job description. Taking the time to invest in a little 8 year old girl that she could easily have ignored or scooted out of the way. May we give the same types of gifts to others!
2012 Followup: As I've pondered why the love of reading wasn't kicking in due to the exposure of books in the school setting, I've decided it has to do with something I have mentioned in another blog. In school, it was more of an assignment with much control being exerted. Assigned reading or just picking from a certain list, written book reports, etc. At the library, the choice was at my fingertips with no strings attached. This is one of the reasons I have been against the reading programs implemented in many schools today. I believe they take the joy of reading away from the children. As my older children were hitting high school and I started reviewing lists of classical books, etc. all children should read, my children had met that quota through having the books readily available and the fact that they were voracious readers from having reading freedom in their early years. Many of their friends who were going through those reading programs in the local public schools lost their love of reading during those years. It was a sad thing to watch.
On another note, observing my own mother's love of reading over the growing up years surely made an impact too. While my mother did not get involved with her children's schooling, she was always reading in the background. I am sure I learned the art of tuning out the noise and activity going on around me while reading from her! And I am happy to say, my husband began reading for pleasure as the years went by. Our fourth child also jumped on the boat. I did have to regulate the home environment some for his benefit, which is in another blog.