Dear West Chicago Public Library Children's Department,
How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
I won't say "let's get married and have babies", because, well, you're already taking care of my babies. My eleven beautiful babies I get to love on every week- AND their moms.
I bring them into you once a month or so, when there's time for a field trip but I need it to be easy, close, and free. And there you are... just down the road from my office... right in their neighborhood.
I've never believed in love at first sight, so I won't say that's what happened. But I can't help but admit, there was an immediate attraction. Physical appearance certainly isn't everything, but still, there it was. Your walls are lined in cheerful pictures from storybooks and fairy tales. Your carpet is bright and colorful and has letters and numbers and hopscotch squares sewed into it. There is a cage with a hamster- a HAMSTER!- for kids to peek into in one corner, and there are- oh be still my heart- BIG SOFT CHAIRS, so moms and dads and big kids and babies can all snuggle together and be comfortable as they explore a new book.
But oh-so-quickly, you proved yourself worthy way past skin deep. You are IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, dearest Library, do you understand the significance of that? And not just because moms can come in the mornings and be guaranteed to meet their kindergartners getting off the bus at noon. Do you know how many educational resources are located close enough to even be a possibility for my families? The Children's Museum? Amazing. The zoo? Fantastic. But not if you have one barely working car, a budget stretched just to buy gas to get to the night shift at the factory and maybe one doctor's appointment, and no driver's license. Don't get me wrong, I love your cousin resources too. They offer what they can graciously and they love on my families from afar. But you, Library, your nearness has captured my heart.
And you're FREE. You're FREE. YOU ARE FREE. Do you know what that means to a low income family? Do you know how INCREDIBLE it is to be able to tell some of my parents about you, about what you OFFER, about the BOOKS and the MOVIES and the CLASSES- and then be able to tell them you are FREE?!!!! Free. You're free. You. Are. All. Free. THEY CAN AFFORD YOU. Oh, Library. The Let's Get Married and Have Babies feeling actually is making an appearance...
And you have BOOKS. You are filled with books, books, books, books, books- (AND IN ENGLISH AND SPANISH!!!!!). These families, can they afford to go on fancy vacas? Do their kids have ballet lessons and violin lessons and soccer practice and Girl Scouts? Rarely, very rarely. But they can explore ANYTHING they want because in you, they can find (free) books. And you have SO MANY. And they are SO WONDERFUL. And your amazing librarians (more on them in a minute), know exactly which ones to put out together, and how to display them. If I ask them for a book about dinosaurs, they pull out a list- A LIST- of every book about dinosaurs. Trains? Princesses? Dora?! You name it, they have it, know where it is, and are excited to point us towards them. In you, Library, my babies can read Goodnight Moon in English or Spanish. Their siblings can make friends with Anne or Jo or Sam Gribley or Maniac Magee. These sweet, sweet kids can grow their own strength of character, their love for things good and brave and true, through the books you offer. You are helping to shape and form them, Library, into who they are going to be. Thank you for that, from the bottom of my heart.
But, oh, Library, most of all, your librarians. I love your cheerful pictures. I love your accessibility. But your librarians? YOUR LIBRARIANS?!!! Who smile at even my most drooly baby? Who will use wild hand gestures and laugh at themselves in order to help a mom who only speaks Spanish, creating comfort, community and welcome even without a shared language? Who, after an hour and a half of my little ones running screaming throughout you while I frantically try to count them, pull me aside as I'm leaving to tell me again how much they love it when I bring my families in?
Library, my families love you. My sweet, sweet families who fight tooth and nail to protect their loved ones, who work low-paying jobs they are way overqualified for because it puts food on the table and they want the best life for their children, who tell me I work too hard and need more fun (!!)... these families, so often they feel like second-class citizens in the fancy, English-speaking buildings in this county. They tiptoe in and look around awed and worry to me, afterwards, about if they "did it right". But I have seen them loosen, in you. I have seen shy moms start smiling and conversing and exploring, warmed by your pictures and your books and your free-ness and your kind, kind staff. I have heard them tell me that they went back on their own, later. They learn how to get library cards. They take their children. They tell their husbands about you. They feel they belong in you as much as anyone else does.
Oh Library, oh beautiful Children's Department of the West Chicago Public Library. You have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.