When my husband and I were considering areas for our growing family, we wanted to be sure we would settle in a place our kids could thrive and be fulfilled. Though this meant looking into a number of factors, such as schools and overall quality of life, I made a point to place one particular community element at the top of my list: the local library.
Whether the town or city we visited was large or small, I took stock of how regarded the library was in the community. I took special care to observe the children’s section, as I knew that would be where my family would spend most of our time, yet also made note of the overall condition and atmosphere of the building as a whole.
To me, a library that is active, clean, well-staffed and highly regarded reflects a community that is engaged, involved and invested in the happiness and well-being of its members. This does not mean the library needs to be huge or filled with all the latest technology. I am well aware of how underfunded libraries are, and how unfortunately many communities lack the resources to improve old buildings, pay staff and keep shelves stocked. If you are able, please consider donating to your local library and other programs that support libraries across the country.
When you are exploring potential neighborhoods, here are some things to look for in the local library.
A Designated Children’s Area
Depending on the size of the library, this could mean a room or an entire floor. Some libraries may even offer a separate, dedicated space specifically for tweens and teens, which is helpful for kids who are too old for the “kids” area, but too young for the adult spaces.
Parents will want to make note of the layout and how the space invites families to come in and spend time reading, playing games or participating in activities.
A Wide Offering Of Programs
As a parent, my focus was mainly on what activities were available for my (at the time) very young children. I was interested in story time, but also wanted to know if other programs were available, such as crafting, educational and social.
Though it may not be your priority, see what programs are available for young adults, seniors, etc., as this reflects the robustness of the library’s offerings and how influential it is within the community.
Friendly And Helpful Staff
Exploring a new community can be scary, and having locals who are inviting and warm makes the process much smoother. As the library is often serves as the heart of a community, the librarians and other staff are important stewards of its values.
Be mindful of how and if you are approached. Take a moment to introduce yourself and ask about the library’s programs, services and hours. You may even be allowed to sit in on a story time or other event.
Remember what I said about the library and community values? If being in an area that values and recognizes the importance of diversity and inclusion is important to you, the library is a good place to sense where a community stands. As you explore the building, take note of what books are on display. Do they have books written by or featuring people of color? Are LGBTQ families represented? Are books on non-Christian holidays and customs on display?
A Good Feeling
When you walk in the library, do you feel good being there? Do you feel like you could grab a book and cozy up on a chair and get lost in a story for a while? This feeling will be unique to you, and may not happen at even the most respected public libraries. You, and your family will have to make that call, and when you do, you can be sure you are on your way to finding the right community for your family.