July 17, 2000
Imagine entering a plain brick building on a lovely summer day. You pass a dozen parked strollers and hear the laughter of babies. To your right, toys are strewn on a soft carpet where mothers and toddlers play. Young voices sing "Four and Twenty Blackbirds" with gusto.
At computers to your left, three boys work on their own online sports magazine. Two girls solve the design problem of a machine they created. An instructor guides some parents through the Web, in Spanish.
In a corner, caregivers are coached on reading aloud "The Three Bears" with dramatic flair. Small children color the alphabet while their mothers learn about childhood nutrition. A woman arranges to send a Story Van to a housing project for a cultural festival.
In a meeting room, a half-dozen teachers learn how to make better use of the Internet. In an adjacent room, a toddler with frequent ear infections is tested for speech delay.
And, oh yes, you see books. Lots and lots of books.
What is this place, you ask? An expensive child care center? A private computer school? A bilingual community center?
It's the local branch of a public library.
A lot has changed at the library. It's been a quiet revolution until now, librarians being the brilliant but modest folks we've always admired.
But a buzz is building. As old barriers crumble, the image of the staid library is giving way to the noisy, online, family-friendly learning center that is the destiny of libraries of the future.
Summer is the perfect time to see where your library is heading on this revolutionary trail. While not every library offers all the opportunities I've described, many now offer far more than stacks of wonderful books. For example:
There's a revolution going on at your community library--check it out!
Find the booklet "Helping Your Child Use the Library" at www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Library. For more information on children and reading, call the U.S. Department of Education at (800) USA-LEARN, or visit online at www.ed.gov/americareads. For library resources, contact the ALA's Association for Library Service for Children at (800) 545-2433, ext. 2163, or online at www.ala.org/alsc; and Libraries for the Future at (800) 542-1918, or online at www.lff.org.