Yesterday I spent a half hour reading in the children's section of the local library while the nine year old played some games on the computer. The games are infinitely more interesting there than at home; it's one of those rules of the universe for nine year olds, I suppose. Each computer was taken. One of the two librarians on duty kept good track of the waiting list, and checked in on everyone periodically. My son and the boy next to him exchanged recommendations. Junior also recognized a teacher from school and waved.
In one corner, a whole family—three boys and a grandpa—camped out and looked at picture books, while the mom buzzed in and out of the area on various missions. Near my table several tutors coached students through the rigors of homework. Their upbeat approach to their task hummed in the background as I read.
The librarians continually accompanied children back to the fiction stacks to help them look for books. One provided a kid with a "read-alike" list; another filled out an purchase request (from a child) for a book the library didn't own. Someone wanted to know more about Beethoven; relevant books were found and delivered. Squeals from the toddler area hinted at unknown delights, and a boy who looked to be around four selected a student dictionary and carried it away, clutched to his chest like a prize. His mother and three siblings trailed behind him.
A busy place, needless to say.
"Is it always like this?" I asked one of the librarians, as she sought out an audiobook for a patron.
"Every afternoon," she said.
I know there are days when brothers and sisters shriek at each other, someone pukes on the rug, and a three year old bawls because she can't take home the library's doll house. But you know what? They make up, get well, and dry their tears—and eventually return. Literacy is ultimately about connection. Everywhere I looked yesterday, I could see it.