If you haven’t visited a public library lately, as I hadn’t until this week, I encourage you to do so. If you happen to have children or grandchildren, invite them along.
There’s a lot going on there that should be of interest to all of you.
I was curious about how relationships are faring among libraries and kids in this age of rampant digital communication, so I chatted with children’s library specialists at the Burien and White Center libraries.
It was my first visit to the new White Center library, which opened a little over a year ago, and as I was shown around by Lydia Katzel, children’s services librarian, I was impressed by the newness, of course, not only of the main library area, but of the technology it housed.
I also was impressed by the 25 or so patrons on this quiet, summer weekday seated at computers, browsing through books and newspapers, some making notes, others lost in their thoughts.
It was predominantly an adult group on this day, but Lydia said the next day she and a performer hired by the library would present a session for 5-to-7-year-olds titled “Let’s Go Camping.”
It likely would be far from passive, perhaps including art projects (crafting a tent?), and a song, as well as time with a book or two.
I was told at both libraries that whatever the ages involved, those who participate in these and other library activities often do it as families. That reflects in part the libraries’ expanded roles in serving the influx of non-English-speaking families and individuals to our communities.
Working in conjunction with schools and other organizations, they help alert parents to the importance of education to them and their children and also introduce to them the many ways to learn through language-oriented activities.
The next morning, I arrived at the Burien Library for a story-telling session with Gaye Hinchliff, the children’s librarian there. This session was for the very young, and the semi-circle of chairs was occupied mostly by 2-year-olds. But a father, several mothers, a couple of grandmothers and a nanny also were pointed out to me.
One 2-year-old experienced the day’s activities with his Somali mother and brothers, 5 and 8.
Led by Gaye, the 25 or so adults and children began this morning session by acknowledging their toes, and other body parts and counting in verse from 1 to 10 and back again (a little boy applauding the number eight).
It was a glimpse of Sesame Street come to downtown Burien.
Gaye led the group, constantly in motion but attentive, through books about birds in general (flapping, hopping, sleeping), ducks (specifically, blowing up and popping balloons), and teddy bears.
They ended up singing, â€œThe Bear Went Over the Mountain,â€ and I was pleased to discover that all that bear still sees at the crest is â€œthe other side of the mountain.â€ Not everything has changed, fortunately.
Gaye explained that childrenâ€™s librarians may interact with more than 100 children during the summer, whether at their respective libraries or in visits to summer camps and other organized childrenâ€™s groups.
At the White Center Library, Lydia Katzel had explained how their presentations often fall into one of two categories: Mirror activities and Window activities.
In the â€œmirrorsâ€ children working with letters, words, pictures and songs encounter things common to their lives and surroundings.
Employing the same language devices through the â€œwindowsâ€ they meet people not as familiar to them and expand their worlds.
English is not the sole language used. Take a look at the King County Library System website and marvel, as I did, at the array of languages practiced through the library programs in this county.
At both the Burien and White Center libraries you can access materials in Chinese, Somali, Spanish and Vietnamese. The Burien library also provides Arabic. Using all the libraries in the system, you can travel the world, linguistically.
But wait, there’s more…
Children completing eight library activities this summer collect a â€œhalfway prizeâ€ good for two free tickets to attend a Seattle Storm game. Finishing 16 activities earns the finisher prize, a â€œreading backpack.â€
In return for your escorting them to the library, your child or grandchild may take you to the game and let you borrow the backpack.
Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.