A while ago, we teamed up with Austin’s Library Foundation to collect stories about what your public library means to you.
We’re hearing those stories this month as the Austin Public Library and the Library Foundation prepare to wrap up this year’s Mayor’s Book Club — with an afternoon with author Susan Orlean at the Central Library on Nov. 9. Find details here.
Sarah Ruttan is a teacher in Austin and a mother of two. One summer, for her, the library was both a place of refuge — and mortification.
This love story is about a love for books and my kids – and a recognition of how I love watching them grow through the books we share. It is also about how, on the toughest days of parenting, the library is always there.
There are few things you can count on as a parent. Kids are constantly changing and what works one day is not always successful the next. In this world of inconsistencies and minor dramas, the library has always been a constant.
As most Austin parents know, the library provides a cool escape on summer afternoons when the slides at the local park are scorching and you can’t bring yourself to layer on sunscreen and swimsuits at the local pool. It is an AC-filled and quiet refuge, and – for a few moments at least – your kids don’t need you.
The summer after my daughter turned one, she learned the joy of pulling all of the books off of the library shelves and screaming at the same time. I would try to visit our local library with her and my 4-year-old son. I’d get distracted following him around to pick out books and turn to find the entire picture book collection on the floor.
Sheepishly, I’d pick up books and herd both kids quickly to the checkout before we could undo the entire organization scheme of the children’s section.
We’d return home to hours of snuggles and stories, books pouring out of the library bag.
Soon she learned that she could pull books off of the shelves and make a high-pitched scream that would attract lots of attention. I’d have my hands full of books when the siren scream would happen – quiet at first, as if to test and then full blare until all the library patrons were watching.
Mortified, I tried to pack up my son and steer everyone for the exit. No checkout today. I persisted in our weekly visits until, one day, the screaming commenced and the librarian politely asked me to leave.
I said, “Yes, but first check these books out for me?”
I waited outside on the scorching pavement, with a screaming toddler for our blessed bag of books — the bag that would get us all through the afternoon and to dinner time.
We were strangers at the library for the remainder of that summer. And, like all things parenting, the phase passed. Bravely one day we descended again upon the children’s section. No one screamed. No books were thrown and no librarians had to follow behind us picking up the pieces. We explored, we read, we played games, we snuggled in our refuge.
In that space, I felt less lonely as a parent.
We’ve come a long way from the Summer of the Scream. I’ve watched my kids grow as they moved from the board books to the easy readers to picture books and on to the graphic novels. My oldest doesn’t ask me to read to him anymore and when we return from the library I know he’ll spend the afternoon on his own, lost in his latest chapter book. They have their own library cards and their own ideas about favorite books and authors.
There are days that I wonder what they will take with them from our time together – what lessons will stick, what experiences will matter. But I never question myself on our sacred library trips. Because books – no matter what the age or parenting struggle, will always be a constant.