We’re deeply in the digital age, so it’s easy to dismiss libraries as artifacts of another era. The irrelevance of libraries would seem to be even more severe for today’s youth, who are so dedicated to electronic media that they can hold in their hands. But that impression that libraries have nothing to offer to youth couldn’t be further from the truth.
For anyone in a mentoring relationship with a youngster or teen, taking a trip to the library can be an enjoyable and educational activity. At the most basic level, libraries are repositories of information and storytelling on every imaginable subject. It’s inconceivable that a person can’t find something of interest at the library. For some kids, it will be the rows of magazines, from which they can find the latest issue of “Skateboarding” or “People.” For others, it will be novels or books about airplanes. And for others, it will be the vast selections of DVDs that most libraries now own.
Regardless of the topic and the form of media, the library will provide something extraordinary for the child: free access to whatever he or she sees. It’s hard to match the joy that a child exhibits when looking along a stack of books on subjects he or she enjoys. It’s free, and it’s available, just for the asking.
In addition, having free access often spurs kids to try things that they wouldn’t otherwise consider. Maybe it will be a more difficult novel, or maybe a book on a historical event. It’s easy for a mentor to say to the child, “Just borrow the book; if you don’t like it, don’t finish it. But give it a try.”
Beyond the obvious connection that all children have with books and videos, the library offers much more. First, the mentor can share with the child books or other media that he enjoyed. It could be a favorite “old” movie (kids think anything more than 10 years old is “old”), or a favorite book from their youth. The mentor and the child can perhaps watch the movie together, or, if the child is young, the mentor can read the book to the child.
Another great aspect of the library is the librarian. For a mentor who doesn’t know anything about a subjec that the child enjoys, the librarian can always find an answer. The child will learn that he or she can go to the librarian for assistance, too. And the librarian will be able to suggest other books or movies that might hold the child’s interest.
Finally, libraries today are basically community centers. They all have community bulletin boards for information, and most have regular meetings of clubs and/or talks by authors. By going to the library, the mentor can show these options to the child and broaden his or her perspective about other things that might be of interest. Libraries are not stale environments, but can serve to enrich lives – a kid just needs to feel comfortable stepping through the front door.