It’s National Library Week! This year, to honor all of the children’s librarians around the country, Jumpstart sat down for a chat with Laura Koenig. Laura is the librarian team leader for the Children’s Library at the Boston Public Library (BPL), the country’s first public library. In today’s blog, Laura discusses all of the wonderful things that libraries have to offer children and families, no matter where you live.
What do you like most about being a children’s librarian?
I love making that connection between a child and the book that gets them excited to read! Especially with a child who is convinced, for whatever reason, that they don’t enjoy reading — giving a child choices about their reading can be so powerful and so exciting. It can take time and energy with some kids but if you take the time to really hear what interests them, it’s worth it for that moment when you find the right thing.
Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?
I’ve always known that I wanted to work with children, and when an advisor suggested that public libraries might be well-aligned with my interests in children’s literacy and self-directed learning, a light went off for me!
How important do you think library access is to young children and their parents?
Libraries are such an important space for families with young children! Parents of young children are a child’s first teacher, and the resources and early literacy expertise of local children’s librarians can help parents prepare their children to be learners. Studies have shown that children who are exposed to preschool library programming show stronger pre-reading skills and behaviors, and having books in the home is consistently shown to be a strong indicator for reading skills later in life. Your public library is helping get every child ready to read!
How many children and families does the BPL children’s library serve each year?
Here at BPL’s Central Library we serve local families and visitors from all over the world. Since completing the renovation of the Children’s Library, over 55,000 patrons attend our programs each year. And more come to find books, to get help with their homework, to use the computers, or just to enjoy the library.
What is your favorite thing about working with young children?
Coming here to the BPL’s Central Library has meant working a lot with very young children, and I love it more and more every day. Early childhood is a time of so much learning and development — it’s amazing to get to be a part of that process. I especially love doing story time for preschool children. It’s such a joy to watch children participating in activities that are getting them ready to read and learn, and also to connect their families with resources that encourage them to continue getting ready to read at home.
Besides lending books, what other resources does the library provide for young children and families?
The library doesn’t lend only books, but also media, museum passes, and more. We also have a wide range of digital material for download, computers available for use in the library, and resources for teaching and learning. And here at the Children’s Library, we offer about 100 programs each month, many of which are focused on early literacy for young children and their caregivers. But most of all, the library is one of the last free and open community spaces in many neighborhoods — we are a gathering point for all members of the community, and a space to make friends and get to know your neighbors.
Jumpstart’s mission is to break the cycle of poverty by helping to prepare young children from low-income communities to enter kindergarten prepared to succeed. Is school success an intentional mission for the library?
School success and school readiness are absolutely part of every library’s mission. The BPL partners with organizations like Countdown to Kindergarten and Boston Basics to help children across the city enter kindergarten ready to learn. We also work with preschools, daycares, family shelters, and other organizations to bring services to children who might not come to their local library regularly. Once children are in school, the library provides learning materials, free homework help, access to computers for kids who do not have one at home, summer reading programs, and more.
Do you worry that the digital age will have an impact on the needs for a public library in the community?
Even as more resources are found online, librarians can help navigate, organize, and provide equitable access to those resources. We also are a community hub — while books and information are an important part of what we offer, the physical space of a local public library is one of the most important parts of what we do for many patrons.
What is something that people might not know that the library has to offer?
Many parents and caregivers are excited to find out that libraries offer free and discounted tickets to local museums. We also offer a Shelf Service program where patrons can tell librarians about a few books they liked or styles of books they’re interested in reading, and a librarian will curate a short list of books they might enjoy. It’s great not just for choosing what you or your child might like to read next, but can also be a terrific way to get ideas for a birthday gift!
Are there any upcoming programs that you would like to highlight?
We have some special programs happening next week during April vacation, including visits from several children’s singers, a special Animal Adventures program, and a visit from a cat who wrote a picture book! We’ll also be celebrating the Week of the Young Child later this month with a special Talk Read Play Day Rhyme Flashmob and many early literacy programs for young children. You can always learn more about upcoming events at the Central Library at on our calendar here — we hope to see you and the children in your care at one of our programs soon!