If Greenpoint Library was in a beauty pageant competition, it would probably not place well in the formal wear category. The beautiful and timelessly classy Carnegie libraries would eat it for breakfast. With its 1970s space-pod looks, Greenpoint wouldn’t have a chance. People would clap politely, sure, but it’s not exactly memorable looking. But, what this library lacks in the physical beauty department, it makes up for with charm and a solid E for Effort. We’d be a shoe-in for Miss Congeniality. As a loyal Greenpoint librarian, I may be a little biased, but I’m pretty sure we’d wipe the floor with the other contestants during the talent portion. Yes, I have such a library crush on Greenpoint. It’s a special place.
I sometimes like to complain about a Thursday at Greenpoint, but if I were to be totally honest, it’s kind of my favorite. On Thursdays we have Reading is Fundamental, also known as RIF. As far as I’m concerned, the saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch is way off. For RIF, the children simply need to own a library card and they get a brand-new book every three weeks. It’s got to be the best deal going in the city. In the face of so many wonderful programs being cut in this city (inside the library and out), the fact that RIF still exists is a tremendous blessing.
RIF is kind of whirl wind. I set up at 3 o’clock on the dot, and the library almost immediately fills up with kids and parents. There are strollers, giant clusters of chatty tweens, and even the rare teenager staring at the ceiling. There’s always a gaggle of kids with giant backpacks, sweating because they ran all the way from school in hopes of missing the giant RIF line. We get about 80 to 100 or so kids for RIF every week, which is pretty incredible considering we’re a library about the size of a shoe-box. This is what I kind of adore about Thursdays: Between 3 and 5 PM, I get to chit-chat with a fairly large percentage of our youngest patrons. I get to see the kids who have graduated from Babies and Books and Toddler Time, now walking and talking. I see the kids who I met during class visits during the beginning of the school year. The best thing of all? This children’s librarian has a posse.
A whole group of kids sits with me at the RIF desk. It’s usually the same group every week, though I get new kids from time to time. Today, I’ve got two 7 year-old boys sitting behind me. They’re reading a dinosaur book out loud to each other and the sight is pretty much melting my cold, librarian heart. They tell me they’re old friends. They’ve known each other since pre-school. That’s what I adore about Greenpoint. The community is so tightly knit that even 7 year-olds can have “old friends”
I also have two girls making Valentine’s Day cards for next year. They want to be ready. They’re nine and furiously coloring with crayons. They don’t have boyfriends, but you never know what can happen in a year, they tell me. I say, “You don’t need boyfriends. You’re too young.” They look at me like I’m an old, decrepit idiot.
There’s also groups of kids who sit next to me but patently ignore me. It’s kind of strange, but I’m OK with it. They’re doing homework or building up some sort of library-based tween romance or arguing about Justin Bieber (seriously, when can we stop talking about him?). They talk to other kids as they pass by on the line, and I’m always surprised at how many of them know each other.
My favorite part of RIF is a girl who I’ll call J. Man, she’s smart. She reads almost as much as I do and will take home pretty much any title I’ll recommend to her. It’s so great to have someone to talk to about my favorite young adult novels with. J. is 13, so hopefully next year she can either a) work for the library as a part-time worker or b) become a Multicultural Intern. J. speaks Urdu and Bengali, so she’d be a perfect candidate for the program. She’d get a $1500 stipend and something really amazing to put on her resume. I would like to point out that, when I was 14, I was making liverwurst sandwiches for truckers in a deli. I can’t wait for J. to turn 14. It’s almost like she works here anyway.
Lots of my kids live in Queens but go to school in Brooklyn, so they’ll be here until 8 at night waiting for a ride to take them home. I don’t exactly know where they’d stay if we weren’t open late. With a babysitter? What if they can’t afford one? The park? Is that safe? What if it’s cold? I don’t have a clue what they would do.
There’s a question I always ask myself when budget cuts threaten to close the libraries down: If not us, then who? Who is going to tend to the needs of this community if the library isn’t around? I want the children in this neighborhood to be able to start growing their personal libraries from an early age. I want them to have a place to hang out and be themselves. I want them to have exciting internship opportunities. At the very, absolute least, I want them to have a safe place to wait for their parents after school. Plus, I love my job here. I’d be very sad without this place.
Tomorrow? 50 some-odd people for Toddler Time. Wish me luck.