For children, the library's treasures go beyond books

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

AFTER our son's birthday, his grandma asked him about the gifts he had received. I was sure he'd tell her about his new truck or his flashy sweat shirt, but he quickly said, ``Grandma, I got my own library card!''

Introducing and familiarizing our children with the public library can be a valuable, lifelong gift.

The suggestions below can help you and your children become more involved at a library in your area.

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Take note of the building's exterior. Although we generally go inside a library to find things out, the exterior of the building can also give us information. There may be a book deposit where books can be dropped off at any time of the day or night. What about a bicycle rack for older children to use on successive trips to the library? Check the door of the main entrance before going inside -- the library's daily hours are posted there. You might look at the building's architecture, too. Ho w many stories does it have? What materials were used for construction? All this perks up a child's curiosity. And don't forget to read the bulletin board, which is usually right inside the front door. It tells about activities coming up.

Tour the inside of the building. With little ones especially, it's a good idea to discuss the need for silence in a library, and once you're inside, take advantage of any ``QUIET'' signs to reinforce that rule. As you walk through the library together, children might be surprised to find seasonal or monthly displays and exhibit areas. If there is an auditorium, ask if you can take a quick peek, and remember to keep an eye out for restrooms.

Locate and point out various materials. Record players with children's records and earphones are only one of a library's attractions. Most libraries also have books with tapes, videocassettes, tape recorders, and record players for children's use. And, of course, the children's section is often well stocked with magazines, newspapers, and other periodicals for children.

Look into children's programs. Today, most libraries have excellent programs set up for children which are entertaining as well as educational. Find out if there is a reading club, story hour for preschoolers, children's movies, toy lending program, or any other activities available throughout the year.

Checkout procedure. Ask the librarian about qualifications for getting a library card. Our son had to be able to write his name, address, and phone number legibly. Find out if forms must be filled out for each armful of books or if the process is computerized and children need only to present the library card each time. If the library sells inexpensive ``book'' bags, you may want to buy one for each child.

Checkout policy. It's a good idea to ask about the checkout policy so that you and your children understand the full obligation you have in returning borrowed materials. How many books, records, or tapes may be taken at once? How long may you keep them? Is it possible to extend the due date by telephone? Is there a ``grace'' period for overdue materials? What are the overdue charges and fines?

Plan frequent library visits. Children might need a lesson on proper book care at home -- and be sure to emphasize the added responsibility of using materials on a loan basis. Plan frequent visits to the library as a family, and if you haven't already, you'll probably discover that it's one of your children's favorite places to go.

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