The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

How Great Are Our Libraries

on November 3, 2015

This past Sunday the New York Times had a big article on the popularity of “Story Time” for young children in New York City libraries.  The crowds of parents with toddlers in tow are so large that the libraries have started giving out tickets on a first-come-first-served basis, and many people are turned away because there is no room left.  Reading the article gave me great pleasure, not only because the youngsters attending were being exposed to good children’s literature, but also because it sounds like the librarians were doing it the right way, like good teachers.  The article is very long; so I won’t post it here, just give you the link, below.  My post is about my adventures in our school library when I was a child.,nyregion/long-line-at-the-library-its-story-time-again.html

I can’t claim that my elementary school classroom experiences, so many years ago, were valuable or even pleasant.  Teachers didn’t teach much in those days; mostly they gave instructions or lectured us on our behavior.  We spent the class time reading textbooks and answering questions at the ends of chapters or practicing rote math problems.  Yet, our weekly visits to the school library were very different; and once I joined the library helpers group in 4th grade they became the highlight of my school life, the only one I remember with explicitness and joy.

Our school librarian was Miss Lehlbach, a young woman, fresh out of college–although we didn’t know those facts at the time.  At our weekly library sessions she introduced us to books with fascinating stories and wonderful characters that we had never met before and would not have met on our own: Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, Dr. Doolittle, and The Hobbit, etc.  When important  holidays came along she set up elaborate displays and allowed us to examine them closely.  I saw a Advent calendar there for the first time.  She also displayed news and artifacts about our armed forces then fighting in World War Two.  For the first time I saw the food boxes given to soldiers and their contents.

But, the best part of knowing Miss Lehlbach was being a member of her Library Helpers who checked out books after school and loaded the ones returned onto carts. (She wouldn’t allow us to reshelve books because if we misplaced one, it was as good as gone.)  And when it was time to close the library for the day, she would shut the door, pull down the shades, and start the fun.  Mostly she taught us humorous songs and recitations, but the best thing was the Elephant Dance, in which we climbed on chairs, danced over tables, and called on friends to join us. I still remember the dance steps and the song:

One elephant went out to play

All on a spider’s web one day

He thought it such enormous fun

That he called for another elephant to come

Because I grew to trust Miss Lehlbach, I often asked her to help me research topics I was interested in.  The only sources available in libraries at that time were reference books; the right ones were hard to identify, and it was even harder to search their contents. She also recommend books for me to read for pleasure. At first, she picked out my favorites—books about girls who were growing up to be strong and independent women.  But after a while she led me to a variety of classics I would never have chosen on my own, and they never disappointed me.

Perhaps it’s an exaggeration to say that Miss Lehlbach started me on my educational journey.  My mother had read to me regularly before I entered school. But our home “library” was very limited in books for children.  It was the school library and the librarian’s introduction to all kinds of literature that opened the gates for me, and, very likely, for many others.  I can’t help wondering who-if anyone- is opening those gates for children today, when so many elementary schools have dismissed their librarians as an unnecessary expense and let their libraries languish, rarely visited and never supplied with new books.

One response to “How Great Are Our Libraries

  1. Nancy Belkov says:

    It is so sad that all school libraries aren’t funded the way they should be. When I was in elementary school in Baltimore in the 50s, at first we didn’t have a library in the school. Once we got a library, we didn’t have a regular librarian, perhaps there was a part-time one, but I mostly remember that it was another subject teachers had to handle on their own. Your story is wonderful. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone had an opportunity to have that kind of relationship.


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