Four teens of varying heights, ages, and clothing styles reading books while standing

Blog 4: The Kids Are Alright

Shh… We’re reading playing.

New Models, New Horizons, and the Power of Stories

Parents have been teaching their children the wrong library etiquette for a few decades now, I fear. 

Perhaps that was just my perception when I was a shelver in youth services at the public library. We had toys out, the noisy kind– stackable bricks, wooden puzzles, plastic cans of “food” for our play grocery store. We had popular children’s books, also the noisy kind– Vox books and Wonderbooks. We had story times, (you guessed it) the noisy kind– with singing and questions answered aloud at the tops of lungs.

So, why are parents always shushing? Why did I hear a mother whisper to her child, “Don’t do that with the book. Books are sacred,” while gingerly re-shelving a book beside others that were probably water stained with rounded corners from being pulled into and out of backpacks?

By the time they’re middle schoolers, these parents’ children come to know intuitively what the library really is: a chill spot to hang, a shared space, a building block for the social infrastructure where people gather, form bonds, and strengthen their communities (Peet, 2018). They’re lying on the floor (often in my way), standing in the middle of the shelves sharing their heartbreaks (still in my way), and aggressively busting open bags of Cheetos that explode everywhere (kids! *shakes fist*).

Despite my Scrooge-like parentheticals, I feel like adults’ learned experience from the Olden Times and children’s ability to read their environments and take our social cues is the seed for the differences between young and older Americans’ library habits and expectations (Zickuhr, Rainie, & Purcell, 2013). According to the Pew Research Center, younger library patrons are significantly more likely than those over age 30 to use the library as a space to just sit and read, study, or watch or listen to media. They are also significantly less likely to say books at libraries are “very important” (or “sacred,” for that matter).

Children leading change

Project leader of Aarhus Public Libraries’ Dokk1, Mary Ostergard, said, “We designed our libraries for people, not books” (Stephens, 2019, p. 61). As I take a look at Model Programme, some of the most imaginative experiments in libraries are happening in children’s libraries.

Dokk1 engaged reading ambassadors, a group of 9- to 14-year-olds who discuss reading and literature, and allowed them to plan an overnight library readathon in Dokk1’s already playful space (Stephens, 2022).

Children play on tall, uniquely shaped yellow and white structures in Billund library
Billund Library’s desert landscape

By comparison, Billund Library’s (also in Denmark) refurbishment has built a whole world for its community of young patrons to explore. With shelves that inspire a journey that spans the Earth’s deserts through the plains to the mountains, children are able to play and find cozy spots for reading. Families with young children, nursery school visitors, child-minders, and young mothers’ groups spend more time at the library, though they were the library’s primary users before the remodel.

With spaces that facilitate make-believe, stories rise, expand, and collapse every day from children’s participation. It wouldn’t be hard to adopt a mythology around the spaces stemming from common tales that children pick up from each other. I remember how easy it was to believe in fifth grade that our library was haunted when our new librarian brought in a store-bought lenticular “photo” of a Victorian zombie- boy, even though I’d logically known the history and founding of my school since kindergarten

When we redesign our libraries in the US, sometimes what we lack in budget has to be compensated by retrained staff attitudes. Dokk1’s action words for its new model (excite, explore, create, participate) requires staff to be “visible, engaged, and present” (Stephens, 2019). It’s a performative space with barely room for introversion. It will be exhausting, but excitement for new modes of service has to fill us from the ends of our toes to the tops of our heads. Our genuine participation in the new library is necessary for parental buy-in. Then, we could stop hearing shushing in libraries.

Say hi! @emilynohablaespanol


Peet, L. (2018). Eric Klinenberg: Libraries and social infrastructure. Library Journal, 142(18). 

Stephens, M. (2019). Wholehearted librarianship: Finding hope, inspiration, and balance. ALA Editions. 

Stephens, M. (2022, Oct 28). Dokk1 library overnight readathon. INFO 287 – The Hyperlinked Library. 

Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L., & Purcell, K. (2013). Part 3: Library patrons’ activities and expectations. Pew Research Center. 

Model Programme. (2018). The Library in the Children’s Capital. 

1 thought on “Blog 4: The Kids Are Alright

  1. Always with the Cheetos!!! *shakes fist with you* I love this post! It is lovely to see middle schoolers and teens enjoying the space at the library, even when you have to side-step them. Parents, I think, feel very judged sometimes, and they’re afraid to let their little ones be too loud at the library. They probably grew up with no-no, shushing librarians.

    Thanks for sharing the story of your middle school and the haunted lenticular! I agree it would be great to redesign services and spaces with Dokk1 models in mind.

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