Today’s post is from Deanna, a volunteer in the Music, Film and Audio Department.
Teaching at the Carnegie Museums is fun. I enjoy taking students through the museums and teaching in the classrooms hidden beneath the Museum of Natural History. Giving them a learning experience they cannot normally receive in their regular, school classroom is a rewarding adventure. When we travel through the Jurassic Period of dinosaurs in the museum, many students notice that there are glass panels with books behind them. Regular patrons of the library know that from the book side of the glass, you can look down into the museums and see the Diplodocus (right) and Apatosaurus (left). These are the two main dinosaurs that trigger the question: “Do the dinosaurs come alive at night?” I say that they will have to ask security because I am not at the museum at night.
I tell students about how special it is to have a public library as vast and impressive as the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Depending on the age of the students, I receive various responses to this. Some students want to tell me about their library at school. Others want to know how many books are in the library (Ed. note: There are more than a million items in the collection at Main!). Once in a while, however, I get a student who says something to the effect of, “So what?” One student asked, “Why have a library when I can just go to the bookstore and buy the book?”
I smile at this, knowing that I used to be like this kid. When you’re ten years old, what is the difference between a library and a bookstore? They both have books, right? One has books that you take home to read and never worry about again because you’ve already paid for it. The other has books that you take home to read but you must take care of the book and you bring it back or else you pay a fine. To a ten-year-old, this seems like a common perspective.
The parents and teachers participating in my museum learning experiences smile too, but not for the same reason. Many of these adults love to learn and they want to instill that love into their children, hence why they are in the museums in the first place. They also know what anyone who pays bills or student loans knows: These books are free! When that ten-year-old asked what is so great about a library, his parent immediately piped up, “Don’t you see? Someone else bought those books for you so that you don’t have to! Instead of worrying about a fine, you just need to remember to bring it back!” The student said, “Oh,” in the way young people do when they understand what you mean but haven’t really changed their minds.
Lately, I answer these types of questions about the library in a slightly different manner. I ask the student what their favorite books or TV show is or their favorite movie. I get a lot of the same answers: Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and a range of DC and Marvel comics and their movies. Then, no matter what the student answers, I tell them that they can probably find that comic book or movie or book in the Library.
Students are smarter than me though. “What if it isn’t in there?” they ask. I respond, “They can ask another library to borrow it.” Again, students are smarter. “What if they don’t have it?” “Then,” I say, “they will buy it for you to keep in their collection, and all you need to do is show them your library card.”
By now, it starts to dawn on them: Libraries are cool. All those books for free, and when they hear that they can also check out DVDs and CDs, their eyes light up in a way that all educators live for. Sometimes, I mention dinosaur books and books on mummies. That generates excitement and a nice transition for us to return to the class topic.
After class, I stay to answer questions from the adults. They ask more challenging questions regarding the museum and the class I taught, but they also have library questions. They want to know where they can pick up a library card and often, when I’m leaving the museum or volunteering for the Carnegie Library, I see them pick up a library card and take their child to a place in the library with materials that interest them both.
Remember that ten-year-old? The one that didn’t think libraries are cool? While leaving with his new dinosaur book that he had to return in a few weeks, he muttered a thank you to his dad, who was holding Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, before saying: “Okaaayyyy, I guess libraries are cool.”