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Austin Public Library – an Open Love Letter

Caroline’s note: I know that it might seem out of place to gush about a library here at Much Love Crew. We talk a lot about families, kids, and spreading love, and I can’t think of a more welcoming place for families. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a nerd all my life and I’ve spent a lot of time in libraries? Who knows. No one’s paying me to write this, I truly felt super compelled to share and just hope that others can also benefit from this gem right here in Austin, as we have, in so many ways.

Dear Austin Public Library,

I’ve been asked in the past to leave feedback for the public library and I always do. But the paper is never big enough for me to write down all my thoughts. And so I thought I’d write a longer open letter here on the Much Love Crew Journee blog.

I first came to know Austin Public Library (APL) a few months after my first daughter was born. I was going out of my mind at home doing the newborn / infant routine (new mamas, can you feel me??). I needed to get out. But where did people bring their drooly, crawly, poopy, crying babies?

I don’t know how I happened upon APL at all (since I was under the impression noise was not welcome in libraries, and babies are not generally quiet beings), but I’m so glad I did. It started with attending one storytime a week. I was immediately hooked. I started going one, two, three, even four times a week. Sometimes I would even do two storytimes in one day if I could. And because all the parents were bringing kids of similar age, we were all figuring out the same things – fumbling with figuring out breastfeeding in the library, having to change diapers (changing tables are in all the restrooms), needing to calm a crying infant. Oh, and no youth librarian ever shushed us, being so very understanding of the nature of babies. It was such a nurturing environment for both the kiddos and for new moms like me. It was much needed in those sleep-deprived months. I tell librarians when I can how they saved me from plunging deeper into any sort of post-partum depression.

We have gone to storytimes at most of the library branches – I’ve focused on language learning while the kids are young, so I attended as many dual language storytimes as I could. Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese … wow! The library’s storytimes (they have many flavors!) are like PBS Kids, but live. I never have to worry if the content presented is going to contain vulgar language or inappropriate elements. It’s guaranteed to be 100% wholesome, 100% educational, and somehow still super fun. Every single librarian puts so much thought into curating their storytelling book selection for the age group for that particular storytime, always piquing their curiosity. The kiddos get to interact a little (as much as they are going to, anyway) and afterwards, they’ll usually want to borrow some books. In those formative years, I struggled with what activities I was supposed to be taking my kid to (turns out the answer was: they don’t need much), and having the library as a staple in our lives gave me the great satisfaction of doing something wonderful for my kid. During the pandemic, the library kindly offered storytimes online for a long time, which we will always be grateful for as we waited forever for our youngest to be eligible for vaccines.

After having a kid, I became acutely aware that everything baby-related costs money and can get expensive fast. The library was a place I could go guilt-free … because everything is free. Local public library card – FREE. Borrowing books – FREE. Where else can you say YES to everything your kid points to and asks for? I swear, the library is the only place we don’t leave in tears because we can borrow so much at once! FREE holds ($1 if you don’t pick up). FREE pickup at the library location closest to you. They’ve recently gotten rid of late fees even – so FREE (though 5 cents a day in late fees was completely reasonable to me). FREE digital access to tons of books and multimedia. FREE events. The obstacles to entry are as low as can possibly be. All you have to do is show up. I remember as a new mother, showing up was really hard but I was always glad I did.

To my memory, public libraries were the first to invent “free ship to store” functionality. And THEN retail stores started to follow suit. I think libraries deserve so much credit for allowing any member to reserve a book and pick it up at the location most convenient to you. While I’ve always been a fan of this service, I appreciated it even more in the thick of the pandemic. APL went a step further and brought on CURBSIDE service during COVID, which helped make me feel even safer. With my older kiddo straight up devouring books and the younger one bursting into reading with a bang, I’m frantically adding books to keep up with their appetites for reading so we can just pick up and go. (Mamas, I know you feel me on not ever having enough time to do it all!)

Have you ever had a bit of time in between errands and are at a loss for what to do with the kids? I’m in LOVE with APL events and the page is bookmarked on all my devices. I pull up their events list and see what’s going on around me. I check the “Children” checkbox and it brings up all the kid-friendly events. I check if the event is in the right age range for my kid (though admittedly I have brought my kid to events for older kids or adults because I myself wanted to check them out!). Oh, and their events are always FREE and open to the public. They sometimes even provide snacks which can be a lifesaver when the kids are melting down and can no longer sit still to enjoy the amazing activity. Sometimes the events are hands-on, like arts and crafts, and sometimes a performance to sit down and enjoy, like a musical group or a movie showing. And sometimes they combine the two, where you get to watch a movie and do a craft at the same time. And even if there’s not an actual event, most libraries have a kids’ area with toys, so if you’re filling a small gap of time, it can be a perfect mini-stop (you can get a potty stop / diaper change in while you’re at it). We have been known to go up to the rooftop (6th floor) of the Central branch and eat a snack or do a bit of reading or homework there. Go check it out, the views of downtown Austin from there are amazing.

We have been learning together with the kids how to be kinder to the planet in small ways. The library helps us with this as well. They provide household battery recycling buckets at every location (this was pre-pandemic; you’ll want to call ahead to see if the branch you want to go to has reinstated this). They have a magazine exchange area where you can leave your old magazines and take magazines that others have left. The newly renovated Central Library has incorporated solar panels into their rooftop area. They organize “Fix It” clinics where you can learn if there’s a way to fix your slightly broken stuff rather than tossing it into the landfill. And if you think about it, the whole concept of a library is an environmentally friendly one, where we lessen waste by taking turns sharing reading materials instead of each buying their own.

We have been loyal patrons for 7 years going on … until eternity. We’ve made SO many memories at the library, and look forward to doing so for years to come. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for running programs that allow our family to grow with you. We are grateful for all that you are and do.

Caroline and family

PS – this letter was written because of how I’ve fallen in love with APL through seeking out wholesome and educational experiences for my kids. Adults and teens don’t have to feel left out – the library’s website is a portal to a TON of stuff. Learn new languages, get access to the New York Times website for 3 days at a time, see what cool events you can join (select “Adult” or “Teen”), access vehicle maintenance manuals … and I know you’re getting sick of me saying this … all for FREE. I’m glad their motto is “More than Books”. That really truly is the only way to sum it up!

PPS –  If I had any complaint about APL, it would be that parking at the beautiful new Central Library is pretty pricey after the one hour free parking in their garage. And one hour is definitely not long enough to really enjoy your time there. You will need to scope out street parking where it is cheaper to park, but is challenging to find. Parking at any other branch is free and generally easy.

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