What is a Street Library?!

Street Library: Can you tell me once and for all what it is?

I will be honest and say: I am the first to admit that I have a fixed idea of what a Street Library should look like. It makes me feel secure: I know what the plan is and what the books are. But ATD’s Street Library is not carved in stone, sealed by royalty and untouchable on its pedestal.

The street library keeps being transformed. Coming from Dakar, I used to include in our activities small technical memos, explaining how to hold a colored pencil and a brush, for example.  That’s also when I started to make the child turn the book’s pages for me. For someone who experienced the activity seven years ago, he or she will remember a Street Library centered on creativity in the park, while last winter it was around the book in the stairwells.

In Montreal, we always make a selection of books before the Street Library. We try to choose them for their images, their stories, and according to the interests of the children. But how do we bring those books to children who didn’t grow up with a bedtime story? The closer they get to high school, the less interested they are. There is a risk that social pressure will call them nerds or geeks. Some read but don’t understand what they just read because it’s hard to associate sounds with words. And others refuse to spend an afternoon doing an activity that is related to negative memories of school. And let’s not forget that sunny days are way too beautiful to focus on a story when there are water games and a playground.

This year, my team had to face a lack of interest towards the books from the children. So we added interactive games. Now they run to meet us, offer to go get their friends and they even suggest new games. Even if we do something completely different, we don’t forget the book.  For example we use it in our sports activities: the thief has to steal the book and the police have to protect it. And here we go, the game has started! And when we are all out of breath, we take a break around the books.

We keep saying that we read with the children who want to. But we are free to encourage them to do so. It’s not because it’s optional that we have to be passive, we just want to avoid excessive aggression. Spending time with them is what’s important.

The library lives thanks to the book, except that all alone it is flat. We have to adapt to the atmosphere: how do we interact with it? how do we transmit it? We want to be able to listen to the children, and for me it’s as important to hear them complain as it is to hear how much they love a book. Both opinions are equally relevant. As long as they participate, it’s a precious moment for me.

All topics are a good opportunity to connect. We talk, share our thoughts about movies, ask trivial questions, know their book requests. We are with them, because they are worth it, because we see them and listen to them. We want to be there to have a positive influence on their lives. Of course we rely on the book, because it is a fulfilling media that shines in all areas of interest, but it must not become a constraint. Just as we must not force them to read in order to be among us. It’s nice to take a moment to step back and appreciate that two girls are absorbed in their book, that the little brother moves from one cover to another with curiosity while three teenagers are chatting near us. And then the kids come and go. This is the magic of the Street Library, they are free to come according to their mood. Personally I appreciate that there is no pressure.

To be a part of the team of the Street Library, you just have to be yourself, passionate about what passionates you, disappointed when you are disappointed, and always caring and understanding. We are there in our shyness or our overflow of words so the children can identify with us. We all bring a bit of our passions through discussions, games and collective creations, which always pushes the Street Library to evolve for the better and to reinvent itself.

Translated from an article by Marianne Marineau on ATD Canada French blog.