Chicago vs. Suburban Libraries: Which are Better?
~By Devorah Heitner, PhD and Founder of Raising Digital Natives
In the cul de sac of childcare, between the end of our summer daycare and the beginning of preschool, I took two weeks off for “mama camp” with our adventurous three-year-old son. Since he’s train obsessed, we mostly took the Metra and el on our adventures. But we also took our trusty ’98 Civic on the road one day to Glenview. As a kids’ media expert and former library page, I’m kind of obsessed with checking out all the city library branches. I also like to hit as many suburban libraries as possible. Even though my family is strongly committed to city life, the suburbs — and all their affluent institutions — sometimes beckon.
So we set off for Glenview, with a quick stop at Wagner Farm to say hi to the cows, who were busy making ice cream, an awesome snack at 9:30 am if you want to know the truth. But the real highlight of our trip was the Glenview Public Library. The Glenview library is awesome. First of all, the children’s room looks out on both Metra and Amtrak, so if your child digs trains, there’s a great view to enjoy. Secondly, you can check out educational toys and games or just play with the ones that are already laid out. Plus, there’s yummy Greek food just across the street for lunch!
I know that Glenview is a mixed-income community, but a little demographic data soon revealed what I initially suspected: unlike far too many Chicagoans, most Glenview parents can afford to purchase toys and educational games for their kids. I only wish that under-resourced communities in Chicago and in less wealthy suburbs could share in this wealth, with their libraries offering educational games as well as more computers stations where kids can do cool things like learn to video edit and make digital art.
Even at smaller suburban libraries like the Wilmette Public Library, e-book readers are available for checkout and kids can play educational games on desktop computers. I’d love to see more digital spaces for young kids in Chicago public libraries, spaces that would resemble the enticing hangouts I am schlepping my son to out in the suburbs. I’d like the kids on the west side of Chicago to be able to walk into their local public library and check out an e-reader or an educational game too.
At some point, probably within our children’s lifetime, libraries won’t be places where we check out physical books anymore. And that’s one of the things that is so exciting about YOUmedia Chicago, an innovative library-based program in Chicago and funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Headquartered at the Harold Washington Library, YOUmedia is focused on teen users, but several branches in various communities around the city offer digital workshops, and access to younger library visitors as well. Offering youth a space to make art, play, and collaborate contributes to a healthy society. Librarians around the country and the world have been visiting YOUMedia to check out and adapt their model.
I’m excited to see urban libraries in Chicago embarking on the transition from places where we simply check out books to places where grownups and kids can create, play, and collaborate. For families with young children, are Chicago libraries a match for their suburban counterparts? Sadly, by and large, the answer is no. But innovative spaces like YOUmedia are a model for what libraries in a healthy democracy can look like, which fills me with optimism for the possibilities for all of our kids.
About Dr. Devorah
Devorah Heitner, PhD is an experienced speaker, workshop leader and consultant and an expert on the research on kids + media. ”I love helping families enhance their lives by using technology in a smarter way and making a few small tweaks to tame the stress from the overwhelmingly connected world we live in.” Devorah is currently writing an e-handbook for Raising Your Digital Native. Devorah holds a PhD in Media/Technology and Society from Northwestern University and has published and spoken in nationally in the field of media studies for the past ten years. She has taught at DePaul University, the Better Boys Foundation, Street Level Youth Media and Northwestern University. She is delighted to be raising a budding digital native.