I was a library grandparent once.

I was at our local library talking to the volunteer coordinator about my volunteer application. She looked at it and turned to me and said, ‘We need a few library grandparents, would you be interested in something like that?’

‘What exactly does a library grandparent do?’ I asked, bewildered.

‘You will read to the children!’

Yes, I would love to read to the children but being a library grandparent didn’t seem that grand to me. Don’t get me wrong, I want to be a grandparent….one day! Maybe, twenty years from now! Sahana, are you reading this? Anyway, to show I wasn’t really that old, I said, ‘I can only volunteer during the morning hours since that is the time my son is in PRESCHOOL!

Lady, my son goes to preschool, I am the mother of a preschooler, don’t make me a library grandparent!!! The sweet woman was very accommodating. She figured out a time that fit my schedule, smiled, thanked me for being a library grandparent and sent me on my way.

That evening at dinner table I proudly told the family that I will be volunteering at the library once a week. They said awesome, what will I be doing. ‘I am a library grandparent!’ ‘You are what??? Hahahahaha! A grandparent?’

The day I went to volunteer, the coordinator took me to the librarian in the children’s section and introduced me as ‘This is Piyali, she is our new library grandparent!’ The children’s librarian looked at me, chuckled and said, ‘She doesn’t look like a grandparent to me, may be we should call her something else?’ Thank you!!! But the coordinator had better things to do than get into the nitty-gritty of names. What’s in a name anyway? So there I was, serving the community as a library grandparent for two years.

I loved being the reader in the library. I took my book and read quietly on a rocking chair till I felt a little presence by my side. It was fun to watch the different personalities of children. There were the outgoing ones who brought the books of their choice to me and wanted me to read them, then there were the shy ones, who wanted to hear a story yet didn’t want to make the first move. At first, I asked them if they wanted to listen to a story, some said yes and came to me, others said no, yet stayed close by. I picked up a book from the table turned the pages and started a soliloquy about the illustrations, characters, words, colors. Slowly, I felt the little body sliding closer to me, I didn’t make eye contact but kept looking at the pictures and talking about them, when the child was next to me looking at the pictures, I went to the first page and started reading the story, he or she stayed. The parents gave me a grateful smile and wandered around looking for books or sat nearby, taking a break.

The biggest perk of being the library grandparent was bumping into my library grandchildren in stores and supermarkets. Familiar faces came up to me to say hello. I, of course, with my swiss cheese brain couldn’t place the faces till they reminded me I read to their children. It definitely made standing at the check out counter in the supermarket a little sweeter when people came up and told me that their child would like to come back for more book reading, which day did I  read at the library.

Now I work (read volunteer) behind the scenes in our new, swanky library. For company, I have a staff member and a scary, loud machine that spits books into different bins to be sorted and interfiled. It often shrieks “System Jammed” in a mechanical voice (oh, yes, it is a machine) till somebody flicks a switch. I am surrounded by books and the smell of books, I get the first pick as well. This job has its own perks. I am learning a new skill and developing a renewed respect for librarians. I had no idea so much work goes in to provide us with shelves full of lovely, wonderful books. Love that. But I do miss my library grandchildren.

Eventually they changed my name or designation from “Library grandparent” to Guest reader. How boring!

Can’t end this post without a bow to my man, Ben Franklin. Ben, you are “The man!” Thank you for creating the first free libraries in the U S of A. I fell in love the day I walked into the Enoch Pratt free library in Charm city and the love saga continues!


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