I let my kid tear up books; don't revoke my librarian degree yet

The day starts with all of Mamie’s books on shelves or in drawers, except for the ones she took to bed with her. The day ends with half of her books scattered about the house. And always there is a stack reserved on my desk, waiting for a page to be taped, a flap to be glued, a spine to be reinforced. She lives, plays and sleeps with these books, and I rarely limit her activity with them.
Librarians may be renowned for casting side-eye at patrons who damage books, but that’s not my job anymore. When I worked in libraries, I had a professional obligation to protect and preserve the books. Today my obligation is nurturing my daughter’s relationship with books… and they see some damage in the process.
Lucky for Mamie and her books, I am not just any librarian, but one with a special interest in book repair and preservation. I began to learn the craft of book repair in my college work-study job 20 years ago. Later as a high school library aide, I loved the opportunity to nurse worn books back to sturdy condition so more students could experience them. In library school, I studied the proper handling of very rare and old manuscripts. As an archivist, I was literally a professional at the preservation, storage and treatment of paper documents.
You might think years of vigilance in the protection of library materials would make it tough for me to stomach my daughter chewing on, bending, or dropping her books down the stairs, but it’s not hard at all.
Her copy of Goodnight Moon does not belong among those books which need to be guarded from the elements. It is held precious in a different way. It represents a beloved moment when Daddy reads at bedtime, the comfort of familiar pages when she is agitated. It is like a small stuffed lovey that Mommy will repair until it has been loved irreparably. And then Mommy will replace it with a new one and hope it is just as loved.
It was hard to go through her paper-ripping phase when she was less than a year old. I stocked my office with book tape and plastic covers, dug out my bone folder and awakened my old preservation skills. The wounded books stacked up, but they always eventually made it back into circulation. It’s been a while since she tore pages just for the thrill of it, but her books do still see significant wear from rough handling. She will carry and read a board book all day long until the spine is cracked and needs a little glue. She takes books to bed and fiddles with the loose covers until she falls asleep. She even used to teethe on books when nothing else would soothe her. They aren’t pretty, but we still read the tiny books with bite marks.
I saw very early that she responded to books in the same way I do -- with excitement and craving, looking to them for tactile comfort, the deep satisfaction of possession.
She inherited that passion directly from me and her dad. Our family motto could be "As Many Books As You Want." We have rooms full of books because we like living in our own library. We always have at least one book with us, whether we are engaged in reading it or not.
I get particular pleasure out of gathering, examining, sorting, and stacking my books, and our daughter has the same habit. At bedtime she distributes books to each of us and then sits down to read her own while we read aloud.
She may have also inherited her rough handling of books from me.
I have never been precious about my personal books. I don’t mind worn covers, annotations, creased pages. A book with scars has been used, and that's so satisfying to me. My daughter shows no prejudice against her shabbier books.
I am thrilled that she loves books; I always wanted her to have abundant access to them, but I couldn't have forced her to love them as much as her dad and I do. I hope her interest will grow into a love of learning, imagining and creating.
So I let her have (mostly) unfettered access to her books, let her use them and enjoy them however she chooses. Am I too permissive, failing to teach her a respect for books? Not really. Though she is only 2, she has picked up the distinction between her books, my books, and borrowed books. We have conversations about the difference between coloring books and coloring in books. Who wouldn't be confused?
What I want most is for her to respect and cherish what all books contain, and what they represent.


  1. I am so happy that she loves books. I love shopping or reading reviews for children's books that I can buy by niece. As a librarian also, I tend not to take care of my books. I bend pages as bookmarks and kill spines. Anna, you have no idea of the list of books that I already have that I want to buy her. When she turns five or six, I have told Grandme that Mamie gets my Barbie dolls and accessories.


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