5 reasons why at-risk children don’t go to the library

Sometimes we’re asked why at-risk children and adolescents don’t just go to the public library. Is it really necessary that we donate a wide variety of books to the orphanage, youth facility or other institutions where they live? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”.

Read more here, and find out why.

1. The public library is too far away

Far too many public libraries all over the country have been closed, and for a lot of youngsters the remaining are too far away. Especially for those with few resources, the trip is hard to deal with. Furthermore, many institutions for at-risk children and adolescents are located in rural areas. Out there, the rent is inexpensive, the kids are far away from bad influences, and surrounded by nature. Unfortunately, this also means that the distance to the nearest public library is much greater. We have even visited institutions on small islands where you have to take a ferry to go to the library.

2. Some kids don’t understand the library

The library is a specifically organized place, full of systems, strange codes, and rules. If you grew up with books and went to the library throughout your life, you can navigate freely in that environment, without giving all this a second thought. But many children and adolescents, who are placed in care, come from homes that were strangers to books, and they have large gaps in their schooling. (On average, they are three years behind their peers). They haven’t been introduced to the systems in the library, the social rules that apply, or how to use self-service borrowing and return. For a large group of at-risk children and adolescents, the library concept must be introduced from the ground up, and they have to gain the familiarity that the experienced library user takes for granted.  

3. Too many choices

If you’re a stranger to books, have trouble concentrating (and maybe also have a diagnosis), there are too many books at the public library. It becomes too hard to navigate and choose. For example, Read for Your Life donated a small library of 400 books to an institution for at-risk adolescents, where a girl found two shelves filled with books much too overwhelming. “Could you just choose three books for me, that you think I would like? Then I’ll choose one of them”.

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4. It’s embarrassing

Particularly for young people whose reading skills don’t correspond to their age, a visit to the library can be a shameful experience. Several social workers tell us that they’ve tried to take for example a couple of reading-challenged teenage boys to the library, but the boys either said flat out no to going, or they headed straight to the game and music areas. The books they were able to read were in the children’s section, and going there was too embarrassing and humiliating.  

5. They can’t borrow books

Some parents won’t let their children get a library card in fear of getting stuck with possible fines. Some young people have had their card blocked. The library system does this automatically, if more than 200 kroner are owed (approximately 30 US dollars); this amounts to the cost of one book, that has to be replaced. We often meet staff at the institutions that won’t borrow books at the library, because they worry about the fines.

When Read for Your Life donates a small library (on average 500 books) to an institution, the books don’t have to be returned, and they are easily accessible. The size of the collection is manageable for most children and adolescents. They can grab a book and take it to their room, without having to share their choice of book in public, or with the staff. The Read for Your Life library is the first step toward feeling comfortable around books and gently integrating books into their daily lives. We hope that this will make using public libraries easier and more frequent.