It took me a while to notice that the little boy was following me around. It was a Saturday morning. I was tutoring a fourth grader at Olney Library. We were reading a book in the Arthur series. She was struggling. In the middle of a page, she stopped at a word. A little voice piped in behind our heads. “Realize,” he said. “It’s ‘realize.’”
We were polite. We thanked him. He never left. Even after I explained to him that I was working and that it would be better if the girl learned to read on her own. He sat at the table next to us, pulled out his backpack and began some schoolwork, all the while never taking his eyes off us.
I grew irritated. Other students came. And went. He remained seated.
Finally, after the last student left, thirty minutes before the library was to close, he came over. “Can you help me with my homework?” I sighed. I was tired. It was a Saturday. Outside the sun was shining. I had done my share of teaching. “Why don’t you ask your parents for help?” I asked him. “They don’t speak English, ” he said.
He’s in third grade. He came from West Africa. He likes doing schoolwork. He had been waiting from 11AM for me to finish so that I could help him. I did. At 4:30.
The next Saturday, he was there again. He is there every Saturday the library is open. He’s not the only one. There are others that follow me around. I can’t always help all of them. There’s simply not enough time.
On Saturdays that the library is closed, I wonder where those kids are. What they’re doing. I can imagine them struggling to finish their work. Without computers. Without a librarian. Without parents. And then I can imaging them giving up. I thought I understood how the library system worked in Philly. I was wrong. It took six months of sitting in a library, Saturday after Saturday to understand how people use library services.
Wednesday, May 13
Featuring Amy Dougherty, Executive Director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia
5th Street & Tabor Avenue