Q: My child is too shy to ask questions. I want him to be confident, and to ask for what he needs. How do I get him to ask you questions himself?
A: Yes, it's our job – parents, caregivers, and librarians, working together – to model the interactions that we'd like young people to conduct independently someday. Your child is learning a million tiny things by simply observing you as you conduct yourself daily. With very little conscious effort, he's learning by watching what you do.
When you bring a young person to the library, show him (you may not need to tell him) how you wait your turn, make a friendly greeting, ask a question, clarify if we're on the right track or not, and thank the staff person for the help you received.
Once your child has observed this several times, pick an unhurried day and ask him if he's ready to try it on his own. Some kids are bold and need very little prompting. Others want to know it will go smoothly before they even try. Many kids start, and then get stuck and need a little help. Eventually, we learn to speak up on our own behalf.
The interaction below is NOT ideal! Sometimes the librarian has a line of people waiting. However, I'm sharing it because it illustrates something not everyone realizes: The librarian is friendly. She or he is going to do whatever she or he can to get what information or reading material you need or want.
You can play “library” at home or in the car, and pretend/practice the question-and-answer process. Then come by and give it a try. We love talking to kids about what they're reading and helping them find information.
One afternoon at the library:
A mother and her son enter the library, and walk toward the Children's Reference Desk. They wait for the person ahead of them in line to finish, and then approach the Children's Librarian.
MOM (to Librarian): Hello! We'd like a little help.
MOM (to child): Tell the librarian what you need.
KID: No, you tell her.
MOM: No, go on. You tell her!
KID: No, no, no. I won't. You have to.
MOM: Go ahead and ask your question. Look, it's your turn now.
KID: You ask her!
Librarian: Okay, okay, I'll ask you!
(Kid is surprised & looks directly at Librarian for the first time)
Librarian: Okay, let's see...You have a question, right?
KID: (quietly) Yes.
Librarian: Let me see...Do you need something at the library?
Librarian: Okay, I'm going to guess. Is it a book?
Librarian: Okay, a book. That's good. We have lots of books. Hmm...Is this a book for your own fun, or is this for a school assignment?
KID: For school.
Librarian: Okay, for school. ...and what grade are you in?
Librarian: Okay, a book for a school assignment for first grade. That narrows it down....but I need more information. Are you going to tell me, or should I guess?
KID: You guess!
Librarian: Okay (rubbing my face, thinking...) ...Does this assignment have to do with the Phases of the Moon?
MOM: Just tell her, don't make her guess!
KID: (looking at her like she is crazy, because obviously this could be fun)
Librarian: ...Is the assignment about an Animal?
Librarian: Ummm...Is the assignment about...The Revolutionary War?
Librarian: I could really use a clue here...Do you want to tell me what you need a book about?
KID: Keep guessing!
MOM: ...but it does have something to do with history...!
Librarian: Oh, good, I needed a clue! So, it's about history...Is the assignment about World history, or United States history?
KID: The United States!
Librarian: Great! We are really narrowing it down...Are you looking for a book about the history of a person or a place or a time period?
KID: It's a report about a place.
Librarian: All right, now we're cooking! I wonder if it is about a state?
KID: Yes, it is about a state!
Librarian: All right...is it California, by any chance?
KID: No, that's my friend's state!
Librarian: Oh, no! You are not going to make me guess every single state are you?
KID: (gleefully) Yes!!!
Librarian: ...Wait a minute, I think we are close enough already...(getting up from desk, walking past them)...Follow me! We're going to figure this out!
KID: (looks up at his mom with wide open eyes)
MOM: Let's follow her!
Librarian: Right over here...these shelves right here have all the books on the United States, one state at a time. Starting with the north-east, going to the south-east, then the mid-west, then the south, then the west...Hmmmm...Which state could it be?
MOM: I see it!!!
MOM: (Mom craftily plays both sides of the game...the knowing and the not-knowing side...) What letter does it start with?
KID: It starts with a "V".
...He's looking...The adults are waiting...It doesn't take long...
KID: Here it is! I found it!
Librarian: Aha, it was Virginia! And it looks like we have more than one book. I'm so glad you found something. Go ahead and take them all off the shelf, and open them up. We have books for different reading levels, so you'll want to pick the one that is just right for you.
MOM: (to Librarian) Thank you so much. (to her son) Say thanks!
KID: My grandma & grandpa are in Virginia.
Librarian: You're welcome. (His look of astounded satisfaction is a sufficient expression of gratitude.)
I'm sure he and I will have another opportunity to practice the Q&A process. People who know how to ask librarians for help get a lot more out of their tax dollars. It's National Library Week. Practice asking your librarian a question today!