Library activism for gentle parenting

28 October, 2013

When I was a brand spanking new mum (actually, not spanking, just cuddly) I wandered down to my local library in Peckham to see if I could get some reading matter on gentle parenting. I was looking for advice on building attachment, the norms of breastfeeding and what to expect with cosleeping.

I found the parenting aisle, and bent down to scan the books. Spine after spine yielded Gina Ford’s name. The parenting section seemed like a shrine to the Contended Baby Empire. I didn’t find anything to help me out that day; fortunately I found the solace and wisdom I was after later on in online groups.

Whilst being in London over the last couple of weeks, crashing at my folks place while Tim rescues Betty the Camper from the grubby hands of peculiar mechanics, I’ve joined their library. Honestly. Libraries. They are so FLIPPING BRILLIANT. I’m too scared to hire books these days as I have an actual Forget-To-Take-Books-Back Syndrome. We just go up there and laze amongst the tomes and read on the sofa together, and I use my library card to download books on my E-reader. (I can’t tell you how ridiculously happy downloading free ebooks with no overdue fine possibilities makes me.)

The first time I was there I perused the parenting aisle, hoping that in the last three years things might have gotten a little more representative. Well, every single Ford volume was there- guides from sleeping to potty training to riding a bike to singing a Nursery Rhyme (just joking about the last two, but I expect they’ll be next!) But there WERE other books… Tizzie Hall and her similarly extreme, ungentle methods, also a sleep training guide describing the “extinction” method. (What a name. If a name of a method could perfectly sum up what you are doing to your child’s trust in you, and your connection then they have NAILED it.)

Why, WHY, would I pick these books up for a flick through? WHHHHHY shatter my hope that people are moving towards more peaceful and respectful interactions with children and babies? I blame my hands. The rascals grab these books and open them up to the saddest parenting advice and shove it in my face… My eyeballs are like “DON’T LOOOOOK!!!” But they always do. The same thing happens with the Daily Mail at my granddad’s house. My hands are fisticuffs, Well Up For It. They didn’t get my memo about peaceful living.

I approached the librarian for a conversation. I wanted to find out why the shelves were stocked with pretty harsh, punitive child rearing methods. A reading of Parenting for a Peaceful Word by Robin Grille has convinced me that there is a really strong link between the mainstream parenting practices and the quality of societal well being, justice and peace in the subsequent decades, when the kids are adult and making decisions that effect their country. It may sound a bit conspiracy theorist, but it seems to me that the most predominant parenting literature at the moment is designed to squeeze our children into a mould that will make them compliant and obedient Contributors to the Economy. What is the relationship between this idea and our libraries?

You’ll be relieved to hear that George Osbourne doesn’t hand select the books with the most punitive regime, package them up and send them via UPS (he doesn’t use the Royal Mail, it’s inefficient) to each library. The librarian told me that it is simply the publishers who send their books out to a central library hub, who then pass them on. Chief librarians also request books that have come to their attention, that they feel their community might enjoy and members of the public can also request them.

It could be as simple as the fact that some of the more attachment/ gentle parenting books have lesser known publishers, and smaller marketing budgets, so don’t come to the attention of the library decision makers in the same way. After an enormous conversation with my local librarian about all of this it seems to me that WE can have an influence on making our library shelves more pro-child.

    Five ways we can get more gentle parenting literature on our library shelves

Request them. Each library should have a “Stock request form” – this means that if they don’t have it in the borough they will seriously consider buying it in. My old library would ALWAYS buy the requested books, but my current one only promises to consider it. This is still quite a power we have, particularly if one or two people request the same book in the same borough, giving the request much more weight. Get a few of your parent chums together and chose a book to request, each using a separate form. Toddlercalm by Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a new one just out, and anything by Dr Sears, and if every library had Robin Grille’s Parenting for a Peaceful World the world would surely be more peaceful.

Borrow them. Once they have a few attachment and gentle parenting texts you should get them out! (Unless you have the syndrome that I have…) Use your library, support them not just because libraries are wonderful for you right now but because they are wonderful for the whole of society long term. Borrowing these books will show the library that they are desired, and it will make them more likely to buy in more of these books.

Review them and share them. If you have enjoyed a respectful/gentle/ attachment parenting book then shout about it. It is possible for us to rival the big marketing budgets of controversial Super Nanny book publishers, simply by doing online reviews through Amazon, tweeting, face booking and generally making a fuss about the books that we think will make society a more beautiful, peaceful place. This will bring these books to the attention of librarians and book stockists, giving the books much higher chance of getting read by more parents.

Move the others. Okaaaay, so the librarian didn’t EXACTLY suggest this one and this is quite an active kind of library activism. The librarian told me that the books that are often hired most are those that are displayed with their front cover facing out. If you want you could, when no one is looking, rearrange the displays with gentle parenting books being the most obvious. You could also, if you felt like it, take some of the harsh tomes and, if they seem to be massively over represented on the shelves… well, errr….HIDE THEM. Good luck finding the Extinction Method in my local, unless you are well into horse riding.

Send a letter A quick phone call to the Head of Library Services in your borough, or even to the library number on your library’s internetz page (not your branch) should give you the name of the Aquisition Librarian. It would be well worth emailing them, or writing them, copying in your MP, with your concerns and some of the suggestions for books you have. You should also, anonymously this time, write them a letter about all the reshelving you have been doing, just so the librarians don’t get the blame…


I’d love to hear from any librarians or publishers about how to get our library shelves reflecting society’s need for more gentle child nurturing literature…

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  • elrieta 28 October, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    Lol! Gentle horse riding is next! 😉

  • Chloe 28 October, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    I think that’s a ruddy brilliant idea! My 2 yr little girl and I are always hanging out at the library in Winchester. It’s ace, but I haven’t checked out the parenting books there yet (we are always lounging in the Children’s Library), so I’ll have a look, check the mix (I’m guessing it will be similar to your experience, and I noticed that Waterstones had all the harsher advice I had no interest in… Or rather like you, got angry about, especially that Tizzie woman, sheesh!)…. Then I will enquire nicely about plumping out the shelves with some gentle reading! X

  • Jem 28 October, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Do libraries accept donations? That seems like a daft question but I’ve never tried before. I’m thinking another thing would be to donate gentle parenting books if you’ve bought your own and have read them…

    • Lucy 28 October, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      They do! I think I might add a number six up there!!

  • Samantha Schofield 28 October, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I have been taking Little L to the library since she was 10 weeks old to story time (she is 2 tomorrow) and we love it. They know us by first name terms and it’s great. I have not seen the parenting books though as like others we head straight for the children’s books.
    I’ll take a look on Wednesday when we go,
    Great post…got me thinking,

  • Lady Demelza 28 October, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    I love libraries THAT MUCH too.

    I did, once upon a time, come across a ‘parenting advice’ book in a library that I couldn’t bear to think of anyone ever reading, so I hid it. It just slipped in under the book shelf unit. Nobody would have found that one ’til they renovated.

  • Meri 29 October, 2013 at 12:42 am

    I’m in the U.S. and unfortunately a lot of our libraries are pretty short on gentle parenting books as well. At some branches I can find Dr. Sear’s books, but only at the very large ones. It’s disappointing, especially in a city with so many young parents like myself who could use the advice. Thank you so much for the tips. I think most would work here too.

  • Angela Almond 30 October, 2013 at 6:55 am

    YES you can donate books to libraries [although you will have more clout if you are a group – a sticker with “This book donated by Peckham Mums&Toddler Group” helps
    BORROW the good books. Often, even if you have read them already. If you take out the book [even for 24 hrs and return it unread] it is flagged on the system and will be less likely to be among the annual discards – and should get replaced when it wears out.

    My children are grown up now – I await grandchildren [one day…maybe…] but I confess to being horrified at the punitive tone of many parenting books around now, and the awful regime many children are put through. My daughter jokes that my style was ‘benign parenting’ -maybe I should write a book on that.

    All power to you and your young friends as you seek to bring love, joy and peace into your family life. Parenting is hard work – but needs to be underpinned by these positive values.

    blessings xxx

  • Janine 31 October, 2013 at 10:19 am

    Wonderful! I’ve been tempted to hide or even deface bad parenting books at stores and libraries many times.

  • Thalia Kehoe Rowden 31 October, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Love it! Keep up the good work 🙂

  • Kate 28 May, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I loved reading this post as my local library was the same until I found ina may gaskin buried deep in gina ford! I too looked everywhere for gentle parenting reassurance when I had my first child. And couldn’t find what I wanted so resolved to make a film for people like me. It’s called babyhood and I would love u to see it.