The word is out: books are an important tool in nearly every aspect of a child’s development. But it’s up to parents and other caregivers to instill in children a love of books. Fortunately, the best resource is likely right around the corner from your house, and it’s free-your local library.

"Teaching a love of reading is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child," said Trisha Noack, public relations coordinator for the Peoria Public Library. "We live in a literate society in which reading is required for almost every task we do. Not only do good reading skills promote success in school and the workplace, but reading offers a means of entertainment that lasts a lifetime."

She said parents can begin reading to babies just after birth and using books as a tool to teach and foster close family ties all through the first years of life. A few of the many benefits include:

"When learning to read, the library can offer an exciting selection of books tailored to a child’s interests and at his reading level," Noack said. "Independent readers can take the world by storm reading in good weather and bad, while waiting and riding in a car, when not feeling well, and at bedtime. Reading is portable entertainment and an activity that continues daily to improve a child’s chances for a happy, successful life."

If your family doesn’t have a library card, she said now is the perfect time to get one. "Peoria Public Library offers library cards for every citizen who lives within Peoria. Parents can sign a child up for a card the day she’s born. We continue to ask parents to sign for a child’s card until graduation from eighth grade, however, and then teens can sign for their own card. For children to get their own card, all they have to do is come to any library location with a parent. The parent has to show a photo ID with the correct address. The child signs the card, agreeing to abide by the rules; the parent signs, agreeing the child will do so. It takes less than 15 minutes."

To encourage use of the library cards, the Peoria Public Library is working this fall to distribute library card applications to students throughout Peoria. "Parents can easily apply by filling the card out and returning it to school. The library will notify the family when the cards are ready, and parents can bring in their picture ID at that time," Noack said.

And after children receive a library card? "They get a wallet and key card that opens the doors to all of the wonders in Peoria Public Library," she said. "With a card, a child can check out books, magazines, audio books, movies, and, with a parent’s permission, even use the high-speed Internet connection. We have books for school reading lists, reading suggestions, and we can even point a student in the right direction for research. In fact, any student who has a library card can use our online databases from home. You can get full articles and other reference information that can really help with homework. With new ordering systems in place, we get the hot new titles-like the Harry Potter books and movies-the same day they hit store shelves, and the waiting lists are short and sweet due to the multiple copies purchased for each location."

The library has many programs to encourage reading-from the very beginning of life. "We offer storytimes for everyone from birth through the lower grades and programs and book clubs for older kids and home schooled students," Noack said. "Parents can bring the tiniest of babies for a lapsit, and older siblings can come too, as long as they bring a toy friend as their own ’baby.’ Toddlers and pre-schoolers each have their own special storytimes to attend. Storytimes are offered at most library locations, and all of the details are on the Web site at www.ppl.peoria.lib.il.us; in our monthly newsletter, Passages; or in our special publication, Kid Events. Some are listed right here in Arts Alive! too."

Because the Peoria Public Library has so many branches, finding activities and resources is very convenient, she said. "Many programs are offered at the Downtown Library in the Youth Services Department. Lincoln Branch Library offers tutoring through its Front & Center program, and Lakeview Branch Library has the Talk About Good Book Club for middle schoolers and the Harry Potter Book Club for fourth graders through adults. RiverWest Library has a storytime for siblings, and several locations offer game and craft days. McClure Branch Library gets in on the fun with seasonal storytimes, and SouthSide Branch offers plenty of programs every day and for special occasions like holidays. There’s always something going on at the library."

There’s no sure-fire formula that guarantees your child will learn to love reading, but you can provide one very effective tool: time. Invest the time it takes to read with children. Reading advocates advise parents to turn off the TV, slow down the hectic pace of activities and outings, and read with their children every day. And, of course, encourage your children to use the local library as a partner in their lifelong reading adventure. AA!