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Henry Docter and Elizabeth Loeb’s 4-and-a-half-year-old son, Jonah, loves books—especially Magic School Bus books, Dr. Seuss books, and books about rocks. After much discussion, Docter took Jonah to the Cleveland Park public library on Oct. 6 so he could get his first library card. There, they were told, all Jonah had to do was sign his name to a form.
That was the catch: If he couldn’t sign his name, he couldn’t get a card. While Jonah’s older sister breezed through this task, Jonah sat at a table with his father and struggled, putting more than 20 minutes into the attempt. “We couldn’t do it,” Docter recalls. Then Jonah began to cry, his father says, and he had to be carried out of the library. No signature and no card.
“It is something that he’s self-conscious about,” Docter says. “It is something that he’s working on.…He knew something was wrong.” Upset over the incident, Docter had his daughter fill out his son’s name the next day; Jonah got his library card.
Meanwhile, Loeb lobbied Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper to change the policy. By Saturday evening, Cooper gave word that she had abolished the handwriting challenge altogether. “It was an easy decision for us to make,” Cooper says. Making a 4-and-a-half-year-old cry, she says, is “not the kind of impression we want children to have at our libraries.”
But with the new policy in place, the library system wanted one more thing from Jonah: his picture on a brochure trumpeting the policy change. Jonah and his parents are up for it. “He’s cute,” Loeb says. “He’s a cute 4-year-old.”