The Library letter

April 3, 2006 at 5:03 pm (social issues)

This is the letter I sent our local library (names omitted):

Dear Ms. Children's Dept. Head,

Recently I noticed your Peanut Month display in the children’s book section. Really, it is nicely done for what it is. A few years ago, before I became aware of how many children are at risk of losing their lives from exposure to peanuts—to them, peanuts are like a loaded gun waiting to go off—I would have stopped to comment on how neat the display was. The difference between a few years ago and now is this: I didn’t know that peanut allergy is life-threatening, and that more and more children are getting it, even in families that have no history of allergies of any kind.

I fed my child peanut butter when he was too young, and now he has to pay for that mistake for the rest of his life. Why did I do it? Because I thought peanut butter was an appropriate food for any child who was old enough to eat solid foods. I was wrong. Many other parents are wrong about this, as well, and the number of children with life-threatening peanut allergy in our community is growing.

On my recent trip to the library, I began to ignore the display—it made me a little sad, but, then, dealing with peanuts is something allergic kids just have to learn to do. There will always be someone eating peanut butter, or making peanut butter cookies, or what-not. That is just reality.

As I browsed onward through the bookshelves picking out books for my sons, I realized that as the head of your department & someone obviously interested in the well-being and education of children, you would naturally be interested in learning how many children who visit your section are allergic to peanuts and other foods. I realized that perhaps you just weren’t aware, and that you probably have the heart to reconsider this sort of display, once you’ve got all the information you need to make a decision.

Unfortunately, the amount of life-threatening allergies to peanuts, specifically, as well as other foods, has been rising at an alarming rate, and one of the suspected reasons is the too-early introduction of peanuts to young children. I, myself, fed my child peanut butter too early, in part due to the marketing of peanut products to children. Our family history being completely free of any sort of known allergies, I simply didn’t know it was a danger until it was too late. It’s my belief that seeing a Peanut Month display in the children’s section of the library could have a similar effect on other parents. It contributes to a vague acceptance of peanut products as an appropriate dietary choice for young kids, when, in fact, it’s really not. Additionally, it reinforces the unhealthy and unhelpful mindset of those parents not affected by peanut allergy—those who refuse to provide a safe environment for their children’s classmates, church friends, scout troop buddies, etc. Yes, believe it or not, there are parents who think “it won’t hurt my child, so I can’t be bothered.” It’s a sad and distorted attitude, but unfortunately some people just don’t care about the safety of other people’s children.

Doctors do not recommend introducing peanuts into a child’s diet until their digestive system is more mature. Some doctors say as early at three years, and as old as six. Regardless, one out of every hundred kids & adults who comes through your library already has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts, according to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), and nationally-recognized leader in research Dr. Hugh Sampson of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York.

Food is something our culture connects with good times and celebrations, but, unfortunately, the growing number of children with food allergies makes the promotion of these foods in public places like schools and libraries a practice that can harm classmates, neighbors, friends, and relatives. For all the “good” things peanuts provide us (protein, natural sugars), there are many other foods that provide the same benefits without the alarmingly-rising number of children contracting allergies to them. Statistically, though a child can develop an allergy to any food at any time, peanut allergy has proven to be especially lethal and increasingly common.

You might be aware of the recent passage of the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act. It is chiefly due to peanut allergy that this bill became a law. Peanuts are killing children, weakening their immune system, and eroding their overall health.

Four to six percent of children under age six in the US suffer from life threatening food allergies to the Big Eight: milk, egg, peanut, tree nut (walnut, cashew, etc.), fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. When a child is allergic to one food, they are commonly susceptible to developing allergies to other foods. Sorry to sound like a party pooper, but food has quickly become something of a health risk instead of a universally-accepted “good time” thing, as little as ten years ago.

Believe me, I would never have willingly chosen to become an Allergy Mom or an educator on the topic of food allergies! I would much rather that things had remained for my children (and others) as they were for my husband and me: we ate what we wanted, when we wanted, whenever, with no consequence. Those days are sadly gone. On the other hand, now I have the opportunity to see the compassionate side of others, which is a blessing in itself.

The good news is that resources are available for free or very inexpensively through FAAN that provide fun and educational programs for encouraging children to keep one another safe. Once such program is Be A PAL (Protect A Life). There’s even a Girl Scout badge program now for the Be A PAL program from FAAN.

Here’s the url for the Be A PAL program:

In the meantime, here are some other March events I found online, if you’re interested in taking a few moments to reconsider the Peanut Month display:
1. Spring (I’m sure you’ve done this to death, but it’s timeless)
2. Iditarod (books about Alaska, snow, dogs)
3. Nutrition (books about food)
4. Art & Music (books about art and music)
5. American Diabetes Alert Day (books about diabetes)
6. American Red Cross Month (books about first aid)
7. Safe Spring Break (books about the beach)
8. Brain Awareness Week (books about the brain, health, thinking, puzzles)
9. National Doctor’s Day (books about doctors, nurses, health)
10. National Save Your Vision Month (books about eyes, glasses, reading)
11. School Breakfast Week (books about cooking, nutrition, school)
12. National Sleep Awareness Week (books about napping, bedtime, sleeping)
13. National Sports Eye Safety Month (books about athletes, especially athletes who wear eye protection)
14. National Craft Month (the sky’s the limit on this one—craft projects galore)
Obviously you will display whatever materials you’d like, but I thought that you would like to do so with the full understanding of what the promotion of peanut butter is capable of doing to 1% of your library patrons (kids as well as adults). When the people around those patrons indulge in peanut products, it puts that 1% at risk.

With 4-6% of kids ages six and below now so highly allergic to a variety of foods, it won’t be long before someone in every family group, classroom, scout troop, or other gaggle of kids faces a real threat due to inappropriate food exposure.

Our family will continue to support the library & visit often, and we will continue to use its services. The peanut month display makes life more dangerous for our four year-old son, and it’s my hope that your feelings about the display do not echo those of your employee _____, who had a flagrantly aggressive reaction to my request for your contact information, so that I could send you this letter. We enjoy the library and we believe that the library cares about kids and chooses to put their safety over the appetites and taste buds of its staff. We have always appreciated that it is a food-free environment, where we do not have to worry about wiping down every surface or asking a million questions about ingredients before we are allowed to participate in the fun.

For your knowledge, after ______'s total break-down of manners and civility, she sent me upstairs to A Helpful Person, who reacted sanely and calmly to my request, giving me your contact information in an efficient fashion so I could rejoin my family in the Children’s Dept. While I was talking to A Helpful Person, _______ also accused me via your in-house phone of asking for your home information, which was untrue and irrelevant. It is probably also worth noting that _____ demanded I leave this letter with her—I suppose she thought I would write it on the spot—so that she could deliver it as a “complaint” (her words) to you.

For the record, this isn’t a complaint. It’s just information and a suggestion. I hope it is met with the spirit of cooperation and community with which it was sent.

You have a real asset in A Helpful Person.

Thank you,

Leslea Harmon

Allergy News – All the News that Itches

Feel free to borrow any part of that you'd like for your own purposes, dear readers. The answer I received was as follows:

Dear Ms. Harmon,

Thank you for bringing the matter of the seriousness of peanut allergies to our attention. We appreciate your sensitivity to the issue and the constatnt struggle it must be to have a child who suffers from such an allergy. It was not our intention to cause anyone pain and hurt by displaying the books in the library.

We endeavor to highlight various genres, age levels, reading interests, and categories (i.e., fiction, biographies, factual, easy readers, etc.) through book displays to encourage children to explore the many varieties of reading. The staff membr doing the display on peanuts did not think of it in terms of how it could affect those who have allergies. We will try to be more cognizant of this in the future.

Please accept my apologies of or the misunderstanding between you and the Children's staff at the time of your request. I hope you continue to frequent the library and find it a valuable asset for your family.


Name of the Children Services Manager

My husband had hoped for a "better" response than that, but I am quite happy with it, for just the reasons I detailed in the letter: it is already a food-free environment, and, hey, here's some education about the children you service. In my opinion, the above letter says "I hear you, and I will keep this information in mind in the future."

They will display what they choose to display, but now I know it will have been done with this specific issue in mind. If it comes up again, we'll do what we need to do, but I certainly hope that sane and reasonable people are not going to go out of their way to find a reason to put up a display about nuts or any of the other big eight just for kicks, when it's plainly obvious that every month has dozens of alternative topics to highlight.

Anyway, I promised I'd share. There you go! I am very happy with this outcome. 😀



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