Using a sling or a carrier, the practice of which is often known as “babywearing” is now becoming more and more common in our society. This is a very welcome advancement; traditional societies the world over have long known of the benefits to both parent and child of close contact, as well as the practical advantages of using a sling as part of daily life. Studies into attachment theory are beginning to show that children who have a strong secure attachment to their caregivers in the early years are more likely to have an easier, more confident path through life.
This fantastic increased visibility of slings in our culture is due, in large part, to the work of sling librarians, consultants, peer supporters and other passionate parents who have discovered the value of sling use. It is International Babywearing Week and I want to celebrate these hard-working people!
What is a sling library?
There can be a bewildering choice of slings to choose from and it can feel rather overwhelming to know which is best, so just like a book library, a sling library is a collection of slings and carriers that can be browsed, tried on (often with weighted realistic demo dolls) and taken away on hire to use at home for a period of time.
Sling librarians usually have some form of training in babywearing safety and will be able to help you find the right kind of carrier for you and your baby’s needs. Every parent and child combination is unique and what worked well for your friend, or what you have been advised to try on the internet, may not be the best-fitting choice in real life. A sling library gives you a chance to try things before you buy, as a sling that isn’t comfortable for you, or one that your baby does not like, could be an expensive experiment! Some parents find a carrier they love straight away, some may try several different types before settling on one that feels the best.
Sling library sessions take place in many locations; people’s homes, children’s centres, church halls, cafes, theatres, supermarkets, pub function rooms etc.
Sling libraries usually have small charges for their services, which at first can be surprising for some – after all, you don’t pay to borrow a book! However, book libraries are publicly owned, funded by taxpayers, and those who work in these book libraries are employed by the local council and are paid salaries for their work. This is very different for sling librarians, on the whole. Most sling libraries have been built up by committed volunteers, who often begin by buying slings with their own money, because they believe that the service they offer is worth it for the families they serve. Many sling libraries have been launched by those who are enthusiastic babywearers themselves, who turned their passion into a way of helping others discover the same joy. The hire fees are essential to keep the service running, to be able to replace worn out carriers, add new ones to ensure parents get the best, the most useful and the most up-to-date choices, to pay for the buildings in which the sessions are held, to pay for their training, insurance, childcare and so on.
Your local sling librarians work hard; and they do it because they have a strong commitment to investing in the future of the families around them. While a sling library session may last two hours or so, a sling librarian’s work carries on long after. They spend many hours behind the scenes setting up and tidying away, answering emails and messages, checking stock for wear and tear, following up on hires, offering support where needed, reminding people of overdue returns, liaising with other local services, offering talks or demos, writing educational blog posts, the list goes on. Much work is done on days off, evenings and weekends, just to fit it all in.
Many sling librarians give all this time to run their services as volunteers, many are on maternity leave, many run it alongside other paid work. These librarians and their volunteers feed all the income from the library back into the service; they don’t pay themselves a wage, and remain committed volunteers with other sources of daily income.
Some libraries are community interest companies, staffed mainly by volunteers. The library is owned by the CIC itself and some CIC’s may pay their staff a small wage. This money comes from the hire fees and other services provided under the CIC umbrella. NCT sling libraries are run by unpaid volunteers, all the hire fees are used for new slings or fundraising for other branch activities (including venue hire) and the charity nationally.
A few run their libraries as their main source of income, they are self-employed, just like a doula, or a personal trainer, or a chiropractor, or anyone who has their own business, and need the income from the library to live on. These libraries often offer sessions much more frequently than the typical fortnightly or monthly pattern of many others. Some librarians also run online shops selling slings, others offer another level of services as consultants or trainers, all of which have huge number of behind-the-scenes hours.
Of course, all librarians will have families of their own who need their time, love and attention just as much as ever, and librarian work is often fitted in around them. So forgive us if we don’t always reply immediately or take a little time to get back to you… we are working tirelessly for you with all the time and the might that we can. We offer great value for money!
What is a Sling Meet?
A sling meet is a social event, where parents who enjoy their carriers gather together to share their enthusiasm and encourage each other. Some sling meets may have libraries or consultants in attendance, but on the whole, the focus will be friendship and sharing. Sling walks are often a great way to get to know other families!
What is a Peer Supporter and what is a Babywearing Consultant?
Peer Supporters are usually parents who love using slings and want to share this with their local communities. They have attended one day of training (Born to Carry and School of Babywearing are the two UK providers of such courses) and have sufficient knowledge to support parents on a peer to peer level. Many run sling libraries. Many use this training alongside other qualifiations, such as antenatal classes, fitness classes, babycare classes and so on. Many will have a greater depth of experience than their training will suggest; there is a huge variation!
A sling and carrier consultant is one who has taken their training to the next level of professionalism, attending courses that are often three or four days long. They are teachers, who have a greater depth of knowledge and expertise in sling use than peer supporters. Many run library sessions as well as more personal services such as small group workshops, antenatal classes or one to one teaching sessions. Just like peer supporters, consultants may vary widely in their experience and expertise.
Some offer specialised support in particular circumstances or with particular types of slings, or offer peer supporter training courses.
This article by Melissa Cyrille from Tribal Babies explains it all very well. http://www.tribalbabies.co.uk/babywearing/babywearing-consultants/
Where can I find my local sling library or sling meet or sling consultant?
Sling Pages is the Yellow Pages of the UK sling world and has links to libraries, sling meets and sling consultants in map form and list form (by area)