catholic homeschool girl in library

8 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Library

As a homeschooling parent, your local library can be one of your most valuable resources. Whether as a repository of physical media, a hub for accessing online materials, or a quiet & organized workspace, libraries are your friend! In this article, we’ll talk about ways you can maximize the usefulness of your library in your homeschool.

Get to Know Your Librarian

If you spend much time at your library with your kiddos, you will probably get to know your librarians. Librarians are super helpful people to get acquainted with. Go out of your way to say hello to them. Have your children introduce themselves as well. Librarians possess a wealth of knowledge about utilizing the library and are thrilled when families avail themselves of it.

Besides being a simple act of kindness, building a relationship with your librarian can open a window to influence what sort of materials the library carries. Once, our children’s librarian was about to place a big order and asked me if I had any suggestions. I talked to her about my favorite children’s books and encouraged her to get materials that other homeschooling families would use.

Most libraries have little cards to offer feedback or online submission forms for recommendations. Use these to recommend faith-based and homeschool-friendly books you’d like them to carry. Encourage your local homeschool community to join you in making requests. Our local library looks for three requests before purchasing a book.

Bring Your Reading List With You

Many homeschool parents keep lists of books they’d like to read or would like their children to read. If you don’t have such a list, why not? If you do, bring the list with you! This has several benefits: First, it gives your visit direction. Wandering around a library with thousands of books is cool, but it can get daunting when it comes time to pick specific books to check out.

Give your children a booklist of titles you want them to read and task them with finding them. This gives a purposefulness to their browsing—and, of course, they can still grab other books they come across while looking for the list of books. (You could even give them my For the Love of Literature, which I’m fond of describing as a glorified booklist!)

A reading list is a good way to ensure your children pick good books. There are times when I go to the library and find books prominently displayed that are unsuitable for my family. Because I believe in teaching children to be discerning readers, I give them a booklist to take to the library. They can choose any book from the list, but they must stick to the list.

Keep Your Materials Organized

I’ll never forget the day the librarian, somewhat apologetically, told me, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Wittmann, as of the New Year, you can have no more than fifty books checked out at one time.” I got around the new rule by getting each of my children their own library cards so we could continue checking out books under their accounts. I always did a literature-centric curriculum where books are the foundation of my homeschooling, so I had more books than most families. If you are a homeschooler, chances are you have a lot of books in your home, and your library trips result in massive hauls.

To get the most use out of these materials and prevent them from getting lost, I did two things:

First, I kept all my library materials in a dedicated space (in my case, a large wicker basket). But it could be anything—a special “library shelf,” a library bag, or even a pile in the corner. If you already have a thousand books in your home, the danger of losing library materials and getting them mixed into your collection is extremely high. Therefore, I recommend you keep all your library items in their dedicated space.

Second, if you take out quantities of items regularly, losing even a fraction of them can get expensive with late or replacement fines. For this reason, I keep my own log of what is checked out, when it is due, and when it was returned. “But wait,” you might ask, “doesn’t the library track when items are checked out, due, and returned? Why keep your own log?” (Free downloadable library log here.)

For one thing, we’ve all had the experience of our library missing an item we returned. If the library shows that I have not returned an item, I check my log and notify the library clerk of the date returned. The clerk then puts a “search” on the missing item. Because I use the library quite frequently, this has happened to me a few times, and I certainly don’t want to pay for books that I did indeed return.

Second, the log serves as a record of the books read in your homeschool. It can be incorporated into your portfolio (if your state requires you to keep one) or transcript.

Use Hoopla

Today, many libraries’ most valuable assets are digital. One of the most popular digital services today’s homeschoolers utilize is Hoopla. Hoopla is a web and mobile library media streaming platform for audiobooks, comics, e-books, movies, music, and TV. Patrons of a library supporting Hoopla have access to its digital media collection.

Today, the vast majority of public libraries use Hoopla. It gives you access to over 850,000 titles across six different formats. Hoopla hosts many homeschool-oriented texts that might be difficult to find in a library in physical form. For example, many homeschooling families access Phillip Campbell’s Story of Civilization audiobooks free via Hoopla.

Use Interlibrary Loan

In the old days, what you could get from the library was limited to what the library had on hand. If a certain library didn’t have the material I wanted, I had to drive to another one—which I did! This is less of a problem today because of the interlibrary loan network. Interlibrary loan is a network of lending between various libraries. If your particular library does not carry an item or it is checked out, you can use interlibrary loan to see if other libraries in the area have the item available.

Here’s the best part—most libraries make interlibrary loan deliveries daily. If you request an item through an interlibrary loan, it is generally available the very next day for pickup at your preferred location. I’ve gotten loads of great material this way that my library did not have on hand. It essentially puts the collections of all regional libraries at your disposal.

Order Online

No time to get to the library? Or, perhaps, sadly, your local library isn’t child-friendly. You may be able to check out books online. In my library system, we can place books on hold via an online form. I’d often do this and have my husband pick them up on the way home from work.

More Than Just Books

Libraries offer way more than just books. Other free offerings that we have found at our library include a toy and game lending program, educational videos, DVD’s, music, CD-ROM’s, meeting rooms for club meetings & co-op classes, lecture series, Saturday movies, storytime, sessions with local authors, book sales, craft days, historical presentations, and more.

A Quiet Place

Finally, sometimes having your school day at the library is nice. Maybe something is going on at home where you need to get away, or you have a lot of errands and have to do school on the go—or maybe you just are bored at home and need a change of scenery. Whatever the reason, your library’s quiet atmosphere (and solid internet connection) makes it an ideal place to read and study. So pack up your children, throw your homeschooling materials in a bag, and head to your library. Get a study room if you need to. It’s a fantastic atmosphere for education.

As you can see, libraries can greatly value your home education. Take the initiative to determine if and how the public library can be an asset to your homeschool.

Do you have tips to share or questions to ask? I invite you to join us in our Catholic Homeschool Connections Community and start a conversation.

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