Getting the Most Out of Your Library by Maureen Wittmann


wittmann_maureen“I’m sorry Mrs. Wittmann, as of the new year, you can have no more than fifty books checked out at one time,” the librarian told me apologetically.

“Oh no! I’ve got forty Cinderella books on hold for a unit study the kids and I are working on. And I’ve probably got twenty books out on the Civil War, and then there are the books we check out just for fun. This is terrible!” I exclaimed, breaking out in a cold sweat, totally forgetting about the ten or so “real” math books sitting at home.

The librarian sought to comfort me and kindly suggested “You could check them out under your children’s names.”

That is how my 3- and 5-year-old children came to have their very own library cards.

At any given moment, I have somewhere between fifty and ninety books checked out from the public library. Because “real” books provide the foundation of my homeschool, the library has become a very necessary resource.

I have also found good textbooks on the shelves there, so always check with your library before making purchases. This is very easy to do if your library offers their catalog on the Internet.

Keep a Log and Designate a Special Place for Books

The library can be a free resource to homeschoolers, or it can be a financial drain. To keep things thrifty, it is absolutely necessary that you be organized. Otherwise, late fees and lost book charges will pile up.

I keep my library items organized in two ways. First I keep a log and second I designate a special place for library items.

Keeping a log is very easy for me, as my library gives me a printout of the books, videos, and magazines borrowed when I check out. This printout also includes the date that they are due for return. If your library does not provide this service, then make up your own log of items borrowed.

Write down the actual date returned when you take books back. Sometimes libraries miss books that have been 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.

The log can also double as a reading list for your homeschool. It is a very good idea to keep track of books read by your children for several reasons. For one thing, it impresses any nay-saying relatives. It also makes keeping a portfolio easier. At the end of each year, I go over our reading log to see just what we read for that year. This helps me in planning the next year’s curriculum, plus it reassures my husband and me that our children are doing a great job.

The second thing that I do to keep a handle on library books is to have a special place designated for library items only. I have a large wicker basket that I found for almost nothing at a garage sale. All items checked out from the library are to go into this basket. If a book ends up on one of my many bookshelves, it may not be found again for a long time.

Just doing these two things, and training your children to do them, will save you a lot of hassle on library day and it will save you money.

<Get to Know Your Librarian

My friend Dawn spends a lot of time at her small-town library. So much time that she is on a first-name basis with her librarian. Seeing that this mom of eight is dedicated to her children and to reading, the librarian seeks out Dawn’s advice in making book and magazine purchases. Though a small library, they carry several homeschooling titles (they even carry A Catholic Homeschool Treasury) and magazines, as well as children’s books popular with homeschoolers.

The library has little worth if it does not offer what you need. Get to know your librarian. Always smile and say “hi!” Let him or her know how much you would love it if they subscribed to Heart and Mind and other favorite homeschooling magazines. Make mention of your favorite children’s titles and let the librarian know that there are many other homeschoolers who would check out such books.

If you are too shy to speak up, that’s okay. Most libraries provide suggestion cards for your convenience. My library allows patrons to make book purchasing suggestions at their website. You can’t get much easier than that. Take 60 seconds to complete one card each time you visit the library or their website. Ask all your homeschooling friends to do the same.

Not too long ago, the children’s librarian at my library told me that she had a big order to place and wondered if I had any suggestions. I wish that I had a Bethlehem Book catalog handy to give her at that moment but I didn’t, so instead I sat down and spent some time talking to her about the children’s books that I love.

Get to know your librarian; you never know when he or she will ask your advice.
Take a Reading List with You to the Library

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

The Internet is a great resource for free reading lists:
4Real Learning Reading List
Catholic Charlotte Mason suggested literature list. First click on “Suggestions toward a Curriculum”, then click on your child’s grade level for a month-by-month reading list.
Living Literature!
This is a lively discussion group of mostly Catholic mothers who center their homeschools on living literature. The files contain several good reading lists.
Reading through History
Alicia VanHecke’s excellent chronological reading list for history. Alicia also maintains, which is a treasure trove of book and test reviews.
Seton Home Study School
Seton’s list of great books, for K to 8th grade, to supplement their Catholic home study school. Scroll down and click on “reading lists.”
1000 Good Books List
Reading list for primary school through high school provided by the Classical Christian Education Support Loop.
100 Great Books List
Reading list for adults provided by the Classical Christian Education Support Loop.
Before FIAR: Book List
Great literature list for preschool.
Five in a Row: Book List
Great reading list for grade school, whether you use the Five in a Row curriculum or not.
Beyond FIAR: Book List
What do you do when you finish Five in a Row? Go Beyond Five in a Row. Great reading list for upper grade school years.
Sonlight Books and The Well Trained Mind
Sonlight books arranged by TWTM’s four-year history cycles.
A Child’s Reading List
Provided by Eagle Forum. Sorted by reading level within genre.
Ten Books Every Student Should Read in College
From the National Conservative Weekly
The Ultimate Reading List — Classics That Endure
From the June 1997 issue of Education Reporter

Check these books out from your library. Each contains a good reading list:

Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories by William Kilpatrick and Gregory & Suzanne Wolfe
The extensive reading list gives summaries on each of the recommended books. Very good.

Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education by Laura Berquist (Ignatius Press) – My favorite homeschooling book, it is worth the price just for the literary suggestions.

A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind by Michael O’Brien
An analysis of modern children’s literature. The suggested reading list in the appendices is very good.

These would probably need to be purchased:

A Mother’s List of Books by Theresa Fagan – Theresa is a Catholic homeschooling mother and has personally reviewed all of the books on her list. Her literary suggestions are separated by age group and arranged by authors’ last names. To order send $5 plus $1.50 s/h to: Theresa Fagan, 8801 Kensington Pkwy, Chevy Chase, MD 20815. For bulk orders call (301) 718-0851.

Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss – The back of the book contains a “Read Around the Year Booklist” segregated by grade level (similar to the list at ). To purchase visit or call (651) 778-0287.

Kolbe Academy’s reading list is available to non-enrolled families. Visit or call (707) 255-6499 for a catalog.

Another way to come up with terrific reading lists is to peruse homeschooling mail order catalogs such as Angelicum Academy, By Way of the Family, Emmanuel Books, Bethlehem Books, Sonlight, Elijah Company, Kolbe Academy, etc.

Books Are Not All That Libraries Offer

Do you ever feel like you carschool instead of homeschool? I have days when I feel like the children and I have spent more time on the road than in our home. We take advantage of that car time and listen to books on tape. Buying audio books requires a large financial commitment, so we get them free at the library. It is a great way to make use of time that might otherwise be idle.

Other free offerings that we have found at our library includes a toy and game lending program, educational videos, DVD’s, musical cd’s and cassette tapes, CD-ROM’s, meeting rooms for club meetings and co-op classes, lecture series, Saturday movies, and story time.

Not all libraries offer these free services. Some do not offer them at all, while others charge a fee. You may have to weigh the costs of library fees against the benefits received. Either way, take the initiative to find out if and how the public library can be an asset to your homeschool.

Copyright 2009 Maureen Wittmann


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  1. Great article! May I also recommend the following:

    1) Ask your librarian what types of databases are available for access through the library. Most (if not all) states and many library systems purchase access to databases that benefit people of all ages and can assist in skill assessment, training and testing.

    2) Ask about how Interlibrary Loan works for your library. If your library does not offer items that you need, they are certainly part of a cooperative that can expand your options. Ask what types of materials you can request (there are sometimes limitations on oversized items, DVDS or CDS) and how long the typical checkout period is (it can sometimes be a shorter loan period). Interlibrary loan makes an amazing number of options available.

    3) If your library places limits on your card in terms of number of checkouts, ask it they are willing to make an exception for homeschooling families. Some libraries are willing to consider this option. If they say no, ask if they have other recommendations. For some small libraries, increasing the number of checkouts available to a person is just not an option, but librarians love to help find other alternatives if they can.

    4) If your library DOES provide receipts for books checked out, designate a special spot on the ‘fridge just for that piece of paper! You won’t forget it if you have to see it everytime you need to get the milk!

    Christine Ayar
    Former Catholic Seminary Library Director and Public Librarian

  2. I’ve got a few more tips!
    1. Sign up for email and/or text message alerts from your library. This way, knowing when a book is due or recalled is automated.

    2. Be on the look out for libraries at public universities. Many of them have a mandate to offer library services to the public, including access to extensive online journals, government documents, and a wide range of expertise. (For example, Pennsylvania residents have full access to Penn State’s University Libraries.)

    3. Get the scoop on all library programs so you can schedule yourself into them: readership programs, children’s hours, topic presentations, and contests.

    4. Get your older kids involved with some volunteer work. Library volunteer work is a great resume starter, even if all they’re doing is mulching the flower beds (like my brother) or crowd control during story hour (like me).

    5. Check out your library’s “sister” libraries in the system. They will offer different programs and services.

    6. Remember to thank the staff! Cookies are a nice way to do that. (hint hint)

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