Homeschooler’s Guide to the 21st Century Public Library

Welcome to my world of Public Libraries! As a former Home Educator and huge supporter of Homeschooling, I cannot help myself as I see each work day through the lens of a homeschool parent. It truly is a treat to buy books as part of my job and plan events for all ages of learners! Actually having funds to purchase books is a far cry from our homeschooling years, especially those years when my husband was also a student. Our Public Library and our local Homeschool Resource Library were the backbone of our studies. Allow me a moment to “geek out” on some recent statistics.

Public Libraries have always been an amazing resource for Home Educators. In a 2012-13 national study I found that 87% of responding Homeschooling Families visit the library at least once a month and 25% visit weekly. As our world of information services changes, the public library is also changing. No longer is the library the “shushy” place of the past but many libraries host vibrant programs for all ages and have a vast array of online resources that support lifelong learning.

Homeschooler's Guide to the 21st Century Public Library

As a Public Library CEO/Librarian these are the top Q and A that I am asked by homeschoolers:

Q:I love my public library! How can I support my library?

A: If you are using your public library on a regular basis, then you are being supportive. Yay! Librarians love you! Libraries are constantly keeping statistics on which to base their case for increased funding. Visitors to the library, online use and Social Media interactions are all “using” your library. Rural libraries and city libraries alike LOVE volunteers! Libraries that cannot use volunteers in a day to day capacity, due to union agreements, often also have a Friends of the Library group and don’t forget that Library Board members are volunteers as well. Pre-teen and teen students can gain valuable workplace skills and co-operative education learning experiences by joining the library team. I love training young people and receiving their fresh ideas and tech skills as part of my team. It’s a win win!. If you are not a library user, you can also be supportive by spreading the word about events and resources available at your library and letting your municipal and city elected officials know that libraries are an important part of healthy communities.

Q: Fines, I’m single handedly funding our library-Help!

A: Yes. Yes you are and thank you! Honestly though, I’ve been there. My husband used to tell me that I should just buy the books but there is a way to save money and loan books from your library: renew your books! You can renew your books by visiting the library, calling the library or renewing online. It is also worth asking if your library has longer loan periods for teachers. Many libraries do and they include homeschoolers. Since renewing our library books is a life skill that we all should learn (I am included here), this would be a great task to add to the weekly schedule of one of your children. Imagine the dollars saved if we had all only learned this as children.

Q: E-resources: There’s a world of resources out there-tell me more!

A: Ok, brace yourself, this is huge. E-resources are changing the face of education. I am not talking about Wikipedia but rich, reliable online resources that are purchased by your public library or provincial government each year. Since 2009 libraries in Ontario and beyond have had access to provincially and locally funded online resources. This is an entire blog post in itself but what I will say here is check them out! If you go to your library’s webpage you will find a section full of e-resources. Make a plan to explore one each day until you have seen all that your library has to offer online. These include but are not limited to online subject specific encyclopedic resources, vehicle manuals exactly like those purchased in the hardware store, health and wellness databases, military databases, elementary level biology and earth sciences databases and language resources. Some libraries have also purchased music downloads that work similar to e-books and ancestry databases! My personal favourites for early learners are Pebble Go and Kids Info Bits. For teens I find Career Cruising a valuable tool, as is Teen Health and Wellness.

Q:E-books and Audiobooks: How do these resources work?

A: E-books and audiobooks can be downloaded onto virtually any media device. These are wonderful resources for reading on the go or for those who need to use accessible reading tools due to learning differences. CELA is the Center for Equitable Library Access and some may have accessed these services through CNIB in the past. CELA’s e-books and audiobooks are available for anyone with a print challenge. So if holding heavy books is a challenge for your child, they have a visual challenge or they cannot read print due to a learning disability but LOVE books-this is for you! You can contact CELA directly or through your Public Library. CELA’s services do not require a Dr.’s note to prove disability. Audiobooks and Print Braille books requested through CELA are created on demand. CELA does not handle text books. Most other books, both fiction and non-fiction, that can be found at your local library can be requested from CELA. My son was a tester for their children’s online platform and it is wonderful. My youngest son’s favourite platform for online reading is Tumblebooks.  Tumblebooks has both e-book and audio book formats for all ages of readers.  Gideon loves to listen to e-books before bed and has “read” the entire Mary Poppins series with Tumble Cloud. For detailed “how to” information on downloading e-books and audiobooks ask your library staff or visit Overdrive or CELA’s help sections. Watch my blog for details as well.

Q: Why are there not more programs for homeschoolers?

A: In 2013, Kristina Huddy (a then homeschooling parent and Senior Librarian in the Mississauga Public Library System) and I made a presentation at the Ontario Library Association’s provincial Super Conference on Empowering Home Learners in Your Community. We had a wonderful opportunity to educate those who attended on the Homeschooling community and discuss the findings of my research. Librarians who attended took this to heart and we have seen Homeschool programs popping up all over Ontario. I encourage you to talk to your library staff about offering daytime programs for groups of home learners. Let them know about your interests and offer to help plan. Librarians love to learn more about their communities and to share their resources with all types of learners.

Q: I want _______ book in my library-why is it not there?

A: This is a question that I am asked often from other homeschoolers. Libraries keep the most read books on their shelves and those books that are not read often are “weeded” out to make room for more books. How can you influence the purchasing choices of your library? Talk to your librarian. Librarians are guided by Policies and Procedures that are developed by staff and their board of directors. Ask to see these policies if they are not available online and provide written feedback to the Library Board if you are seeing consistent gaps in what is offered. Your feedback is vital and greatly appreciated by staff and boards. Honestly, we want your opinion but please understand that we are trying to please an entire community. If there is a series of books that you know will be widely read by fellow homeschoolers, let us know. If you will be one of the only readers, consider requesting these books through Interlibrary Loan. Which leads to the next question.

Q: Holds, ILLO (Interlibrary Loans)- How can I make it all work for me?

A: Any book, except those in the reference section, can be put on hold in most libraries. Talk to your librarian, call them or request a hold online for the book that you are looking for if it is out to another library user. Inter Library Loans can be the best friend of the frugal Homeschooling parent. With a little planning and the help of the ILLO department of your library, you have access to almost every library in your area or your province. So, for example, if you know that next month you are planning a unit on the Underground Railroad, now is a good time to request a few books from outside your library if their selection is sparse. ILLO requests usually take 2 to 3 weeks to come in (assuming they are sitting on the shelves at the lending library). Planning is needed here but the benefits can be huge! ILLO is also a wonderful avenue if multiple copies of a book are needed for a book club or a group study.

Q: I have early readers leaping to Chapter Books. Help!

A: Finding the right books for your learners can be challenging especially in those in-between stages when children have learned the basics but are not ready for longer books. Ask your library staff about levelled readers. Some libraries also catalogue all their children’s books according to the reading level. Ask what reading level system your library is using and take a look at the criteria so you can see where your child fits. Then hunt for books using this criteria. NoveList K-8 is one of the e-resources many libraries have in their online portal. With NoveList you can choose to search by grade level and can also find books that are “like” others. For example you can type in a book that your child has enjoyed and NoveList will suggest other books at a similar reading level and/or subject. Check it out at your library’s website!

Today’s Public Library is a wealth of physical and virtual resources. As Public Libraries diversify to embrace the changing landscape of learning, resources and technology, libraries are beginning to understand that they are the community hub for all levels of education and learning experience. Public Libraries and Home Educators can work hand in hand to grow a generation of strong lifelong learners who know that learning never ends!

Edna Latone

Supporting your Homeschooling Journey with Information, Support and Resources!

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2 thoughts on “Homeschooler’s Guide to the 21st Century Public Library”

  1. Great post! We getting more and more out of our library each year. We currently have a membership at our local library as well as a paid membership for the city closest to our township. Definitely worth the price for the larger book selection! Also, we have recently begun to make use of the interlibrary loan system, as well “suggest a purchase”. Our suggestion was indeed purchased, and we got to be first in line to borrow it!
    I’m just starting to delve into all the digital resources. A big exciting moment for me was when I discovered that our library had a Freegal subscription, and that Freegal actually has some audiobooks and not just music. I now have access to Jim Weiss’ audiobooks! Love them! And you can download and keep them as well.
    The library is a homeschooler’s best friend, and allows me to educate my children and myself on a very small budget!

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