Six Tips for Using Your Library Effectively

You may think that because I’m a book lover and an avid reader that I love the library. And, I will admit that I love to be in a library with the smells of old and new books and shelves and shelves of books all around me. But the truth is, I have a love/hate relationship with the library. I’ve learned that as much as I love the books and the freedom to check them out and the variety of resources that are available, there are also pitfalls that await me at the library.

There are fines. If  you check out more than just a few books, they can be steep. There are books that don’t meet your standards. And you have to turn down the kids when they want to check them out. For young moms,  the library can be a logistical nightmare. With older kids who want to separate in all directions looking for books and babies who was cry because they are hungry and toddlers who want to run away and hide in shelves, the library can be a difficult place to be physically.

Over the years, I’ve developed some library skills- ways to utilize the library to make it my friend…not my foe.

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Have a scheduled day to go to the library.

It never fails. I’m in the middle of the busiest day ever with errands to run, kids to drop off at various activities, a house to clean, and dinner to cook; and a child asks in his or her sweet little voice with the most polite manners, “Can we go to the library today?” When I say, “No,” I feel so guilty. The library, people. I am refusing my kids the opportunity to go to the library!

I’ve learned a way to avoid this, though. Having a scheduled day of the week- or every other week- to go to the library means that the kids always know what day that is. They know that they’ll have a day to go pick out books or play the computer games in the children’s section. And I know to schedule around our library day so that I’m not stressed and busy and just trying to squeeze one more thing into the schedule.

Reserve books online.

Our library- and most library systems- has interlibrary loan. This means that I can go online and search for any book throughout our complete library system. If the book is in any library in the system, I can place it on hold and be notified when it’s at the desk and ready to pick up. Even in the book is sitting in my own library, available on the shelf, I can request it, and they will pull it and have it ready for me.

Our library has a limit of ten books on hold at a time, so I have to plan when I request them. But once those ten are picked up, I can request ten more. When I go to the library then, all I have to do is run up to the desk and pick them up. It really helps when we are in a hurry. And it helps avoid that problem of books I don’t want the kids to pick.

Make friends of the librarians.

I have the unique advantage of having grown up going to the same library all my life. It grew and eventually moved buildings and has had several face lifts along the way, but I’ve always been a part of it. That gives me a sense of ownership and has encouraged me to get to know the library staff.

When the kids were little, we participated in all of the baby/toddler/preschool programs in the library. This helped the kids to be comfortable with the library itself and with the librarians. We have a group of local homeschoolers who puts on a “library appreciation dinner” each year. We all bring food and supply the librarians with lunch that day. Getting to know the librarians and letting them know we appreciate them goes a long way toward getting help from them when we need it and helping them to be willing to help us find resources when we are looking.

Consolidate to one or two library cards.

At one time I tried to give the kids all their own library cards. They loved the idea. But it quickly turned in to a problem because then I had multiple sets of books to keep up with, and when library day rolled around, I had to get out my lists for each one and match the books to the card. And, heaven help us when we got off rhythm and had sets due on different days! We ended up with lots of fines.

Now I’m consolidated to a teacher card. The checkout limit on it is higher, and the books can be kept longer. Anything from the children’s department and any research book from the adult departments can be checked out on this card. I keep the other kids’ cards current, so if we do have a video or an adult book, it can be checked out on a regular card. Now I only have one set of books and one due date for our books.

Teach the kids how to use the library.

Because my kids have been in the library since they were young, they’ve learned most of what they know about how to use it from watching me and from exploring on their own. But I did give my older kid a tour of the whole library- kids, adult, research- when they hit middle school age. And my younger set is approaching that age now and could probably benefit from a tour.

I want them to know how to use the computer catalog and how to find the books that show up on the computer search. I want them to have a basic understanding of the Dewey Decimal System and how to look up numbers on nonfiction books. And I want them to feel comfortable going into the reference section to find information for a research paper.

Set expectations for behavior and for what books can be checked out.

As my kids have grown up in the library I’ve made a point of teaching appropriate library behavior. Some adults may think it’s funny when the two year old is hiding in the library shelves, but I want my kids to know from the beginning that that is not appropriate library behavior. From the time they were very little, we’d talk about it and practice before we went. They learned that they needed to be more quiet than normal and respectful of others. The library was not a place to run and play but to walk and sit quietly. Were are my kids perfect? No. But they know what they should do, and I can work on enforcing it.

I’ve also set an expectation for books they are allowed to have. My kids have always known that they have to bring any new book to me for approval. If they are choosing something from a new author or series, I have to skim the book and check it out. If I still feel uneasy, they can take the book home but know they can’t read it until I have time to read some. Because we’ve always done this, even my older kids still run books by me before they check them out. And, although I allow them much more freedom in what they read, this gives me the opportunity to skim the book and bring up anything that concerns me.

By putting these things into practice I’ve made the library into a useful and enjoyable place. The library can be our friend, not our enemy. We’ve made friends there- some awesome librarians who want to help us. And we’ve been able to tap in to the great resource that the library can be.

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