On why I stopped taking my children to the library

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and blogger at Steady Mom

Libraries have always been magical places in my mind. While I didn’t grow up in a home where I was read to regularly, my mom took me to the library every other Monday. Decades later, I still look back on those Mondays as some of my most special memories. Those trips helped to shape me into the book lover I remain today.

Because of these positive memories, I always assumed that regular library trips would be a part of our family’s homeschooling life, too.

When my three kids were younger (ages 4, 3, and 2), our early ventures into libraries resembled herding cattle. There was that one disastrous attempt at storytime (How did all those other parents get their toddlers to sit on the cloth squares?!), but eventually we settled into a routine that worked for all of us.

I found a local library that catered to young kids–with train tables, puzzles, and toys–as well as picture books. The kids could play, bring a book over, read it with me, and toddle away again. And though I had sworn off storytime and structured events, this rhythm saw us happily through a few years. We grew to love our librarians and I like to think they felt the same way about us.

Then we moved. And our library routine changed overnight.

Soon after the dust settled from our unpacked boxes, I loaded everyone up in the van and drove to explore our new local library. I had never before realized how much the physical layout of the previous library ensured our success there.

This library had books for younger children located close to chapter books for older children. Consequently, as I tried to help one child choose a book, another would run up to me with an inappropriate title they had found on a nearby shelf. My youngest seemed to make a game of locating the scariest book covers, and then got upset when I told him we wouldn’t be able to check those out.

In short, our excursion was kind of stressful for this mama. We arrived home with the most random assortment of books on the planet, half-heartedly thrown in my bag just so we could check out without making a scene. I’m not a quitter, though, so we tried a few times. Each attempt ended the same way. Eventually I stumbled upon a solution:

I stopped taking my children to the library.

Before you string me up for homeschooling heresy, let me explain how we use the library now.

1. I go alone.

Photo by Jamiesrabbits

Every other week I venture out in the evenings after dinner, and swing by the library. I keep an ongoing list during that period of any topic that has engaged the kids’ attention or interest. With my list in hand, I look up keywords on the library’s computer and gather specific books, then do a lot of browsing. I look for inspiration, for twaddle-free titles, for high quality.

When I come home again, I’m a hero. Trishna, Jonathan, and Elijah greet the new books like it’s Christmas. There’s no sadness about what was left behind at the library–the titles I didn’t bring home. Or, say, the lack of scary book covers.

There’s only joy about what’s there.

2. We attend special programs.

While our library trips have not worked out as I initially imagined, one of the strengths of our new library are its special programs. I’ve taken the kids to art classes, puppet shows, and plays.

My children are now the perfect age for this–at 9, 8, and 7 (no more cloth squares to sit on!). Many of the library’s programs are for the 6-9 age range.

3. The next phase in my library plan: One-on-one research.

I want my children to figure out how to use a library, to get comfortable with Dewey decimal and all that. The next phase in my library plan involves taking the kids one-on-one to find books on a particular subject or interest.

I find the library much easier to use when going for a specific purpose than a browsing free-for-all. (There’s just too much that isn’t suitable–twaddle on the shelves right next to amazing classics, you know?)

I look forward to watching my kids develop a lifelong love for and relationship with the library, but our experience has taken a slightly different turn. For now I’ll keep up the job I perform in so many areas: food, books, media, music, entertainment, life–letting what is great into our home while filtering the negative out.

More thoughts about libraries:

Has your use of the library evolved over time? How do you use the library in your homeschool?

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She serves as editor of Simple Homeschool, and blogs about mindful parenting at Steady Mom. Jamie is also the author of two books: Steady Days and Mindset for Moms.

Comments

  1. I love how you looked for solutions to still keep the library in your lives, without causing stress and upset. This is an inspirational read.
    Sarah’s latest post: Eight months into our first year of natural learning

  2. Thank you!! I have 4 boys– ages 6 and under. I recently made the same choice for the exact same reasons. Your description of “herding cattle” is hysterical, and I can completely relate. Thank you for your suggestion about going on my own and bringing home the stack of well-chosen books. We’ve had many a meltdown in the middle of the library over wanting the “scary” books. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone!

  3. As the wife of a librarian, I totally get where you are coming from. I’m also the mom of three – 19, 6 and 4. Even with help from the librarians at our branch (my husband is head of the branch), it’s crazy. And I love your solution – I might just try that out myself.

    And, if I may, if the library’s children’s space is bad, talk to the branch manager or the head of the children’s department. It might be an issue with funding that you can help with by going to your city/county council and letting them know you support funding for your libraries.

    • Thanks, Melinda! Also, I’ve never thought that the library layout here in necessarily “bad” or wrong–it just doesn’t happen to be my preference. Our librarians are very helpful and used to working with homeschooling families – they’ve been very welcoming & I appreciate their work.

  4. we love our library and the kids complain when we miss our weekly trip! we live in a small town and have been making weekly trips since my oldest son was 2 years old. sure some days are better than others, but in general we have always enjoyed story hour and our children’s librarian has recently started a bi-weekly home school hour for the older home schooled kids.
    our librarians are amazing. they genuinely care about my kids.
    being able to put books on hold helps with the endless browsing of aisles. and sure, sometimes the kids pick out stuff that seems like “fluff” to me. but i figure if we are reading 90% good, classic books at home then the occasional fluff book isn’t going to hurt. we have also discovered really good, new favorites by browsing the shelves and asking the librarian for recommendations. our librarians will do their best to purchase books that we suggest if they don’t already have them.
    i

  5. I do the same thing with my boys, 5 and 2. Occasionally we go to a special program, but I do 95% of our browsing online. I go by myself and pick up what I’ve ordered once a week.

  6. I request the books online and the librarians pull and hold them – and my awesome husband stops by on his way home from work to pick them up. Kids say “yay, Daddy’s home AND he brought library books!”

  7. Thank you so much for posting this. I am encouraged to know that I am not the only mom whose library trips are not blissful nirvana. :) I really like your idea of the one-on-one research times. I think my kids would really enjoy that.
    Liz @ The HomeStyle’s latest post: Relentless Love

  8. I know exactly what you mean about twaddle. I love reading my children books with good words and full of meaning. My 3.5 yr old has just started picking her own books out and it is so hard to tell her no when she picks twaddle books.

  9. Great example of doing what works for you! I love my library’s request system and often run up there in the evenings to get done in 10 minutes what would take 2 hours with the kids! :)
    CharityHawkins@TheHomeschoolExperiment.com‘s latest post: 10 Real Life Tips for Reading Chapter Books – Part 1

  10. I understand your perspective. I can get more accomplished without the kids but the kids love going. So I request the book ahead of time and pick up the books once I am notified they are in. That way our visit is short and sweet.
    Tiffany’s latest post: A Day In My Life

  11. For me it’s the computers that dominate the children’s section. My kids who aren’t on the computer at home gravitate to them like flies. No matter how much time we spend at the library, I can’t get them to look at any books. My fault probably for not being creative enough to lead them from computer to books . But if I wanted them on computers, I’d stick them on the home one and not bother with the travel to the library. The comments have inspired me to work for change in the quality of books. Almost never do I find any of the titles I’m looking for. A lot of Barbie, Bob and Dora.

  12. My 7yo and I recently visited the library in our new-to-us-town and I was very impressed. There were computers in the kids section but they didn’t seem to be for games, just for using the catalog (I kind of miss the card catalog). At our old library there were mulitiple computers loaded with games that were “educational,” and I always wondered how having computer games at the library encourages reading? I stopped going for the same reason as th previous poster – it was just an argument about using the computers. So, for now, I am excited to spend more time at the library – and maybe in a few months I’ll try taking the 2.5 yo for storytime!

  13. I love our libraries, but we don’t go enough. We have so many books at home and we get so busy doing other things. We have a tiny, small town library very close. It doesn’t have a lot of books, but I can order books online from the whole state system, and they will be delivered there, and I’ve taken advantage of that a lot. There are two other libraries within a reasonable driving distance, and I take my kids to the big one sometimes. The three-year-old usually starts causing problems over the toys they have there, and I can’t pull him away to look at books or go home when we need to. Sigh. I think when he matures a little it’ll be easier to take him, and I do plan on utilizing the library a lot for our homeschool. When my eldest was 2-3 years old, I tried taking him to story time at the big library, but it didn’t suit his personality – the big, crowded room overwhelmed him, and he didn’t want to join in with the activities. So I stopped going, and I haven’t worried about it ever since.
    shelli : mamaofletters’s latest post: Worthy Reads

  14. we have a library we used to frequent when my kids were toddlers/preschool age, but I could not believe that you had to actually walk past all the children’s DVDs before getting to the picture books and easy readers! I wish they would have just put the DVDs in the back somewhere. I am not against DVDs or videos, and I did find a few gems there, *but* it’s not my sole purpose for going to the library and I don’t want my children to view it as that, either. So now we go to another library (my kids are 7, 5, and 2) where we have had 2 amazing, incredible children’s librarians who would order things, support homeschooling with groups, suggest great books, read to my kids on the floor…I was so blessed beyond words.
    Jen Husz’s latest post: Daddy’s Home!

  15. Great post! I thought I was the only mama with library woes. We now have put our focus on filling our home with lovely books for our large family by shopping at goodwill and garage sales. That way the younger children get to read all the same great books their older siblings have enjoyed. I anticipate the library will play a bigger role in our children’s lives as they get older.

  16. We’re blessed to have a wonderful library with a very well organized children’s section so I never have to worry about inappropriate content. Though, like you, I’d like to get my children to organize their interests before we get there to give some order to things but at 3 & 5 I’m focusing first on falling in love with the library then worry about structure.

    It might be a good idea to see if the library has any plans to better organize their library if content is still an issue. It could be a family project where you all volunteer to help make the children’s section more effective.

    Love your ideas!

  17. Sometimes I read your posts and wonder if you’ve been peering into my home.
    We live in a larger city and depending on the age and stage of my kids, we visit different locations because of your exact description-the arrangement really makes a difference! I bet that the librarians would wonder what part of town we really live in if they tracked our usage.
    As always, thank you for your thoughts; this mom of 3 feels like I must not be so off the charts when I read you are walking through the same situations.

  18. As a school librarian and a former public librarian, I echo those who say that even if you don’t feel called to help at the public library at this time, you can still ask how/why they organize the books that way. Perhaps they are wanting to change and need to hear that the community would support such a change.

    The YA section can be tricky. A lot of studies show that teenagers prefer for it not to be by the children’s section. They don’t want to be seen as kids anymore. I am sure we all remember how that felt.
    Kari’s latest post: the morning office.

  19. One time when we went, my daughter set of the emergency alarm on the side door. We quickly left.

    True story.
    Stacey’s latest post: What I Wore : Again

  20. This is a great way to do it. For us we don’t have fancy libraries at all, so we’ve always had the “everything in one spot” idea. We’ve always set up the idea that what they pick, I have to approve before they start reading there or at home. So they know that is just the way it is. I think that is why it has been more successful for me, also, I have 3 years apart children so that makes it easier too. :)

  21. This post reminded me of my own disasterous attempts to get my toddler son to sit still during storytime. I found it disappointing but I’ve had years to get over it now! :)

    Regarding all that inappropriate stuff mixed in with the good stuff… would a detailed suggestion popped into that library’s suggestion box possibly put a bug in their ear to separate all books into children/junior/teens? I’ve never heard of such a library and I agree completely that that does NOT work. Ours has always had very well separated sections for each age group which is crucial IMHO. I have a new appreciation for our own library now! We visit at least once a week and can hang out in appropriate sections at length and truly relax. This is especially wonderful during bad weather. I realize how blessed we are now.

  22. YES!! I have always felt crazy for not being able to get the library thing going, but I have a baby, a toddler, a 5 year old and a 6 year old. No wonder.

  23. I live in Omaha, Nebraska. I LOVE using my library’s website and putting all the books I want on hold. When all my books are ready, it’s easier to take my 4 and 2 year old girls in and grab the books off the hold shelf. We can browse for a little while if we want without the pressure of finding good books to take with us, because we already have them. OR I can skip the browsing altogether and just check out and head out! We made much better use of our library after we discovered the power of putting books on hold.
    Charity Long’s latest post: Squeeze’s Big Girl Bed

  24. Kate Bodien says:

    As a public librarian, I love this post! I’m spo happy that you found a way to fit the library into your life.

    Regarding the use of computers in the library referenced by other commenters, I run many gaming programs at my library. Modern literacy is not only about reading, but also about being comfortable with technology. Many games require reading (and higher level reasoning!). Also, many of my gaming programs draw non-readers and allow me to form a relationship with them even though they aren’t regular book borrowers. It also allows me to try and entice them into reading by subtly mentioning that if they like a certain game, they might also enjoy some book.

  25. I prefer to choose the books for my four-year old, and I don’t like to spend a lot of time browsing when we’re at the library. We have a wide library network with a hold system that works well. So when we’re at the library, we play in the toy section and/or go to a Story Hour, and then check out our books. I think borrowing and returning books is a good experience for him, and he is always happy with what I choose, so it works well. Thankfully our children’s section is organized well.

  26. It may be messier but I think it is worth the time and effort to have those conversations with the children about what books are worth their time and effort and which ones are not. They won’t recognize good literature if they have never had a chance to read bad. They will usually come to only desire the good after a foray into the bad. In terms of inappropriate or scary covers–also another great opportunity to demonstrate love by explaining why you don’t want them reading that type of thing.

  27. I have had success with ordering my books online so that they are on a hold shelf with my name when I arrive. We return books, pick up waiting books and leave. We occasionally visit the children’s section for a few minutes.

  28. My kids adore going to the library, but I don’t always enjoy taking them! What I DO do is request all of the books I want for them and myself. They’re waiting for me when I arrive. This is the best trick for busy moms. One other note: Studies have shown that kids are better readers when their homes are filled with books vs. visiting libraries one time a week.

  29. I agree! There is nothing wrong with making choices for your children as long as you include fun things you know they’ll enjoy! I especially like picking out a range of easy picture books for my 7 yr old daughter in addition to one or two chapter books. They are easy for her to read, but she enjoys them and then I can take them back rather than have overflowing bookshelves! Well…I still have overflowing bookshelves but you know…

  30. I love how you were intentional and thoughtful about your approach to using the library. We have done similar things for similar reasons. The best things is, is that there are lots of resources around us in our towns (often too many) but we have to use them and not get used by them. Thanks for writing this, it encourages me.

  31. Thank you for this! I have had such frustration with agreeing to check out books I really don’t want my daughter reading (they’re not particularly unsuitable for her, they’re just not up to my standards of quality). We moved three months ago and we still have not made it to the library and I’ve been trying to sort out why I don’t want to go – and this explains it! I think I will try your approach and go by myself – I think it will be a fantastic approach for us.

  32. My latest trip to the library left my 2 year old in tears when it was time to leave, and my 13 nearly in tears when I vetoed the way too adult book that she found in the “teen” area. So, I am right there with you and may take relaxing alone library trips from now on!!!
    Debbye’s latest post: Is Your Baby or Toddler Napping Too Much?

  33. I have two preschoolers, and I can\’t imagine our lives without our library trips. I even wrote about it on my blog today. Yes, our trips are sometimes stressful and I wish I could be there alone, but right now I think it\’s important for all us to go together to learn about what I expect from them in their behavior and in the books they pick out. I may have to transition to taking them one at a time when they get into chapter books because you\’re right, the content gets pretty iffy. Thanks for your thoughtful post on a topic that\’s on my brain today!
    Alana’s latest post: The Library Is For Everyone

  34. This is a very timely post for my family! My five year old son loves going to the library. It’s been a large part of our lives since he was born. Like you, our library has all of the kids books (for all ages) in close proximity to each other. I feel like I’m constantly struggling to balance the quality books I want to read to my son and the books he is drawn to. Why are there so many books for young kids based on movies they’re too young to see? The Star Wars and Transformers books are the hardest for me. They’ve violent, poorly written and illustrated and my son loves them! I think I may try your technique of going on my own for awhile. It’s tough to strike that balance between encouraging his love of reading by letting him have a say in the books we check out and exposing him to such awful books. Great post!

  35. Our library isn’t in the best section of town and there are always sketchy people hanging around the building, but I used to take the kids weekly. That is until we found a man peeing all over the downstairs doors. Now none of us want to return. A neighboring town has a fantastic children’s section, but getting there has become an issue now that we’re a one car family. It’s depressing. :(
    Brandi’s latest post: Kids & Kindness: Paying It Forward

  36. Thank you for sharing! I’m so glad I’m not the only one! Before I was a mom, I dreamed of how I would take my children to the library and hold them on my lap while we looked through all my favorite picture books from my childhood. We would go to storytime and watch puppet shows. Then I had my first toddler. I tried several times. Thinking each time that she was a little older, it will be easier…not hardly. I think it became more difficult each time until she was almost 4. Then her sister was born. We had a year of enjoyable family library trips, but once the little one started running, it was all over. I eagerly await until my littest is nearing 4 and we can once again enjoy the library. Until then, it’s a place I go to pick up books I have on hold, not a place a relaxingly browse the shelves or sit and read. I do like your idea of going alone though…maybe I should start a habit of that. I do so miss my library time.

  37. Thanks what I do with my two year old. I go alone. Lately it’s become a reward to go to the library with me. She only gets to go if she is mouse volume…quiet…and holds the books I pull out for her. She thinks it’s like getting ice cream so that works for us. Great post!

  38. Hmmm interesting take and if it works for you then great …. however we have always used all our libraries as the children grow their foraging afield changes too ;) I always had them pick books and then make a pile then Mom goes through them to say which ones they can take or not, as they get older of course the reasons change and are discussed more. I don’t think I could deprive my children of libraries even if they aren’t my favorite layouts – being military we’ve been in many! :D

  39. Finding good books at the library is like searching for buried treasure.. not the easiest thing to do with a pack of little ones. We usually stop by the “holds” shelf first to pick up the books that I’ve ordered ahead of time, the kids bring a few from the shelves for my approval (they’re getting better at recognizing which books mom will say yes to, but honestly most are still turned away), they each help check out the books, and we’re on our way. Usually we’re there for about 10 minutes. Even so, it always seems to be a huge event in their little lives. :)

  40. This is very much the angle we’ve gone in. Non-weekly visits, I mean, when I really thought it would be part of our regular routine.

    But our home-library is so lovely/extensive (Mama-controlled!) that I’ve actually let my kids read “twattle” at the library. By letting them experiment (and letting me watch their interaction) with stuff I don’t consider “enduring,” I feel like I’m honoring their desire for independent exploration without compromising my goals at home: they get a stack of movie-tie-in early readers and burn through them while we sit in the kid room, then we leave them behind.

    Other stuff I do let them bring home, but if don’t make part of our permanent library. It’s been my sort of compromise.
    Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)’s latest post: Feminism Exposed

  41. I know this post is a couple years old. But it so resonates with my life today. We currently do something similar. I often leave the kids home with dad and head to the library with a list of wishes. We mostly do it this way because it is just easier for the prego mama to go alone. I like the advantage of bringing home far less twaddle, and like you said the kids never miss what I didn’t bring.
    But, on the side there is a perk for me too. Going to the library alone offers me a moment of peace and quiet. I also love to find myself a book or two (something that is nearly impossible with three little ones in tow.)
    I will say however, from time to time we do all venture out. And the kids do love it. Sometimes we have library dates where I just take one of the kids with me too. All of these options work well at different times. And now we are free to love the library all the more, with much less stress.
    Rita’s latest post: Reclaiming the Day

  42. As a librarian, this post makes me sad. I’m so sorry that your library has not been designed or organized properly. I hope that you will share your post with those in charge, and I hope that they will consider meeting the needs of their youngest patrons better. Nice job making the most of the resources! Hopefully, your kiddos can visit again soon. Best!

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