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There's No Place Like… the Library!

Every week I gather with a group of pre-teen homeschooled boys at a table in the local public library for the editorial board meeting of their quarterly magazine, Dr. Information. Dr. Information features a regular column called "Dr. Information Prescribes." The boys come up with a topic, be it books, games, movies, music or places to go, and they brainstorm some of their favorites to list. One issue's topic was "Destinations" and in the midst of various fun spots such as local ski resorts, amusement parks, and bowling alleys, I heard a loud suggestion of "Robbins Library," followed by a chorus of agreement. No sarcasm here: the local public library is truly one of their favorite destinations. How'd it get to be that way? Well, these kids have been frequenting and enjoying the library for as long as they can remember.

The library is a gold mine for families engaged in home-based education. My own family visits frequently, and I'm on friendly terms with a healthy cross section of library employees. Our homeschooling support group has made great use of the free public space for all kinds of things over the years, including rehearsal space for play productions, meetings of small working groups like the editorial board of Dr. Information, regularly scheduled board game and craft days, annual events such as science and history fairs, and Valentine's Day parties. This use of free public space is a great boon to homeschoolers.

In turn, our local library recognizes local homeschoolers as a valuable section of their clientele, and we've built up reciprocal relationships over the years. The children's librarian sends the children's room's monthly newsletter to our homeschooling support group's newsletter editor so that library events can be regularly listed. The librarians know that homeschoolers are enthusiastic participants in special programs.

Every year I set up a display in the lobby about homeschooling. I include a loose-leaf notebook of press clippings, information sheets for the taking, and a display of library books that can be checked out. The books get checked out quickly -- gratifying all parties. [See Library Displays.]

I also make sure the reference and children's librarians have up-to-date information about how to help people find out about state laws regarding homeschooling, as well as how to get in contact with local support groups. Homeschooling's popularity is on the rise lately, and our efforts in the library are clearly appreciated by the general public, who are often referred to me by information they've found at the library.

A recent new relationship that's sprouted between my family and the local public library is that of my son's volunteering there. He helps the Young Adult librarian with routine and special projects. She is delighted with him, and he is delighted to be a part of the library team. He gets a kick out of the chance to inhabit "Staff Only" areas of this hallowed place and the chance to pore over more books, magazines and CDs than he'd probably ever think to look at otherwise. I'm happy that he is starting at an early age to use some of his time volunteering at a place he values, and there's no better education for him in how to use the library than being guided by a knowledgeable librarian.

An article in Home Education Magazine1 describes a partnership between a public library and local homeschoolers that has resulted in a Homeschool Resource Center that the author describes as "a community-based learning Mecca!" By winning a grant for "New and Innovative Programs," the library was able to acquire four microscopes, two telescopes, math and science manipulatives, foreign language tapes and more. To assist patrons in finding materials, "a volunteer homeschool consultant is available several hours a week…within the [Homeschool Resource Center]. Another group of volunteers assembled much of the library's historical fiction into a chronological list so that those wanting to find books about specific eras could find them more readily." Ideas like these can further libraries' longstanding vision of supporting and encouraging all people in a community who desire to educate themselves.

There are many ways libraries can cultivate relationships with homeschoolers:

  • Extended borrowing privileges, like many teachers have, enable homeschoolers to delve into subjects to the depth they desire.

  • Library tours are of interest to many homeschoolers. Consider offering both tours that cover library basics, such as the availability and willingness of librarians to help and answer questions, as well as ones that explore hidden resources. One local library invited teens to submit reference questions to a librarian in advance. They then met at the library at a designated time with a reference librarian who showed them step-by-step, using various resources, how she'd found the answers to their queries.

  • Programs and opportunities for six- to fifteen-year-olds are greatly appreciated by homeschoolers.

  • Libraries often have special programs for various segments of the population: preschoolers, shut-ins, young adults. In addition to joining in for activities scheduled during after school hours, librarians who have ventured to schedule programs during school hours have been rewarded by attendance of enthusiastic homeschoolers, who are participating because they have a genuine interest in the topic. One idea for such a program is to start a book club or literature-based history group, led either by a librarian or a knowledgeable member of the local community. This can turn out to be a mutually gratifying experience, both in terms of passing your knowledge to interested young people, and by really getting to know some of these kids who are able to visit the library during traditionally quiet times of the day. Other ideas include chess and stamp clubs.

  • Subscribing to a couple of good homeschooling magazines is an easy way to support homeschoolers. As well as being a great resource for active homeschoolers, these periodicals provide information for many in the public who want to learn more about the home education trend.

  • Discounted passes to local museums

  • Free meeting space

  • Maintaining current information on state laws and regulations regarding homeschooling. To find out about homeschooling laws in Massachusetts, and local homeschooling support groups, visit the website of Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts (AHEM) at www.AHEM.info.

The freedom of information that librarians hold dear dovetails nicely with homeschoolers' thirst for knowledge. It's a fortuitous match for both parties. Perhaps libraries' path to the future can be lit by a symbiotic relationship with homeschoolers in their communities. By listening and responding to the needs of this library-loving segment of the population, and nurturing positive library experiences and relationships, librarians can foster fast and loyal friendships with homeschoolers. The end result will be to enrich entire communities and to help secure a role for libraries in a quickly changing world.


1 Kathy Wentz, "Homeschool Resource Center in a Public Library," Home Education Magazine, January/February 2002.

© 2004 Sophia Sayigh