It's National Library Week, and homeschoolers love libraries!
If you're looking for a way to provide a service for homeschoolers in your community, consider becoming a liaison between your library and homeschoolers.
- Create activities and events specifically for a homeschool audience. Working with a librarian, you can help design homeschool-friendly book clubs, story times, a library scavenger hunt, craft days, film nights, and book-related holiday parties. Help librarians understand what "homeschool-friendly" means in your community. This might have to do with the timing of events (often homeschoolers don't want things scheduled during the immediate after-school hours, since they are busy with the same after-school activities that school kids are busy with -- gymnastics, piano lessons, sports, etc.), or it might have to do with wider age ranges for activities, so that siblings can easily participate. You might want to provide your librarian with an article describing how a library can reach out to the homeschool community. The American Library Association provides some ideas in its 2012 article, "Make Room for Homeschoolers."
- Help establish a homeschool resource center within the library. This could be a designated shelf within the stacks with easily identifiable how-to-homeschool books and magazines, or it could be a notebook or file box with homeschooling information that would help local homeschoolers get started and find fellow-homeschoolers -- or both. Keep in mind that librarians often have specific and well-designed guidelines about how materials are chosen, displayed, and made available. Some homeschoolers and librarians have worked together to create something really extensive for homeschoolers, such as the Johnsburg, Illinois Public Library Homeschool Resource Center.
- Coordinate with the library to have a Homeschool Day. Offer to find a couple of people who could speak on a "getting started" topic as well as one or two other topics. Invite local and state homeschool groups to set up tables to tell about their services (and they actually may be able to provide or suggest speakers). Set aside time for library staff to talk about their mission and how homeschoolers can both benefit from library programs and help the library as cooperative patrons or volunteers.
- Be part of the network to help the library find volunteers. Find out what the library's volunteer needs are, and mention the need for these volunteers on homeschool group email lists, blogs, and Facebook pages. Consider joining your Friends of the Library or a similar group, so you'll stay abreast of the library's needs.
- Offer to troubleshoot problems that may occasionally arise among homeschool patrons. Most homeschooling families are quite respectful of library etiquette, but you may be in a position to write a newsletter article or make an announcement about particular library guidelines at your next homeschool group meeting or co-op. Some homeschooling parents may not have been library users in their own childhoods, and others may have their hands full with large families or young children. Giving them ideas for using the library without disturbing others or jeopardizing library materials or systems can be important.
- Be a personal homeschool resource for library patrons. Many times, librarians are asked basic homeschooling questions, including how to get started, how to find other homeschoolers, or how to approach specific homeschooling challenges. A librarian with your email address can refer people to you. Of course, this means you need to be able to answer questions about the laws in your state and local homeschool activities, as well as referring people to state homeschooling organizations and websites that can provide more information.
- Recommend homeschooling books. Most libraries have a system in place for patrons to recommend books the library should obtain. Check to see what homeschool favorites are already available in your library, and take the time to suggest other books that are helpful to homeschoolers, so the library can consider adding them to the collection. Keep in mind that tight budgets and competing recommendations mean that not all suggested books can be purchased by your library.
- Invite librarians to a homeschool conference. The state-wide homeschool organization I belong to, VaHomeschoolers, has an annual conference, and among the sessions offered is "Homeschooling 101: Homeschooling for Non-Homeschoolers", which provides background on homeschooling for "civilians" -- the media, grandparents, librarians, reluctant spouses, educators, and others who aren't homeschooling but would like to understand homeschooling better.
- Promote your state-wide homeschooling organization. Perhaps your state group has a helpful newsletter or magazine that should be on the shelves in your library. Maybe they have a flyer explaining the benefits of membership or inviting homeschoolers to a conference or Not Back To School party. Find out if you can help make this information available through your library. Again, libraries have guidelines to keep their materials high quality and their branches free of clutter -- but there may be channels you can go through to help homeschoolers connect with other homeschoolers through your state-wide org and your library.
- Talk to your librarian. By talk, I really mean listen. What are your librarian's hopes for connecting with homeschoolers? Are there challenges that make this difficult? Are there ways homeschoolers could assist the library with its general mission within your community? Does your librarian feel appreciated by the homeschoolers the library serves? Does the librarian have misunderstandings about homeschooling? Does the librarian understand the various approaches to homeschooling, which can impact how library books and programs are used?
- Coordinate a library-appreciation activity. With your homeschool friends or homeschool group, pick a day or week for local homeschoolers to thank library staff. You might suggest that each person take a special bag of coffee or box of tea for the library break room. You might freshen their supply of at-the-library mugs. You could arrange for someone to take home-baked cookies each day of the week. You could host Take a Librarian to Lunch, and arrange for your group to treat the children's librarian (or the librarian who has been most involved with homeschool activities) out to eat. An ideal time to do this might be just after your Not Back To School party. These parties tend to be well-attended, with enthusiasm high for a new non-school year. It could be a great time to designate the following week as Library Appreciation Week, and ask parents and kids to drop by with a thank you gift. The visibility of a homeschool library-appreciation activity will probably vary by community. Smaller library branches serving tighter knit communities will more easily identify the homeschoolers who are showing gratitude, but saying thank you never hurts.
- Observe Banned Books Week with your library. Many libraries observe a special week to focus on books that have been previously banned or challenged. If your library holds a special event that is age appropriate, your homeschool group members might want to attend with their children. Librarians or special guests may talk about the importance of the library's role in the practical aspects of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Some libraries also provide a list of books that have been challenged or banned; checking out an appropriate book from the list, reading it with the kids, and discussing why it has been challenged is a great way to support your library in drawing attention to First Amendment rights.
- Support your library's budget and policy needs. When local government is deciding how to fund the library system in your area, attend the meetings and speak in support of the library budget. Tune in to what the arguments are for changes to library policies and opening hours. Educate yourself on the pros and cons and come to conclusions about what serves the library, its patrons, and your community's citizens best. Write letters to the editor, emails to city councils and county supervisors, and Facebook posts about potential changes in your library's policies. Make sure your fellow homeschoolers are connected with the information they need to understand how to support library-friendly policies in your community. A great resource for learning how to advocate for libraries is the I Love Libraries website. Library staff and fellow library supporters will surely recognize it if homeschoolers are among those who are advocating for libraries.
Your work as a homeschool/library liaison might be organized...
- officially, as an appointee to a library advisory board or library patrons network, if your library has one,
- informally, as a friendly library patron who happens to be a homeschooler, or
- officially, as a volunteer from your state or local homeschool group, tasked with establishing a relationship with the library.
No matter how formal or informal your connection, your efforts in building a relationship with your library will be a valuable service both to homeschoolers and book lovers in your community.