I grew up in a library family. We went to story time at the library from when we were toddlers. We knew the children’s librarian by name (and she still works there and recognized me 30 years later). My mom would take us to the library with a brown plastic milk crate, and once it was full that meant we had to check out. The librarian carefully stamped the due date on the inside cover of each book before my mom lugged the full crate to the car. I still remember laboriously printing my name on my first library card when I was 5 years old and proudly checking out books to my own account.
My family uses the library system a lot, but it looks much different now. My oldest does have his own library card, but the mini version dangles from my key fob. He knows how to scan it in the self-checkout machine where he stacks his own selections that he put on hold using my phone. The kids argue over whose turn it is to push the button that prints the receipt that I don’t want since I track all the due dates in the library app.
My kids love reading, and books are expensive in large quantities. It’s much easier to get one from the library and if you don’t love it, you can just take it back. Who doesn't love free books for kids? I’ve talked to friends who haven’t started using the library much, and they were surprised by how easy it is, and the variety of ways we use it. As my friend Julie put it, “Library books are a great way to keep reading exciting and interesting without me going broke.”
So here are a few strategies we use to find awesome library resources, and how we support local libraries. We do live in a large metropolitan area with both city and county library systems, so that will affect the resources we have, but that’s the personal experience I have to share with you.
Taking Kids to the Library in Person
I’m writing this during the pandemic, so in-person browsing is a thing of the past here! Hopefully you can take your child to the library soon and try out these ideas, and much of it translates to online browsing. I’ll explain in a minute.
When my kids were younger, the library was a great place to spend an hour or so with storytime, and then wandering the kids area. As they get older, there are arts and crafts events, classes, and some locations even have science and Lego clubs. Even now when we're limited to no-contact pickups, they've had craft bags for the kids.
When they’re really little, it doesn’t matter so much what books you (or they) choose since it’s mostly to add variety for YOU at home. Whether that’s you picking up a few board books, or a toddler clinging to a book about cats, it helps a lot when you’re ready to throw Chicka Chicka Boom Boom out the window.
Three ways I tend to browse for my kids when they’re young are:
- upcoming seasons or holidays
- themes like letters, colors, counting, animals, etc.
- library displays like Black History Month
Librarians put a lot of work into those themed displays, and they want you to read those books!
Once mine got older (read: faster, louder, and outnumbered me), hanging out at the library wasn’t as attractive. That’s when I order books to put on hold, then just run in to pick them up. If I’m feeling really benevolent, I let each kid choose 1-3 books off the shelf, too.
How To Help Your Kids Choose Library Books
Now that we can’t go inside the library, how do we choose which books to check out? Here are a few of my favorite sources.
Diverse Reading Lists
I am constantly watching sites for book lists. I save a lot of lists on my Book Suggestions for Kids Pinterest board. A Mighty Girl is another great resource.
Our library website (see image above) curates book lists on various topics for kids which are great. Our city library uses BiblioCommons, along with many others--you can see if yours does here--and have the same interface on their local websites. I cover using the mobile app below.
And various librarian groups also give awards with lists of nominees and winners.
- Asian Pacific American Librarians Association
- American Indians Library Association
- Association for Library Service to Children
- Stonewall Book Awards List
Children’s Books Social Media Accounts
Instagram and Facebook are a gold mine of book suggestions and reviews. Some of my favorites are:
- Little Feminist Book Club (Instagram and Facebook)
- The Conscious Kid (Instagram and Facebook)
- Here Wee Read (Instagram and Facebook)
- Books for Diversity (Instagram and Facebook)
- The Tiny Activists (Instagram and Facebook)
- I post what we’re reading in my Instagram Stories from time to time, too.
Two More Book Search Tips
If we have a book the kids like, or I see an interesting one online, I look it up on Amazon and see which related books come up to get more ideas.
I also love the Library Extension plugin for your browser which tells you if a book is available in your local library system when you look it up on Amazon or another bookstore site. On the left you can see what came up when I searched for the third How to Train Your Dragon book.
Using Your Local Library App
When I learned that our library had an app, my life became a billion times easier. I could place holds, check my due dates, and look up books without having to get to the computer that my children wanted to touch and pull off my desk. I could browse for books while nursing a baby or making lunch. I was thrilled. It even stores my barcode so I can't forget my library card!
My kids and I regularly use the app to find books. The most common searches we do are:
- Browsing through new arrivals
- Searching a topic of interest (previously: pirates, currently: chickens)
- Looking for other books by authors they like
I regularly pull up the New Arrivals section and refine the results. I choose Format: “Books” -> Audience: “Children” and then choose a topic, content, form, or genre if desired. My kids wedge themselves on either side of me and point out the ones they want, poking the + button to put them on hold.
Sometimes if a topic has come up, I ask if they want to order out some books about it. Then I search for that topic, sort by format and audience again, and see what comes up. Sometimes it takes more digging, or adding a year of publication after a certain date. Worst case scenario is that we take it back!
If we find books that they like, we’ll often look up the author for other books they’ve written or illustrated. That’s how we stumbled across Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot, written by Dav Pilkey (best known for Captain Underpants) and illustrated by Dan Santat (we love many of his books, including his Caldecott award winning book Beekle).
We place books on hold (at the San Diego Public Library, you can have 25 items on hold, and 40 items checked out at a time), watch for an email, and pop over to pick up our reserved items when they arrive! Right now the library buildings aren’t open; it’s just no-contact pick ups. When the library is open, they have the hold section by last name, but they hold CDs/DVDs behind the desk.
Using Your Library For Audio Resources
We get more than books from the library, too! Though my kids love podcasts, they're also huge audiobook fans. Audiobooks are a great bridge for new readers who can understand more complex plots but can’t yet read them on their own. It's also great for kids who want you to read chapter books, but younger siblings aren't ready for them (or need you to put them down for a nap).
We get them on CD from the library to listen to at home or in the car, or we download audiobooks from the online catalog. The upside to the electronic version is that it’s usually faster. The downside is that it requires a device to play it. My oldest is currently listening to the How to Train Your Dragon series read by David Tennant, and I'm not sad about that.
You can check out music CDs and DVDs at our library, too. We’ve borrowed items from Sesame Street songs to Halloween music to Peter and the Wolf (there's a David Bowie version, y'all). We don’t do TV, but if you don’t have cable, or you don’t want Netflix to autoplay an entire season of a kids show, you can pop a DVD in instead.
There are also plenty of eBook options available without even leaving home. We have both a city and county library near us, and they use different digital catalogs--you can have accounts at both. The city uses cloudLibrary and Overdrive, and the county uses the Libby app. Libby has a great feature where you can "skip the line" and immediately check out popular items, and you can read them on your Kindle app if you want. Audiobooks are also available for download.
We’re lucky to have so many ways to get information so easily.
Virtual Library Events
Story time may be canceled due to COVID, but many libraries are still hosting virtual events. Check your local branch's website or Facebook page for science demos, homework help, author talks, and more.
My kids love the reading programs our library does. We track their books, report the results, and collect goodie bags with coupons for local restaurants, and a free book from the library. Check out the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program on Beanstack.
Last, watch for fun contests. My oldest submitted a drawing to a contest at our local branch and won $25 and an award from our city council. (He used the money to buy a robot.)
Managing Your Borrowed Items
We have a separate shelf for library books versus our own books. Sometimes they do get co-mingled, but it helps. By using the app, I can figure out what’s due back next, or how many books I need to collect for return. We go to the library frequently, and it’s only a mile away, so it’s a constant in and out.
My friend, Julie, shared her solution: “I have two baskets by the door: one for library books we are still reading, one for books we're ready to return.” I took her idea and got a bin to put books the kids want to return, or for me to put books that are due soon. Then I just grab that bin when I'm heading out.
How Do You Use The Library?
I realize this is a lot of information, but I love the library so much! What was most useful? Did you learn anything new?
I hope you're inspired to take advantage of some of the many resources the library provides. If you found it helpful, pin it on Pinterest or share it on Facebook so others can benefit, too!