Story time is the best time of the day. Whether we're snuggled up on the couch or cozy in our pjs before bed, reading stories with my little ones is one of my favorite things to do. Everyone has a favorite book they remember from their childhood, and every day, parents and kids are discovering new classics of their own. There are many fabulous children's books out there, some of which everyone knows about and others we would have never discovered had my son not simply pulled a random book off a library shelf. I created this blog to share some of these wonderful stories with you. Think of it as a year's worth of the best children's books around, since no day should be without a great story. In the end, I hope we'll all have discovered at least a few new titles that will have made their way onto our list of family favorites. Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Navigating the library: helpful hints for making the most of your library visit

  • Recently, a friend of mine e-mailed me seeking library guidance.  She likes to take her kids to the library regularly, but often feels as though she is just aimlessly looking and has trouble finding good books to bring home.  I wrote back to her with my self-admittedly nerdy approach, which in turn got us thinking that perhaps this might be a worthwhile blog topic.  Because let's face it: going to the children's section of the library is not exactly the quiet, peaceful, book-browsing experience that other patrons enjoy.  No, if your library experience is anything like mine, it usually involves frequent reminders to use library voices, putting countless books back on the shelves that have been pulled down by curious hands, and grabbing a few books here and there while peeking over the bookcases to make sure that your children are still playing calmly and not chasing each other through the rows of books. Don't get me wrong.  I love going to the library with my kids.  But given that a primary purpose of our visit is to actually come away with some great new books to read, it's not always easy.  

    So how does one successfully navigate a library, especially with little ones in tow?  There are many ways to do this, but I figured I'd share mine here in the event that my strategy might help others improve their library experience.  (Yes, I have a library strategy.  And a notebook.  And even a spreadsheet.  A bit over the top?  Perhaps.  But for me, it works.  Because hey, if it helps me avoid the "coming home from the library with 10 books only to realize I never want to read any of them again" syndrome, I'll do it.)

    Helpful hints for making the most of your library visit:

    1.  Keep a list.  I keep a running list of books I want to look for in a little notebook in my purse.  This way, when we go to one of our local libraries, I have a place to start.  Sometimes, I even look up the books I know I want to find on our library system's online catalog ahead of time to see which libraries have them in their collections.  (This is where my spreadsheet comes in.)  Then, I make a note of it in my book so I don't waste time looking for a book in a library that they don't even have.  For me, it's all about efficiency here.  

    2.  Get to know your library's set up.  One local library has a "staff picks" shelf, while another puts all of the new titles up on the top of the shelves with a red dot on the binding.  I love knowing just where to find any new books that they have gotten in recently.  Yet another local library has a featured shelf for seasonal titles, while another keeps them all sorted by holiday in the same section of the room (though not put out in separate displays.)  Every library is a little different, so if you're not sure where to find things, just ask your librarian.  Which brings me to my next piece of advice...

    3.  Ask your librarian!  She will probably be happy to suggest some of her favorites or some of the new titles in the collection.  This can be especially helpful if you're looking for books on a particular topic, such as the circus, dogs, construction trucks, dinosaurs, you name it.  

    4. Set a magic number.  Mine is 10.  I like to take out 10 books at a time so that I always know how many to look for when it's time to return them.  Of course, sometimes I have multiple books out from multiple libraries so that doesn't always work, but I try.  I usually try to bring home 5 or 6 that I know I want to read or have heard good things about, and let the kids pick out 4 or 5 of their own.  Usually the ones they pick aren't really worth reading more than once, but we have definitely found some real gems that way, too.  I want my kids to get excited about picking out their own library books (and they do), but at this point in their lives, they prefer to spend a bulk of their library time playing with the trains, puppets, and puzzles.  If we're alone we can sometimes sit and read some stories together, but if there are other kids there, too, they usually just want to play together.  My kids will pick out a book or two, run it over to me to put in our book bag, and then go back to playing some more.  When I choose some and they choose some, we usually can guarantee that we come home with at least a few books that we'll want to read again and again.

    5.  Speed read on site if possible.  Sometimes while my kids are playing at the library, I'll read through a few of the books we've chosen to see if they are any good before checking them out.  If they are not, I put them right back on the shelf.  Honestly, we don't have the space in our house for a bunch of library books that we're not going to read more than once.  And why risk paying overdue fines for a book that is just going to sit there anyway?  I've found that I can usually tell if a book is lousy pretty quickly.  And yes, sometimes I judge a book by it's cover (or at least, its illustrations.)  I feel badly saying that, but it's true.  

    6.  Find your favorite authors.  When I don't have my list with me or feel like being so specific, I just look for books by different authors that we always tend to love:  Mo Willems, Jane Yolen, Karma Wilson, Leo Lionni, Oliver Jeffers, Cynthia Rylant, Peter Brown... You can always ask your librarian which authors are her favorite, too.  

    Given the nature and purpose of my blog, I'm sure I go into a library with a different mission than the average person.  I'm looking for great books to read with my kids that I will then love enough to blog about and share with you.  But doesn't everyone go into a library hoping to come out with a great book?  Shouldn't that really be pretty easy?  That's how this whole blog came to be, really.  The shelves at the library are full of books, and yet it often seems as though the ones worth reading repeatedly are few and far between.  I hope this blog has helped you discover some wonderful new stories to read with your children, and that this post has given you some helpful hints for making the most of your library experience.  Happy reading!

    How do you make the most of your library visit?  Please feel free to share your ideas and helpful hints in the comments.  I'd love to hear them!


MamaMelanie said...

Thank you! No! It's not that easy to come home with a good book. Madeline and I did a big library trip yesterday - 22 books and 6 DVDs. Ryan read one yesterday and already told me "it was so-so." Last week, Aneliese and I went and I had a list. That definitely helped. Yesterday, no list. I don't think you're being unreasonable saying you judge a book by its cover or its illustrations. With kids, the illustrations can make or break the book for them. I think they carry a lot of weight. Madeline has started asking me "who wrote the words and who drew the pictures" as soon as we start at book. Illustrations are important.

Lauren said...

Thanks for the idea to write about this! I'm sure we're not alone when we feel overwhelmed in the library :) In a way, I feel like finding good books is like getting a good picture of the kids -- we need to take 20 in order to get one good one. I'm glad you feel the same way about illustrations. For kids, they really can be everything! I love that Madeline asks you about the author and illustrator -- so cute!!

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