How To Make Your Local Library Work For You

“No building is more important to a community than a library. Within its walls is an equality of ideas, endless paths of possibility, and the history of the world.” – Mark Maynard

How to get the most out of your library and avoid fines.Our family loves the library. It’s free, provides entertainment for everyone, and is a great place to meet new people and learn more about our community and the world at large. Over the last few years we have figured out a few ways to get the most out of our library system and really make it work for us.

Preparing to go to the library for the first time.

Whether you’ve just moved to a new town or you’re just deciding to go to the library there’s a couple of things you can do to make your first visit run more smoothly.

  1. Do an internet search using your city or county name and the word library. Chances are, the first website on the search results page will be your library. Almost all libraries have a website that will give you locations, phone numbers, hours of operation, and other important information.
    You may even discover that there are multiple library systems in your area. Our city library system has 6 branches open and just announced a location for a 7th, and our county library system has 19 branches and an events center.  You could certainly take advantage of happenings at multiple locations or even within multiple library systems, but start by finding a location that will be easiest for you to get to.
    Knowing the library website address will come in handy later as well.
  2. Find out what you need to do to get a library card. Your best bet is to either find this on the website (see, I told you that website would come in handy) or by calling and speaking to a librarian. Chances are you will need to give some sort of identification and proof of address. In most places library cards for residents of the city or county that the library is in are free, but if there is any kind of fee or they need specific paperwork it’s good to know before you make the trip.
  3. Choose a time when you can explore. On your first visit you will probably want some time to look around and get an idea for how the library is laid out. You may also want extra time to ask the librarians to explain policies about renewals, late fees, and anything else that is specific to your library. Make sure you plan your trip for a day or time when you will not be in a rush to get somewhere else and well before the library closing time.

Making it a habit.

Your library is most effective when you make it a regular part of your life. Consistency is key to really getting it to work for you.

  1. Pick a day, any day, and make that your library day. For our family, that day is Saturday. It works for us because we rarely have other more pressing commitments, everyone is usually available most of the day, and it’s a fun way to break up the other errands we usually run on that day. Pick the day that makes the most sense for your family keeping in mind when you might be out running other errands anyway, what the library hours are, when you have other commitments, and when those who want to go with you are also available. There are many benefits to having a library day, but the biggest is that you have fewer due dates to keep track of so there are a lot less late fees when you either forget an odd due date or just can’t make it to the library on the day something is due.
  2. Create a library day routine. Every Saturday morning I get on our library website (see, I told you it would come in handy) and check each of our library cards for what is due that day. We put in renewal requests for anything we’re not done with yet, gather anything up that is due and cannot be renewed, then check our shelf for anything else we are done with (more about our shelf later). Everything that is going back to the library gets gathered into a bag (more on that later) and put next to the front door so we can grab it on the way out of the house. Sometimes I will make requests for items that we are interested in checking out as well. Depending on how many books are due on each card the process takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes, usually closer to the 5 minute mark.
  3. Set rules about what can or cannot be checked out in advance. Without a bit of guidance my children will check out every season of a favorite TV show on DVD, every book in a favorite series, or just start randomly grabbing books. There just aren’t enough hours in a day or enough allowed renewals to get through all that before it is due to be turned in. We’ve set limits on the number of movies they can check out and only allow 1-2 books per series at a time depending on how quickly they can read them. We do allow for special circumstances, but for the most part we try to stick to that. We have also had to set a rule that you are allowed to suggest things for other people, but don’t check them out for them (the 7-year-old especially likes to pick books for everyone else to read). My 7 and 10-year-old are also both likely to pick up books that are either too far above or below their reading level. Some of them come home, but most get put back on the shelves before we leave.

"Keep all your library books together and away from your own books to help prevent lost books." This and other great tips for making your local library work for you.Other Helpful Tools

  1. Our Library Shelf. Right next to our front door we have a 3-shelf bookcase. Originally it was a place to put anything that would need to leave our house again. As we used our library more and more the library books started to take over. Now it is quite common for all 3 shelves to be full of books, movies, music, and other fun stuff we get from the library. Sometimes we even end up with a few books on the floor next to the shelf. I love our library shelf because it makes gathering the books that are due so much easier. As I’m checking the library website on my computer one or more of the kids are sitting in front of the shelf gathering the titles that need to go back that day. The kids understand that all library materials need to go back on that shelf when they aren’t using them, so it’s very rare to end up with anything missing.
  2. Our Library Bags. Our library offers reusable grocery bags with their logo on them for purchase. We have 4 of them that we use for nothing but library trips. They’re starting to get a little worn, so it may be time to replace them with the more sturdy version they are offering now. When gathering books to take back they go into a library bag. While at the library each child gets their own bag they can put their books in and my husband typically takes the 4th bag. I’ll usually share with the 3-year-old since neither of us tend to check out more than a book or two anyway. When we get home the bags are emptied, books are put on the shelf, and the bags are hung on a hook inside the closet next to our front door to wait for the next week. It makes it a lot easier to keep things contained and make sure nothing gets left in the car or anywhere else.
  3. Friends of the Library Membership. It’s definitely not a necessity, but because we love the library so much we feel it is important to support them when we are able. Our Friends of the Library Membership also gets us exclusive first-night access to the annual used book sales (and we’ve found lots of treasures there), monthly newsletters with lists of library events, and invitations to other exclusive events. Because of the membership level we purchased we also got coupons for money off library fines, money off at the used book sales, and validated parking passes for the paid parking right under the library.

In the era of technology, with so much information at our fingertips, people sometimes forget what a valuable resource their library can be. For us, the library is more than just a place to go when you can’t get your information somewhere else. It’s a regular part of our life and something that we try to share with other people. We love the programs they offer, the wide selection of materials available, and we are fortunate to have an amazing and helpful staff. Go out, find your local library, and see what they have to offer you!

Are you a regular patron of your local library? Leave us a comment and tell us how you make the library work for you.

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