Homeschoolers don’t like books. Homeschoolers love books. Their motto could be, “When in doubt, go to the library.”

Many a small-town library has stayed in business due to the frequent visits of homeschooling families. Librarians often know the families by name and call when an exciting book of interest is added to their collection. And they love the way their interlibrary loan numbers grow as homeschoolers make special requests.

Homeschoolers also prowl used bookstores, both brick-and-mortar and online. They give (and hope to receive) books for Christmas and birthdays, and they often select a book when choosing a vacation souvenir.

Growing up, my favorite hobby was reading. Mother often told me, “Marcia, get your head out of that book and go outside and play.” I complied on the outside, but inside I was still thinking about the storyline or mulling over the fascinating facts I had been learning.

My most frequent purchases as a child were books. I saved up to complete my collections of the Cherry Ames nurse stories and Louisa May Alcott’s books (Little Women, et al). As a college student, I devoured modern Christian classics such as The Hiding Place and God’s Smuggler. My favorite outing was to the Bible bookstore, where I could bring home an armload of paperbacks for ten dollars.

During my fifth pregnancy I spent many hot August hours in our cool basement categorizing and stamping books from my collection that would become the basis for our church’s first library. Perhaps I inherited a librarian gene. Even now I love to recommend and loan books to friends and family.

Nearly every room in our house has a shelf for books. Most flat surfaces are piled with books too, until I do a roundup of the strays.

So how do we organize our personal libraries so we can easily find the book we’re looking for? And how do we make sure that borrowed books, whether from the public or church library or from a friend, are returned on time? Here are some tried-and-true tips that have worked for bibliophiles through the years.

Tips for Managing Library Books

  • Each child should have his own book bag that he takes to the library on every visit. If he wants to read in his bedroom, the book bag goes with him. If he wants to read in the basement, the book bag goes with him. If he takes books to Grandma’s house, the book bag goes with him. This prevents the scramble to find library books that are scattered all over the house and are possibly mixed in with your own collection.

  • Set a specific number of books that each child may select. Younger children will typically need more because the books are shorter, but if you have several children it may be simpler just to let everyone check out the same number.

  • Our rule was that Mom had to okay any book a child selected. Some books are within a gifted child’s reading level but not within his or her appropriate experience level. Just because a child can read a book doesn’t mean he should read that book at his age.

  • List the book titles each child checks out. Many libraries will give you a printed receipt with the titles listed. If not, a quick way to record titles is to take a photo of each cover with your cell phone or pile them up and take a picture of the spines. Make a rule that no one takes books out of their bag until the titles are recorded.

  • The day before Library Day, gather all of the book bags and check to be sure all of the books are loaded up. If not, declare an all-hands-on-deck search-and-rescue mission (can you tell I raised boys?). It seems that every family has at least one disorganized child; perhaps he needs to pay his own book fines for any late or lost books.

  • If you will be studying a particular topic, give the librarian a list of titles you will need and a preferred deadline. Give her a few weeks of lead time in case she needs to order them from another library.

Building Your Family Library

Motivation expert Zig Ziglar tells us, “Rich people have small TVs and big libraries, and poor people have small libraries and big TVs.”

Robin Sharma states it this way: “Ordinary people have big TVs. Extraordinary people have big libraries.”

Public and church libraries are wonderful, but there are some books you simply want to own. Perhaps you refer to them regularly for information, or maybe they are just family favorites. Whatever the reason, homeschoolers often have large personal libraries (or wish they did).

A great way to build your family library is to use gift-giving occasions to add to your collection. Some families give their children a book to enjoy now and a book for later—one that is at their current interest and reading level and another to begin building their adult library, much like some families buy a new Christmas ornament for each child each year. Clue grandparents in with a list of desired titles so they can accelerate the growth of your library.

A child loves to see his name written into a book, perhaps with a note and date from the giver. A set of bookplates (colorful stickers that say “This book belongs to . . .”) would be a fun gift; many designs are available for download online at no cost.

Tips For Organizing Your Own Library

Perhaps your family is blessed to own a great number of books. Organizing them may seem like a daunting task, but being able to find the precise book you are looking for is a time-saver.

  • Have your children assist you in bringing order to your book collection. Talk about how nice it is to have books at the library shelved in an orderly manner and how it will benefit your family too.

  • First sort your books into categories. Some families will separate fiction and nonfiction; others will divide adult and children’s books. Some sort nonfiction books by school subjects such as science, music, or reference. Your categories may change as your children get older. If your children are reading well and are interested in upper-level books, perhaps you will sort by topic. For example, all of my American history books are together. They are shelved chronologically, beginning with the explorers, then colonial America, the American Revolution, and so on. Adult and children’s books are mixed together, as are fiction and nonfiction. When we studied a specific time period, each of our five sons could select books at his own reading level. Johnny Tremain is shelved in the American Revolution section since it is historical fiction related to the Minutemen and Paul Revere.

  • If you have magazines that you wish to keep, consider purchasing holders to fit on your shelves. If you only need one article, tear it out, file it, and discard the rest.1

Most homeschoolers are collectors of information; piles of newspaper clippings, magazines, and books clutter our living spaces. Bringing order to our personal libraries, as well as how we handle materials from the public library, is a worthy New Year’s goal. 

© 2016 by Marcia K. Washburn. Get her free ebook, Now Where Did I Put That? Storing Your Teaching Stuff at http://www.marciawashburn.com/StoringYourStuff


1. See Managing Your Homeschool from the Management for Moms series by Marcia Washburn for detailed instructions for conquering homeschool-generated paper clutter. Available at MarciaWashburn.com.