Home Education Magazine
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
Homeschool Resource Center in a Public Library - Kathy Wentz
Have you ever wanted your library to have a wealth of homeschooling supplies, curriculums and resources like microscopes and telescopes? Most of us have that fantasy, and in one small town in Illinois, it's a dream that has come true.
For many years now I have held a vision of the library of the future. This library would be a public learning center. It would do more than lend out materials. It would be far more than a school. It would be similar to the private Homeschool Resource Centers that are cropping up in areas, but it would not require a paid membership to use. It would be a community-based learning Mecca!
I never really expected to see even a small part of my dream become a reality, but I knew that I wanted my small town library to be as strong as it could be. I began to volunteer with the Friends of the Johnsburg Public Library almost as soon as we moved into the area. From the first, I found volunteering was a win-win situation. I could help them raise money for programs and updated technology and meanwhile get first pick of all the books in the used book sale for my family. Best of all my children could volunteer along with me and I knew that when they were bored or tired they could wander off and find a good book for a while.
Over a few years, as I volunteered more and more, I slowly began to share some of my ideas with the staff and the Friends group. Together we were able to make numerous small changes, such as providing the library with receipt printers so every patron gets a full listing of all the items checked out (great for sticking in a file to look back on when you worry that the kids aren't learning enough!). Library staff was made increasingly aware that a large number of homeschoolers lived in the area because we kept pointing ourselves out to them whenever possible.
Staff and volunteers together have built, month by month, project upon project, a strong foundation of trust. In Stephen Covey's book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he discusses how people need to build relationships (networking), they need to work within their sphere of influence and they need to begin with the end in mind. At my small town library we were actively doing these things in our own ways. Slowly our small library has become technologically advanced, well equipped and well respected.
A small library such as Johnsburg's has both advantages and disadvantages. It is easier to try new things because you aren't in a large centralized system, but often the money is lacking to make big changes. This money issue is where state and federal grants often become important. The director of Johnsburg's library, Maria Zawacki, has made herself quite adept at applying for grants to fund programs we otherwise wouldn't be able to afford.
In 2000 a library grant was offered by the Illinois Secretary of State's office for "New and Innovative Programs" and in discussing ideas for it I spoke about my dream. We decided a Homeschool Resource Center (HRC) was certainly "New and Innovative". I sent out surveys both locally and through the Internet to homeschoolers. We made wish lists based on the responses. These wish lists then became the foundation of the grant request.
Many months later we were thrilled to learn we had been awarded the $55,000 grant we applied for! If you answered one of my surveys, you can honestly say you had a part in creating a brand new resource! For my part, my years of casually browsing homeschool catalogs, visiting with vendors at conferences and speaking with homeschoolers of all types on Internet lists suddenly were put to the test. I spent months pouring over catalogs and lists trying to recommend to the buyers a wide variety of materials that would meet the needs of every style of homeschooler.
In spring of 2001 our HRC's shelves were filling up and our first HRC patrons were checking out materials. All summer long the library staff shelved and cataloged boxes upon boxes of materials. As we researched how other libraries had celebrated similar occasions we discovered that we were the first public library in the country with a dedicated Homeschool Resource Center! We decided to celebrate our new HRC with a Grand Opening Event on September 15.
Our grand opening consisted of a free mini-conference with five speakers and ample opportunity to explore the HRC. Alison McKee spoke about her 23 years of homeschooling experience and her new book coming out. William Russell spoke to us about how every day can be a unique learning opportunity using the upcoming autumnal equinox as a great example. Christine Field shared with us her ways of teaching multiple ages and stages at the same time. Lynn Hocraffer told us what the current legal situation was on a number of homeschooling issues. All were excellent and very motivating. I even took a turn and brought out some of the many manipulatives bought for the HRC and showed everyone how to use them. Prizes were raffled off to attendees after each speaker's session and several library staff members were given certificates of appreciation too.
A local reporter said it best when he wrote that watching the homeschooling parents in the HRC was like watching "kids in a candy store". People who hadn't seen the HRC before were thrilled. The four microscopes, two telescopes, and most of the math and science manipulatives were checked out before 11 AM. Huge sections of the foreign language tapes and the math and science book sections were gone by lunch. By the time the day was over there were large gaps on every shelf.
It was a fabulous day and a wonderful way to kick off this new venture, but now we are settling into day-to-day life with this resource. How is it going? Great! Today, the four microscopes and two telescopes are all "on hold" well into the future and I worry that it will be some time before we ever see them actually sitting available on a HRC shelf. Many of the materials are so popular they show up and are gone again within a day. As time goes on we hope to be able to assemble a list of the most popular items for other libraries wanting to create a similar resource.
Obviously the major goal of the staff is now is to help assist patrons trying to find the materials they want and need. All of our work would be a waste if it weren't getting into the hands of the folks who can use it.
Toward this goal, a volunteer homeschool consultant is available several hours a week to help patrons locate materials within the HRC. Another group of volunteers assembled much of the library's historical fiction into a chronological list so that those wanting to find books about specific eras could find it more readily. This list recently was put on the library's web page so that it could be shared with others more easily.
In addition to the historical fiction list, we also have recently put our entire catalog on line at http://www.johnsburglibrary.org/hrc.htm so folks at home can search the HRC and the rest of the library to see what we have.
We continue to seek out ways of helping other homeschoolers to not only learn how to use their library but to help them improve their own libraries through small acts of volunteerism and community service. A large part of my dream has been made a reality, but the fun isn't over yet. In fact, I hope it is just the beginning. For now you share in the power of a dream...
© 2001 Kathy Wentz
January-February 2002 - Articles and Columns
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