Homeschoolers and librarians
by Jan Fletcher
Librarians operate as critical information nodes. They can encourage potential homeschoolers and steer them quickly to helpful resources or, conversely, discourage them with incorrect information or even negative resources. For example, a librarian may depend upon government agencies instead of homeschooling advocates to answer a budding homeschooler's questions, simply because librarians are not aware of advocacy resources.
Homeschoolers and public libraries are natural partners in the homeschooler's learning adventure. Many times, the local librarian is the first person a prospective homeschooler will ask for information on homeschool laws and local support.
While librarians understand the importance of providing resources to home educated children, many do not understand the homeschool community and why people choose to homeschool. Librarians need accurate, up-to-date information on homeschooling in their community. It is to homeschoolers' advantage to take the time to cultivate friendly, cooperative relationships with local librarians, and to understand and help head off potential conflicts that may develop.
A homeschooler's intensive use of library services can lead to potential conflicts over fair use of checkout privileges, or interlibrary lending policies that homeschoolers may view as too restrictive. On the librarian side, the strong convictions that lead a parent to homeschool can run headlong into a librarian's equally strong convictions over issues like the debate between intellectual freedom and censorship.
With encouragement, however, librarians may offer the same extended checkout times and no checkout limits to home educators that they may already be granting to public school teachers. By opening communication channels, each side will come to a better understanding of what's important to each group.
Many times, librarians are eager to offer special programs to homeschoolers. However, in their eagerness to help, they may plan events that local homeschoolers may not support because of a lack of communication between local support groups and librarians. This can lead some librarians to wrongly conclude that homeschoolers don't want to work with librarians.
By reaching out to each other, homeschoolers and librarians can work together on program ideas such as children's art displays, prospective homeschooler information meetings, or workshops for children on sharpening research skills. Such partnerships benefit our children and build support for homeschooling.
One state homeschool organization that is pushing forward with a special outreach to the state's public libraries is Kentucky Home Education Association (KHEA).
KHEA produced a Home School Information Packeta 70-page spiral-bound booklet with information on Kentucky laws, general homeschooling information, and sample homeschool forms. This booklet makes an excellent library reference guide.
Next, KHEA placed this same information on the web (http://www.khea.info) in HTML and in portable document file (PDF) format. In fact, the entire packet can be printed off the web, including replacement pages. KHEA also developed a librarian webpage with suggestions for librarians on how to best work with homeschoolers, what homeschoolers want from libraries, and how to mitigate the challenges of working with homeschoolers.
As a KHEA board member, I attended the Kentucky Public Library Association state conference on May 6, 2004, and found a warm welcome for my presentation, "Libraries as Partners in the Homeschooler's Learning Adventure." Almost 50 librarians from around the state attended my workshop.
A quick survey revealed that 83 percent of the librarians who attended the workshop frequently or regularly receive inquiries regarding homeschooling. One hundred percent said if a patron supplied the library with a Home School Legal Defense Association Library Kit, they would be likely or somewhat likely to display the kit and reorder the You can homeschool! brochures. Obviously, librarians are hungry for quality homeschooling information because patrons are asking for it.
Prior to the workshop, the conference director was happy to offer a free Home School Information Packet to all 300 librarians who registered for the conference, courtesy of KHEA. The KHEA board considered printing 300 packets to be well worth the expense simply because librarians are well-positioned to answer queries on homeschooling.
As a statewide homeschooling organization, we want one thing: a public well-educated as to the benefits and responsibilities of homeschooling. With encouragement from homeschoolers, librarians are eager to help educate the public with the facts on homeschoolingand that's a win for homeschool freedoms.
About the author
Jan Fletcher is secretary of the Kentucky Home Education Association. She lives in Columbia, Kentucky, with her husband Charles. The Fletchers have homeschooled their five children since 1992. They have been HSLDA members since 1997.
The Homeschool Library Kit includes an attractive poster, a display box with 150 You can homeschool! brochures, and five homeschooling classics. It is available for a tax-deductible donation of $35.