Managing Family Library Loans for Summer

My family and I are extraordinarily heavy library users all year long. Our family of five visits our library, in person or on-line, every single day of the year in order to place on hold or check out books, magazines, movies, CD’s, e-books, audio-books, and to attend library programs, including book clubs for all ages.

In the summer however, when school is out and the long, lazy days of summer stretch out in front of us, we become downright professional library goers. Since I do not sign my children up for summer camps (other than one week of overnight camp for the 8+ crowd) and because they are very prolific readers, they spend several hours every single day reading or listening to books. And that is just on regular summer days; the long, hot car rides to and from family beach and camping vacations mean even more books are needed than usual.

My husband and I, prolific library book readers in our own right, also kick in to high gear in with our summer book check-outs, since we have hours of lounging by the pool or on the beach (while our kids splash and play) to read; not to mention those hot summer evenings when there is nothing better than sitting on the porch sipping wine and reading novels while the fireflies light up the yard.

Since we are regularly checking out the maximum 99 items from the library in the summer, I am often asked things like “how many books a week do you lose?” or “how much do you pay every week in fines!?” It is generally assumed that , in order to keep up with all of this reading, we must pay a price. But that is not the case! We have only lost one book in nine years and the only fines we pay are for books we just have to finish but cannot renew. People do not believe me when I tell them this, but all of the librarians at our local branch can vouch for us…in fact, it is a running joke among the librarians that my family single-handedly boosts our branch’s circulation.

As the child of a librarian (who was also the mother of five readers, not including her and my father who also read constantly), I grew up with a regimented system for organizing library books which I employ for our family and it has been near fool-proof.

Here are our secrets:

  • We only use ONE library card for the entire family. I know that many parents argue that library cards are a powerful symbol to children that using their local library is a privilege they should treasure, and I would NEVER disagree with that. All my kids have one but no one is allowed to use them. The reason for no kid cards (or if you have a forgetful spouse*), is that if your kids can check out books without your knowledge — not to mention DVD’s which have a $1 per day fines! — that can be a recipe for enormous fines or revoked cards. Everyone, even my husband and I, use one primary card. One card = one record = no surprises.
  • We use the online library system constantly. At any time I can review our account online to see what we have checked out, on-hold, on the e-readers, and when everything is due. We can put books that we are dying to read on hold so that we don’t have to endlessly search the shelves for best-sellers. It is easy enough that my 13 and 9 year old’s can request holds as much as they would like. The online system also sends us to get electronic notices of due dates; when holds arrive at our local branch; and we can see where “in line” we are for books on hold. Our library also has an app that allows us to stop anything we are doing — shopping, talking to friends, listening to the radio — and put books on hold!
  • Library books have one home. Every reader in my house as one large, shallow basket that holds all of the books they have checked out. The basket has only books for that child (or adult) and is always stored under their bed. Those books can only leave the basket to be read and must be returned to the basket each night before bed or put in the “finished” basket to go back to the library. Even my husband and I have our own baskets!
  • Library books do not leave the house without pre-approval. No one in my house can take library books to school, to sleepovers, to the pool, or even in the car without getting my okay. This ensure that no library books are lost outside of the house (because, let’s face it: lost in the house just means they need to look harder.)
  • Library books do not go on vacation (and only rarely to the pool). It is simply far too easy for a library book to get lost or damaged on vacation — especially at the beach — and so I have a firm rule that they cannot come along. Instead, we all go to the local thrift shop and stock up on paperbacks that we can read without fear of damage. As for the pool, my kids can take ONE book to the pool assuming there is no other non-library book in the house to read (or if the one they are reading is just too good to stop) and they must follow strict rules about not getting the book wet.
  • We employ the Returns Basket. We have a sixth basket which we can the “returns basket” or sometimes just the “finished basket” in which every single book, immediately upon completion is deposited: the only exceptions are books that are going to be re-read or read by a family member (in that case they are deposited into that person’s personal basket). This is also where all CD’s or DVD’s go the minute they are ejected from the player. That way, every day when we head to the library we have a stack of books ready to return. This means fewer books to keep track of, as well as room for more on our card!
  • We discuss “book status” with one another.  We are constantly sharing books in our house, so we are constantly checking in about where they are, how much longer one reader might need it, and which basket it might be in at the moment. This allows us all to have a sense of what books are checked out on our card. For example, my two older sons are obsessed with cars and often each checks out several non-fiction books and magazines about cars. They check in with each other to swap, and sometimes even to say “hey, have we read this one yet?” before putting something on hold. We also do the family-wide check in to say “how many days until this is due?” or  “can this be renewed?” so that everyone — not just me! — has a sense of which books to get along with finishing first.
  • NO LIMITS or RESTRICTIONS (within reason)! This is my favorite rule. My children are allowed to check out as many library materials as they want, of any kind that they are interested in, with only minimal scrutiny (for example, our teenage son can watch PG13 movies, but not R) and the only limit is the number of materials the card will allow. We NEVER restrict the type of material: e-books and audio-books are equal in our minds; we embrace comic books and graphic novels completely; and we are loose with the term “age appropriate.” If they want to read it — even if it is an 1000 page encyclopedia on car engines — we are happy to oblige. Censoring or limiting books would lead to less reading, and that is the opposite of what we want for our kids.

Happy Library Lending!

*In his defense, my husband is an academic and is used to having books he checks out from the university library for six-months, which makes it easy for him to forget that in the real world we only get them for three weeks.

book stack Oct

My oldest son’s book basket (which slides out from under his bed.) Below are the baskets beneath his brothers’ beds.


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