8 Rules to Follow to Make Library Visits Work With Kids

Aug 6, 2015

8 Ways to Make the Library a Pleasant Experience With Kids

Earlier this week I took all four boys to the library to pick out their final summer reading prizes (Bradley got a hardback copy of the picture book, Journey--not too shabby). Although I avoid going to the grocery store with all of them at all costs, weekly library trips are always in the schedule.

When Aaron was a baby, we were a ten-minute walk away from the library, and we went often to help break up the day. As the other boys came along, they joined in on the trips. I don't know why I made library trips with children a priority and not trips to the grocery store. Maybe I think books are more important than food . . .

For the most part, we've figured out ways to make our library visits pleasant experiences. My kids love the library. But there have been times, one of them being just three weeks ago in fact, when I have sworn off going to the library with kids ever again. Generally, however, these horrible disasters happen because, in a moment of oversight or laziness, I broke one of my own long-held rules.

Today I'm going to share those rules with you.

Rule #1: Bring a stroller

This is my #1 tip. If you have very young children, you must have a way to contain them if the going gets rough. And with four kids in tow, chances are highly likely that it will. You'll know when your kids are old enough not to need to be strapped in anymore. (But here's a general guideline: if they're at an age where you have to follow them around to make sure they don't pull every book off the shelf or just decide randomly to walk out the front doors, they still need a stroller. Clark, at 14 months, definitely needs one.) A few weeks ago, we arrived at the library, only to realize I hadn't put the stroller in the trunk. No matter, I thought, we can manage without it. Ha! Classic mom blunder right there. It was one of the worst library experiences of my life. By the end, it looked like I was stealing my own children as I dragged them screaming from the library. So learn from my mistake: bring a stroller.

8 Ways to Make the Library a Pleasant Experience With Kids

Rule #2: Use the library hold system

This follows as a close second to bringing a stroller. If seventy percent of the problems at the library occur because I'm chasing down a toddler at the same time I'm trying to check out twenty-five books, the other thirty-percent occur because I lose track of my children while I'm trying to find books to take home. Make it easy on yourself: do all of the finding from the comfort of your own home. Go to your library's website, type in the titles you want, and wowza, the next time you're at the library they'll be on the shelf with your name on them. It's like magic. (Need help finding good books? Check out eight of my favorite places to go for children's book recommendations.) If all of your kids wind up quiet and occupied, and you have a moment to peruse the shelves, then consider that a happy bonus. But if not . . . you'll be thanking yourself that you can still go home with a big stack of new books.

8 Ways to Make the Library a Pleasant Experience With Kids

Rule #3: Bring a Large, Sturdy Library Bag

I know. You think you can carry a small stack of books. Or that the free bag from the hospital will be big enough. I know this because I've convinced myself of it a few times, with deep regrets. Invariably, the stack grows as I'm in the library and pretty soon, books are sliding out of my hands or the seam is ripping open in my free-for-a-reason bag. A couple of years ago, I gave up (or finally wised up) and dug out my old college backpack. That thing has the capacity of a truck, and after years of heavy use carrying around too many textbooks, it can handle thirty picture books like they're cake. Week after week, we load it up, and I'm always so grateful for it.

Rule #4: Park Near the Entrance

This may seem intuitive (of course you're going to try to get as close to the entrance as possible), but I'm often tempted to park farther away just because it's easier to get a spot. However, this can make or break our library experience from the starting gate. If it's a major ordeal just to get into the library without getting run over, we're less likely to go. It's such a big deal to me that I've been known to wait just so I can get a closer parking space. At our current library, we have our favorite spot: the left-hand side of the parking lot, second car from the front. I love that spot because my kids can hop out, run over to the curb, and follow it around to the front of the building. I don't have to worry about them going behind cars that are backing up or getting lost. (And you'd be surprised how often we get that exact spot.)

Rule #5: Go to Storytime

This one isn't really a "rule." You can definitely have very successful library visits without ever stepping foot into storytime, but aside from a few months when Aaron was a toddler and the librarian running storytime read the same books and sang the same songs week after week after week, we've had great success with storytime. Not only have we learned about great new books this way (and, to be honest, we've actually found some of our favorite music albums, too), but it's an easy way to develop a good relationship with your librarian, learn to sit still and listen, and do something fun. During the school year, we go to storytime nearly every week.

Rule #6: . . . But Don't Go to Storytime If You Need to Look For Books

Storytime is fun, but after it's over? Well, the library can get a little crazy. So when we go for storytime, we generally don't try to do much else: no reading on the couch, no puzzles, no book browsing. There are just too many kids running around. If you followed the second rule and have a shelf of books waiting for you, then take a minute to check those out and then be on your way. Save the other fun library activities for another time when it is calm and quiet.

Rule #7: Set Clear Expectations

I've realized that I can avoid so many meltdowns if I just give my kids a heads up for what they can (or cannot) expect: Yes, you can help me return the books, but you must take turns. You may check out one DVD. I can read a maximum of four books today. No, we will not play on the computers. We will leave in ten minutes. A few years ago, one of the libraries we went to had a button to push if you wanted the door to open by itself. My kids loved to be the one to push that button. Consequently, they fought over it. Every single time. I don't know if there's anything so embarrassing as the library door automatically opening to the sounds of screaming, crying children. So we made the button off-limits. And I reminded them of that rule every time we went before we got out of the car. Once they knew what I expected, they were able to walk right past the tempting button without giving it a second glance.

8 Ways to Make the Library a Pleasant Experience With Kids

Rule #8: Leave Enough Time For Reading/Playing

When I take all my kids to the library, it is an event. There are no quick trips in and out. Those are for the times when I'm by myself. We always plan to stay awhile. And they have their little routines. First they like to spend a few minutes choosing a new DVD to check out. Then they separate: Aaron goes to the craft section, and I don't see him again until it's time to check out. Maxwell goes to the early chapter book section to find a few new books to read. Bradley goes to the children's section and puts together a few puzzles. Sometimes I get a few minutes to check out the new arrivals section. Then Bradley wants me to read a few books to him. Max sometimes listens too. Clark wanders around. Then I check out our new items, and we go. I try to give them enough time to do everything they want to do. (But, I realize, sometimes that's impossible. Last night, it was impossible for us, and Aaron was definitely not okay with that.)
 8 Ways to Make the Library a Pleasant Experience With Kids

While I love going to the library with my kids, and these rules usually make the time we spend there smooth and pleasant, there's nothing quite like going to the library all by yourself. So try that sometimes, too.

How do you navigate the library with children in tow? Tell me your tips and tricks in the comments!


  1. Yep, I always bring a stroller. When the twins were little, I only went when my sister could help me. I found myself nodding yes to each tip you suggested. Great list!

    1. You're amazing, Marseille! I think twins might be enough to break my resolve, so kudos to you for finding a way to make it work!!

  2. Yes, Yes, YES!!! My library bag went missing last Spring and (because of the "underbuyer" that I am) it took me until June to give up the search and buy a new one. Since I'm in the library 3+ times a week it's not usually a huge problem but I remember a few occasions when I was trying to drag a screaming toddler out while balancing a huge stack of books and looking to see that the other 3 were obeying traffic laws and not getting run over. So not fun.

    Also- our library system has 3 story times, one each for baby/toddler/preschool, each day. I thought it was crazy when I first moved here but I love it. The librarians get to know the kids better because there are less at a time and it's not a crazy free-for-all looking through the books and staying to play or read afterwards.

    1. Yes, same for us. We usually go often enough that we don't have to pick up thirty books at one time, but even ten books is tricky with uncooperative children!!

      Wow, that is so awesome that your library does three stories times EVERY DAY! I can't imagine! That would really help cut down on the craziness.

  3. Great stuff, Amy! As to this: "I don't know why I made library trips with children a priority and not trips to the grocery store. Maybe I think books are more important than food . . ." I would MUCH rather take my daughter to the library than to the grocery store.

  4. These are great! I will do just about anything to avoid taking all 3 kids to the grocery store with me. :)
    Our rule: the number of books they can get = their age. If they have some at home that they weren't finished with, they subtract those out. I've been fudging on that one a little bit this summer, but I try to stick to it. With as many items as we check out, one or two days of overdue fines adds up very quickly!

    Also, we usually don't check out movies. The one-week return date has caught me too many times in the past.

    My two oldest usually carry their own bag, and I carry a big one for me and the littlest. Also, we almost always use the self check out machine, which helps keep them busy during that whole process.
    Haven't had a really bad experience this summer yet (fingers crossed that it continues that way!) The grocery store, on the other hand....

    1. The age = # of books is a good rule. I've know a lot of people who use it, and we may have to implement it ourselves at some point.

      I wouldn't check out movies either, except that we only own about five, so we need a little variety. :-)

      Having several book bags is a great alternative to just one big heavy-duty bag.

  5. I like your rules too. (And Linnae, I had the same rule of age=number of books, which also -- still -- applies to me).

    I would add: Go to the hold shelf first and check those out. It's possible that you will have to make a quick get-away, and leaving behind your precious stack will just make you grumpy.

    I had the kids get their own library cards as soon as they could write their name, which was a BIG DEAL (and keep the library cards in the library bag to avoid weekly panics). I also found Library Elf (www.libraryelf.com) to keep track of it all.

    Let's see; sometimes I used a sling instead of a stroller, and I had some kind of system for who got to push the library button but clear expectations was still the key. Oh, our library has a playground right outside, so if some kids needed to run around while others wanted to read, we could head straight there for a while. I had an age range of 4 years, so if the kids are more widely spaced you can obviously give the older ones more freedom.

    Does your library have bedtime story hours? I would usually try to do that a special treat with just one or two of the kids, but it was fun.

    1. Beth - glad to hear you're still abiding by the age rule! ;-)

      And yes, I totally agree with you about picking up hold items first. I often do, for the very reason you mentioned.

      I think our library does do an evening storytime one night a week but we have yet to try it out.


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