8 Key Library Skills To Teach Kids

Last week’s life skills post on how to negotiate was both practical but also somewhat big picture in the sense that some of those skills likely will take some practice. This week I want to drill into some super easy yet important skills to help kids master at one of my favorite public places: the public library!

Public libraries are such a gem! I’m at our city library nearly every week either for myself or for the kids. (On that note, be sure to troll the Boston Mamas book archive if you’re looking for recommendations, or to point to a few…check out these posts across the ages on: favorite picture books for kids, captivating summer read-alouds, tween book picks, must-read books for adults). 

Through our regular visits (which basically focus on checking out and returning books) I know I’m only scratching the surface of the library’s offerings, but a recent visit to the library—during which I taught Violet a key library life skill—reminded me that I wanted to share more on library life skills! Here are some skills to teach your kids to help them become more independent at the library.

1. Get a library card

Hooray for ownership! Can you believe I still have my Minuteman Network library card with my elementary school signature on it? And isn’t it HILARIOUS that I somehow lost my birth certificate but still have my elementary school library card? Anway, if your kid doesn’t have a library card, head to the library to get one! They will feel the delight of ownership by getting an official card. PRO TIP: I also recommend having a library tote that lives in a particular spot at home; we keep our library card + books in that tote so they don’t get mixed up with our home book collection.

2. Identify where to check out + return books

This seems like a simple thing but helping kids identify where to check out and return books reinforces the concept that libraries are a place of sharing. You need to use your card to borrow books, then you need to return books to the proper place when you are done.

3. Learn how to use the after-hours drop box

Teach kids that the after-hours book drop is for books only (no rocks or flowers!) and that it’s only for use when the library is closed. YES, you need to walk all the way in to return books if the library is open!

4. How to search the computer catalog

The other week, Violet was looking for a particular book. She knew the title of the book so I took her to the computer and showed her how to get into the computer catalog and where to type the information. I then showed her how to look at the search returns and what information to look for to see if the book was in or checked out, and if in, how to find it in the library. She felt super grown up learning this skill!

5. How to find books

After Violet found the author of her book, I taught her which direction the alphabet goes in the children’s stacks and she was so excited to search the spines for her book! With older kids, teach them about numerical ordering of books.

6. Talk about fines

The consequences of late returns are pretty mild financially, but it’s important to talk to kids about late fees so they understand that part of the responsibility and privilege of borrowing books is returning them on time—or paying a fee if you are late. 

7. Explain the life-changing magic of holds + renewals

I use my Minuteman Library Network account via web regularly both for book renewals and to request books. Violet thinks it’s pretty magical that you can ask the library to get you a book they don’t carry! Talking to your kids about the process of holds and renewals also offers quick lessons about delayed gratification (you never know when a book request you submit is going to come in) and sharing/waiting your turn (you may try to renew a book but another person has a hold on it).

8. How to engage with staff

This final tip is a library life skills + social skill two-fer—I am super into simple opportunities where kids can learn how to engage in the world! The other week when Violet and I were at the library, she looked up her book, found out that it was in, and then went to look for it on the shelf but it wasn’t there. I suggested we ask a librarian for help and encouraged Violet to do the talking. She told the librarian what happened: that she knew the title of the book, looked it up, found that the book was in according to the library system, but that the book was not on the shelf. That librarian then basically became a rock star in Violet’s eyes because after checking the computer with staff access, she was able to determine the book had just been returned an hour ago and the librarian figured out what cart to check behind the scenes!

Looking to level up other life skills? Check out these posts: how to negotiate. And here’s a video version of this post if listening/watching is preferable!

Key library skills to teach kids

Key library skills to teach kids