23.9.09

In Defense of Purchasing

We are homeschoolers that don't regularly utilize the library. We are readers, bibliophiles, and none of us have been inside our county library in at least a year.

This was not always the case. As a child, I love the opportunities to go to the "big library" downtown and roam its shelves. I loved using the card catalog (remember those?) and browsing the stacks, full of hope that at last, I might've remembered how to find things using the Dewey Decimal System. In school, I cheered when we were finally deemed old enough to go to the school's library in the mornings unattended, to return books and find new ones. When I went to college, I quickly established myself as a patron of my new county library, and struck up a friendship with two of the librarians there. Today, however, it is a different story.

I love the library in theory. In practice, however, I don't. Our county system is long on popular titles and subjects, but short on specific titles and the type of books I prefer to read. Our county system also has so many branches that the chance of the book I want being at a branch near me is slim. Our county is big! Yes, I can request books and they'll transport them to my local branch, but it adds yet another level to the process. Between those things, and the late fees we acquired because I found the book depository difficult to use and our branch difficult to turn into and out of, I found trying to use the library was simply frustrating me.

Other issues surfaced. I would go through resources (The Story of the World Activity Guides, R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey booklists), painstakingly entering each title, writing a careful L (in pencil, naturally) next to those I could find on the internet-based catalog. (How times had changed, in the blink of an eye.) Then, when it was time to study a particular chapter, I could easily request the available books. As I said, our library can be short on specific titles, but due to the number of books listed in things like the Activity Guides, there could be a large number of books available for a chapter. Then we'd have two, three, four, or more supplemental books about a given chapter. It didn't matter, somehow, if I had deemed the topic important and worth further study. The books were there and available, and we should, therefore, read them all. Better yet, let's not move forward in our book until we have read all of the available supplemental books - even if we are second or third in the hold line for one or more of the listed books.

I think you can see where this is going. The right books weren't always available, but there could also be plenty of the not-wrong books. Remember, I said we were bibliophiles. Reading more books couldn't be wrong, could it?

At some point on this merry-go-round of internet searches, Ikea bags of library books, and massive fines, I read The Latin-Centered Curriculum. For various reasons, we have not adopted a LCC-style classical curriculum, sticking with a WTM-inspired neo-classical approach, but part of Andrew Campbell's writing stuck with me. Not many, but much. I wasn't reading to cut our reading list to the sparse levels he advocated, but reading LCC (repeatedly) did help me to at last loosen the reins. We didn't have to read every book on a topic, or even any book on a topic. We could pick and choose the best.

With that, the final piece fell into place, and we began to quit using the library.

How did I do it? Many people can't imagine homeschooling without the library, its friendly librarians, the weekly storytimes and activities.

For starters, the librarians in our branch weren't particularly friendly, and most of them were not librarians, but library clerks. Further, our multi-branch system was and is fond of near-constant shuffling of staff. The clerk here this week will likely be gone in four to eight months. Additionally, my oldest daughter grew old enough that even the storytime activities geared to "school-age" children were below her interest level.

But what about the books, I hear you asking.

To begin with, I had the advantage of years of preparation for homeschooling. Any visit to McKay's (a local used bookstore near my parents' house, and the best used bookstore I've ever seen) was not complete without my scanning the children's section for titles I recognized. For many years, before the advent of Amazon Prime, I would bring my total over the magic $25 for Super Saver Shipping by adding a Roger Lancelyn Green book or something similar. Before I even made the decision to cut the cord between the library and me, I was well on my way to a decent collection at home.

I started being more serious about my visits to the used bookstore, though, and branched out beyond the familiar McKay's Books. In the midst of a large decluttering, I started using paperbackswap. The books going out had belonged to me and occasionally my husband; the books arriving were all for homeschooling. I added even more books to the kids' wishlists for birthdays and holidays. My comparison shopping of amazon versus chain bookstores with educator discounts reached new mathematical heights. Once a week, after my oldest two children are safely ensconced at Master's Academy, I visit either Barnes & Noble or Borders and buy one book (biography, history, literature, or occasionally science) that we'll use in the upcoming year of school. I don't miss $7 a week from the grocery money, and neither does my waistline, but I would not be able to spend nearly $400 a single time, once a year, on top of the other curriculum purchases that must be made. To paraphrase Les Miserables, science kits are expensive, monsieur.

Yes, it is not a trifling amount of money. I do have three kids that will use these books, and SmrtMama's Captain Science has benefited from my rudimentary collection, too, so at least four kids will use these titles! I see that as a sound investment, in many ways.

Beyond that, though, my kids can read a book about knights or chemistry at any given time. My daughter can revisit her favorite part of history (ancient Egypt) at her leisure, and if I want my children to see me re-reading a childhood favorite, I know that The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, and The Westing Game are all nearby.

As a adult, I'm so grateful for the books my parents bought me. My copies of the stories of Anne of Green Gables are the ones through which my children will meet Anne, just as my daughter met Laura Ingalls in my mother's copies of her books.

Still, I don't want to be down on the library. It serves an important function. I do want to return to using it, judiciously. I don't want it to be the source for our main, required books. I want to use it in the way that I did as a child - as a supplement to the books read in school, and to the books already owned. I would never have discovered so many favorite books without the library, and I recognize that. Still, when it comes to the ones that really stuck with me, I don't want to go and get them from the library once more. No, I want to own a copy, to curl up on my couch as an adult and pore over them once more.

That's why I'll continue to buy most of my children's books, and why I'm so excited that I had the foresight seven or eight years ago to write down the title, author, and ISBN of one of my favorite library books from childhood. Christmas Crafts and I are going to be reunited at last - for good.
This website was designed by Sam Rushing

"A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." - Thomas Jefferson