13 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Library

How much would you pay for a service that offered virtually unlimited entertainment for you and your baby?  If you live almost anywhere, you already are!  It’s your local library, and your tax dollars are keeping it running, so why not take advantage of it?  Libraries have so much to offer new moms and young families.  I could literally take my baby to the library every day of the week.  Here are some great ways to take advantage of your local library.

Baby and Toddler Play Areas

With the rise of ebooks and audiobooks, the need for giant libraries that house tomes of dusty books is coming to an end.  Libraries are adjusting to this change by becoming more community oriented, hosting events, and becoming a public space to take your children.  This makes a lot of sense, given that libraries are run by our cities and that cities have been doing this for years in the form of outdoor parks.  And so many libraries have implemented indoor play areas for babies and toddlers, equipped with toys, mats, puzzles, and learning games.  This is the ultimate way to get your baby out of the house on a cold or rainy day or introduce your child to new and exciting toys.

Story Times

Another way libraries reach out to citizens are through age appropriate story times.  The story times begin as young as 0 months old.  Even when babies can’t interact with the books, librarians entertain them with animal sounds, songs, rhymes, sign language, and bright pictures.  Get ideas for ways to interact with your baby at home.  Go to story time to make connections with parents of children the same age as yours who live in your area.  If you’re not sure what to say to them, here are 30 Ice Breakers for when you meet a new mom.

Books Books Books

I don’t know how my collection of baby books has grown over the years.  Somehow I ended up with over 20 board books!  As impressive as that is, I’m not sure I want to be reading the same 20 books to Bugaboo all the time.  And I want her to be exposed to other books and pictures.  So I go to the library every few weeks and load up on board books and take them home.  Also, I use the library to find parenting books for myself as well as books I read for entertainment.

CD’s

One of the best ways to calm an upset baby is with music.  But a lot of times a song doesn’t come to mind.  Check out your library’s CD’s for baby songs.  Either play them in the car when driving around with your baby or use them as a tool to learn new songs to sing with your baby.  You can also check out audio books to help you stay sane while carting your baby around on errands or when you need to fill up an empty house with the sound of adult voices.

DVD’s

While I don’t advocate exposing your baby to TV before the age of two (and even then, in limited quantities), many libraries have a variety of DVD’s to choose from.  Pick up a movie to unwind after the baby goes to bed.  And when your child is old enough for TV, get some old episodes of Sesame Street (from back when it was good) or Daniel Tiger.

Online Holds and Pickups

When you’re a busy mom wrangling your kids together, you may not feel like you have a lot of time to stroll through the stacks looking for a good book to read.  Use your library’s online catalog to search for a book, then reserve it online.  The best part about using this feature is that the magical library elves will follow the Dewey decimal road to your book and then place it on a special reserved shelf for you!  It can take you less than five minutes to pick up 25 books from the library!

Mommy Getaway

As part of their new role as community centers, libraries usually offer all the modern conveniences you need to get away for a few hours to yourself.  They all have free wifi, plush armchairs, and many offer coffee (although the quality is questionable).

Play Dates

Arrange your play dates at the library during the winter months.  When you’re in the youth section, a little extra noise is tolerated.  Frankly, it’s expected that your kids will make some noise while they play with the new and exciting toys.  That means that when you talk to your mom friend, you won’t be hushed either.

Enrichment Programs

Beyond scheduled story times, many libraries offer enrichment programs for your children.  Some of these programs may include crafts for older kids.  There may be a class on baby sign language.  They may bring in a professional storyteller or singer to make a special presentation.  The programs aren’t all for kids, either.  If your husband is willing, join an evening book club while he puts the baby to bed.

Contests and Prizes

Do you remember participating in summer reading programs as a kid?  I do.  And they’re still around!  Libraries may offer contest to keep children (and adults) reading all year long!  You can win prizes such as book, age appropriate toys, and coupons to local restaurants and attractions.  Ask the librarian at youth services what they offer for babies – yes even babies can participate!  Many libraries participate in a program called 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten – sign your baby up now so you know you’ll be able to meet your deadline!

Librarian Knowledge

Perhaps an underused benefit of visiting your local library is the opportunity to pick a librarian’s brain.  When faced with thousands of books to choose from, you may become a little overwhelmed.  Ask the librarian what books are her favorite.  Or ask her for a book that might help solve a particular problem: sign language, learning another language, separation anxiety, learning to eat.  This knowledge can be applied to books for your child or books for you!

Museum Passes

In Illinois, libraries participate in the Museum Adventure Pass that offers shared museum passes to patrons.  You can get entry into various local attractions for free or buy one get one free.  In our area, the best deal are the passes to the Zoo, which is usually quite expensive!  You can take two adults for free, and of course your children will get in at the discounted rate.  If you take advantage of these offers, you may end up saving hundreds of dollars (and avoiding a costly zoo membership).

Homeschooling Resources

If you choose to homeschool or just want some extra enrichment for your preschoolers or school aged children, look to your local library!  Libraries may offer books to help you get started, but it doesn’t stop there.  Many libraries offer a subscription to ABC Mouse if you have a library card.  In addition, they may offer kits, puzzles, and other curriculum helpers to get you started homeschooling!

Fox Valley Libraries

In the Fox Valley there’s a library every few miles or so!  Each library has its own unique take on the children’s section.  Try visiting a few in your area to see what they have to offer!

Aurora

The Aurora public library has three locations, one downtown Aurora – the Santorini Public Library, one on Eola Road, and one out west.  Their calendar is completely filled with story time opportunities, including Storytime in the Community – at locations such as Panera or the Fire Station.  Another nice feature they offer are their Lap Time Story Time.  Families with babies are invited to come – as opposed to some Baby Story Times that ask that older children not attend.  Finally, there are crafts offered for toddlers on up.

Batavia

One of the largest single libraries in the Fox Valley, the entire basement of the Batavia library is dedicated to Youth Services.  One corner is designated a play area for little kids, with an imagination station featuring a kitchen or farmer’s market on a rotating basis, and a play mat where children can build with blocks or play with trains.  The staff is out of this world, and the baby story times and play and learns are well thought out.

The library also is home to a coffee shop, Chapters, which makes it a great place to have both a coffee and play date.

Elburn

Far west and remote, the Elburn library is a pleasant, sunny place to visit.  Half of the library is dedicated to children, and shelves are well organized for you to find what you are looking for.  The children’s play areas are dispersed throughout the youth section, but there is a great amphitheater for story time!  Bugaboo loved to go into the amphitheater and hear the way her voice echoed.  Adults can also get work done in the other half of the small library.

Elgin

The Gail Borden Public Library district in Elgin has a main branch, a South Elgin branch on MacClean Road, and a branch on Bowes – the Rakow Branch.  We have only visited the South Elgin branch, which is tiny – like the size of an old B Dalton’s bookstore (am I showing my age?).  It would fit well in a strip mall.  Still, because of its size, it actually made an ideal place for a play date – there were few people attending, and what toys they had were well designed to keep the children’s attention.

The library’s website seems more devoted to adults, teens, and kids (in that order) than babies and toddlers.   Their interactive online calendar is user friendly.  They offer a baby rhyme time at 6:30 PM – which is really great for working parents to be able to attend!

Geneva

The children’s area of the Geneva library is cozy.  There is a special nook for babies and toddlers, physically removed from the rest of the library by a set of stairs.  Bugaboo loved going up and down the stairs.  In addition, there are a lot of nice age appropriate toys.  The children’s section also features a hamster, which fascinates all those who come by.  I have seen mothers use a visit to the hamster as a carrot to lure children into good behavior.  There is also a little amphitheater for teens, which promises to be a cozy and comfortable reading nook.

However, the Geneva library just feels kind of small.  The biggest problem is the parking situation.  Because it is in downtown Geneva, there is no parking lot, and you simply have to find the best location along the nearby streets.  It’s not something I look forward to with winter coming.  However, I believe Geneva is going to be building a better library building – so hopefully that construction is completed soon and we can see what they have to offer!

As far as programs go, what I love about this library is that they clearly have an interest in helping out families of young children – their website highlights the baby and toddler services right on the homepage.

St. Charles

At first glance, I didn’t think the St. Charles library had a good baby area, but when I returned a few weeks later for a play date, I found it had plenty to keep Bugaboo busy.  The play areas are interwoven with the baby books.  One feature I love is that there is a baby activity board in the center of all the checkout computers.  This is an important way to keep your baby from crawling away while you try to check out.

Another great feature of the St. Charles library are their unique story times.  They offer Bilingual Story times and Sensory Story times (for children who are sensitive and have sensory processing needs).  I haven’t attended either of these yet, but I plan to – at least to expose Bugaboo to some more experiences.

West Chicago

This library really goes out of its way to offer programs and activities beyond reading.  In the fall they offer Trunk or Treat, and besides baby story time, they offer crafts and activities.  In addition, they offer some activities in the evenings for busy working parents!

Wheaton

I haven’t been able to make it out to the Wheaton library, so I don’t know if they have a good baby play area.  They offer the usual baby story times, but with a simplified schedule compared to other area libraries.  However, they do have a café connected to the library, so it’s a perfect coffee date location!

Winfield

The Winfield library has a small town feel to it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a great place for your kids!  For one, they grew chicks – how fun is that?

Are you a parent in the western or far western suburbs of Chicago?  What’s your favorite library, and why?  Does your library offer any completely new and unique experiences?

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