Visiting The Library With Your Family

There are few things in life more rewarding than sharing books with your children. You get to snuggle up together, you feel as though you are doing something that will really benefit their development and you get to discover new and exciting worlds as you travel through the stories. What is even more exciting is that it's possible to do all of these things without having to spend any money whatsoever.

Libraries may be operating in increasingly difficult circumstances after heavy cuts to their funding, but they are fighting back and the more we use them, the more people will see just how amazing they are.

You can join your library for free and with relatively little fuss. Simply pop in and speak to someone on the information desk who will probably be able to sign you up there and then, or visit the website of your local council to find out about whether you can join online.

Once you've got your membership card, the world is your oyster. Obviously you can borrow books but there are other services provided as well, such as free use of the internet. However, the purpose of this article is to share just how fantastic libraries are for children (and indeed teenagers).

You can sign your child up for their own library card pretty much from the moment they are born (though understandably, it might be a few weeks before you feel like venturing out!). Once they have their card, they are entitled to borrow a stack of books at a time (the exact number may vary between council areas, but my children are allowed to borrow about ten each, I think). If you are late bringing books back then don't worry, as they won't be charged overdue fees, but they won't be allowed to borrow more books until the old ones are returned.

Long gone are the days when you had to remain reverently silent in a library and although it's clearly polite to respect the fact that you are in a public space, children are able to talk and ask questions and generally enjoy the books. My children both love entering the library and whizzing down to the children's section at the back (which is helpfully contained by the bookcases and book boxes, so that there is much less chance of you having to chase after escaping children the whole time.

It's lovely to be able to have a good hard think about what we'd like to read each time, then slowly select a pile of books. We spend a good deal of time just staring at the treasures on the shelves before we even start trying to create a shortlist and it's brilliant that we find new things each time. Our library is very good at staying up to date so that even books which have only just gone on sale in bookshops are available to borrow without any cost to us at all.

Looking at Bookshelves

Once we've narrowed down our choices slightly we then make ourselves comfortable on the chairs and cushions and flick through the books at our own pace to see which ones we like.

Reading Books

Even taking into account our elimination process, we still manage to end up with pretty much our full quota at each visit, so if you think this might happen to you then it's worth taking along a sturdy bag to cart them all away once you leave.

Whilst you're down by the children's section, take the time to have a look at any nearby noticeboards. Libraries will often share information about local free activities for children and with the summer holidays coming up this might be especially useful. There are also certain sessions, such as Rhyme Times, that are run regularly throughout the year, as well as specific sessions put on by the library themselves. During the May half-term the boys and I attended a workshop about Victorian toys and got to see (and play with) ‘real life' artefacts and then make our own puppets and peg dolls.

You can also borrow DVDs and audio CDs from your library, sometimes for free and sometimes for a very small charge. We paid £1.50 for the last DVD we borrowed and we could keep it for a week, which is pretty reasonable.

Once you have selected your books, you'll need to check them out. Our library has self-service scanning machines of which the boys are huge fans. It's great to see them taking responsibility for their books and being independent enough to manage the process themselves.

Scanning Library Card

You will receive a little receipt telling you when the books are due back and if necessary, you can renew them online.

Placing books into library scanning machine

For younger children, there is also the Bookstart Bear scheme, which offers stamps and certificates as an incentive for visiting the library.

All libraries will also take part in the Summer Reading Challenge to encourage children to keep reading over the summer holidays. There is more information here.

Overall, you couldn't really ask for more. Hours of fun choosing books then weeks of fun reading them, plus extra sessions and fun schemes on top of that - all for no money at all. Libraries rock!