The posting of my monthly What We're Reading lists coupled with the fact that we use TruthQuest History, a living literature-style history program which requires us to read dozens and dozens of fantastic, albeit somewhat hard to find, books has compelled many to ask...
How can you afford all of those books?
The truth is, while we do own some books, our one-income-debt-free lifestyle and our itty-bitty house makes it impossible to hoard more than a couple of bookshelves' worth. While I would love to pack our home with all manner of literary perfection (I'd live in a house MADE of books, if I could!), I have to be rather snobbish in my selections.
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Then how and where do you get all those books?
You may be thinking.
Well, like most homeschoolers, the library has become my second home. But, even that does not ensure I will be able to secure EVERY book I want to read or provide for my kids.
Case in point...
Last month, I read the hot-off-the-presses, newly released book, Growing Up Duggar and my children read the out-of-print, impossible-to-find, The World's Great Stories for our Ancient Greece unit. My local library branch did not own either one.
What's a girl to do?
Well, here's a list of my top five tips for finding FREE (or almost free) books for homeschool.
Utilize the Interlibrary Loan System
Every few weeks finds me ordering books from libraries all over my state...even public school libraries. As they are PUBLIC libraries, the public has a legal right to use them. Some states require you to file a paper form requesting each.and.every.book you desire to borrow from an out-of-area library. Most, however, have on-line catalogs that you can access to request that any number of far-away books be sent directly to your local branch. Because state-funded universities and college libraries often house rare, out-of-print resources, you can borrow these too. The downside is that each branch generally has its own return/monetary fine policy which you must adhere to when borrowing a book.
With the simple click of a mouse, I have access to the literary collections of hundreds of libraries. The books are shipped to my branch and set aside for me to pick up. Rarely, do I request an interlibrary loan and come away empty handed.
Request a library purchase
Publicly funded libraries have budgets...budgets which must be spent and accounted for. In addition, many libraries have been given grants with which to purchase new materials. In other words, they have money to spend. Don't be afraid to suggest ways to spend it. Librarians, obviously, want to purchase books and resources that people WANT to borrow. Your suggestion is just as useful as the next person's.
My particular library branch has an easy-to-use, on-line request form that I have to fill out detailing the publication information of the book I'd like for the librarian to purchase. It takes just a few seconds. Within a week or so, I usually get an email alerting me to the new purchase and informing me that the book will be put on hold FOR ME as soon as it is processed in the catalog system. Out of dozens of book purchases I have submitted over the years (including some curriculum-style resources), only one submission has been denied. In fact, Growing Up Duggar was a purchased-for-me book as well as the one I am currently waiting for, The Talks.
Keep a running list of titles
It's no secret that I haaaaaaaaate department store shopping. But, put me in a book store or at a used book sale and WATCH OUT! I've got book-shopping moves you've never seen before.
Ok, that last part was a bit eye-brow raising, wasn't it? Let's just mentally edit that one out, shall we?
In all seriousness, I love a good used book sale. While the books are not necessary free at a sale, they are often as little as a quarter. But, since my space and budget are limited, I can not morph into a book-crazed shopaholic at a book sale (garage sale, thrift shop). I must shop with purpose. Throughout the year, I keep a running list of titles I'd like to add to our curriculum. I consult the curriculum catalogs that I've chosen to use for the up-coming school year and write down the resources that I do not currently own or do not think I can borrow from the library. Recently, I've begun putting that list on GoodReads for easy recollection.
I tend to be a person attracted to "the shiny". I can get easily distracted by any and all books that catch my attention. By maintaining a well-ordered list, I can shop with purpose and make my purchases count. Here is a collection of books that I came home with from a recent library used book sale. (You'll notice the book in the far left corner. I've been searching for a Biblically accurate account of the Christmas story for years. I FOUND ONE! It depicts a TODDLER Jesus being presented with three gifts by MANY wise man at a HOME, not a stable.)
While most of my purchases tend to be non-fiction books that I would consider to be core elements of a curriculum, I DO purchase fiction books. We typically read them, enjoy them, and then donate them BACK to the library for the next book sale.
Request books as gifts
Not wanting to be a "plastic toy giver", my mother almost always gives my children books for Christmas and birthday presents. She lives in a large metro area and has access to wonderful new and used book stores. Every few weeks in the summer, I'll get a phone call from my garage-sale-hopping momma prattling off titles that she happens to be staring at and asking if she should purchase or pass. By keeping a running list of titles I am looking for, I can give her a quick "yes" or "no". Since she lives on the opposite side of the country, she is not able to just pass them along to us with ease. She puts all her book purchases away in a box. When the box is filled, she ships them out for me to tuck away and dole out at birthdays and holidays. (Which reminds me...I have a small collection of Elsie Dinsmore books at the bottom of my clothes closet just waiting for one special little girl.)
While I've never done this, you could request that birthday party guests forgo plastic toy gifts and bring books for your child instead.
Start a book swap club with other families
A book swap club/group can be rather formal with a Facebook group page and specific borrowing/loaning rules. Or, it can be as simple as a few friends who share similar book/curriculum standards who loan out resources to one another. Either way, by partnering with other moms who have book needs, you can potentially have access to resources that would otherwise be out of your budget.
Over the years, I've formed a close circle of homeschooling mom friends who I trust with my books/curriculum and who apparently feel the same about me. If I'm in need of a particular title or resource, I shoot them a collective Facebook or email message asking if anyone has that item and might be willing to loan it out.
A few months ago, Sweetie Pea had the privilege of enjoying, Beautiful Girlhood, a book that has been on my MUST READ list for her for quite some time. We borrowed it from a lovely friend in my trusted circle.
Lest you think the street only goes one way, I, too, enjoy blessing other families with resources that they simply can't afford. It was an honor to be able to loan an entire Sonlight Science curriculum to two of my favorite ladies in order that they might form a small science co-op for their kids. As I have a really bad memory, I am sure to add all my loans to the ON LOAN sheet in my family binder. I can easily keep track of who has what.
Got any books-for-free secrets to share? I'd love to hear them!