Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Public libraries are excellent places to visit when you and your children want to pick out new books or just get out of the house during the summer or on the weekend. And they have more to offer than books. Public libraries provide many great free resources for early readers and their families, including storytimes, homework help, free Wi-Fi and computer access, after-school programming, and more! These programs and resources can be fantastic tools for caregivers looking to bring more literacy learning and practice of reading and writing skills into their children's and teens’ lives.

Official Library Resources

Check out your local library’s website for a schedule of regular programming, as well as special events such as contests, craft nights, and seasonal activities. Alternatively, swing by the library and talk to a librarian to find out what might be of interest to you and your family! Here is a snapshot of the kinds of resources and programming many libraries offer, as well as an overview of their potential literacy benefits.

Storytime and Book Clubs

Many public libraries offer weekly or monthly storytimes. Volunteers, librarians, and sometimes even authors themselves read picture books aloud to an audience of children and caregivers. To make the most out of this activity, you and your children can follow it up with some dialogic reading strategies, which you can find in our previous blog post about dialogic reading. Ask your children questions about the story they have just heard. Encourage them to retell the story, explain its theme, or describe the characters in detail.

While adolescents and teens are less likely to be excited by the prospect of storytime, many libraries also offer book clubs for those readers. Book clubs can be a great opportunity for teens to practice close reading and reading comprehension skills in a fun, social environment, away from the pressure of grades or other academic requirements.

Audiobooks and E-books

In addition to physical books, most libraries have a selection of electronic offerings. Audiobooks can be a great option for students with dyslexia or other reading disabilities. They can allow these students, as well as others who struggle with reading, to practice reading comprehension skills without dedicating a majority of their brain power to decoding each word. Audiobooks also can be a great way for emerging readers to gain an understanding of appropriate phrasing and intonation, which can support the development of oral reading skills. Furthermore, audiobooks can help on-the-go families incorporate read-alouds into their busy schedules. Instead of the radio, throw on an audio recording of your favorite children’s books while you drive your early readers to and from extracurriculars and other activities. To enhance this activity, engage in dialogic reading by pausing the story and having an interactive, children-centered discussion.

However, it is important to note that audiobooks should not be a replacement for explicit instruction in foundational literacy skills such as decoding, phonemic awareness, and fluency. Audiobooks should only be used when the goal of a reading assignment is comprehension and/or content learning, and when their use is supplemented by explicit decoding practice and instruction.

E-books can also provide many benefits for struggling readers and students with reading disabilities. For example, many e-books allow students immediate access to online dictionaries and translators, which can increase reading comprehension. E-books may also allow students to highlight text, take notes, and otherwise interact with the text in ways that they may not be able to do with physical library books. This can be a helpful feature for readers of all abilities.

You can find more information on your library’s audiobook and e-book offerings by visiting your library’s website or speaking with a librarian. To learn more about maximizing the benefits of e-books and audiobooks, check out our previous blog posts “Using Technology to Motivate Young Readers in the Age of Digitalization” and “Responsibly Incorporating Technology into Literacy Instruction.”

DVD Check Out

Did you know that many public libraries offer a wide selection of DVDs to check out? Some offer free streaming services, too! Watching movies can be a great way to engage your children and teens in at-home literacy learning. When your young readers finish a book, celebrate by holding a family movie night where you watch the big-screen adaptation. Plus, use our Book vs Movie Compare and Contrast graphic organizer to practice reading comprehension skills such as summarizing, evaluating, and synthesizing information.

Reading and Writing Contests

Many libraries host reading and writing contests for children and teens. Students might be asked to write a creative short story, experiment with a unique type of poetry, or concoct an essay about their ideal school day. These contests can be great opportunities to get children reading and writing outside of the classroom. They provide students with deadlines, subject matter, and authentic audiences, all of which can increase motivation. Plus, these contests sometimes offer the chance to win cool prizes, which never hurts. When it comes to responding to external writing prompts, students and caregivers may benefit from our Understanding and Responding to Writing Prompts Guide.

Homework Help and Tutoring

Many public libraries offer some form of tutoring for kindergarten–Grade 12 students. Whether your children and teens need feedback on a paper or just some extra reading practice, the library is a great place to start when looking for free external support. And even if they don’t offer the exact type of tutoring or assistance you need, your librarian may be able to connect you with other community resources that can fill this gap.

Resources for English Learners and Bilingual Students

Some public libraries offer bilingual storytimes, in which librarians read aloud books in languages other than English. This provides a unique opportunity for bilingual students to practice reading comprehension strategies in their native language. Additionally, these students may experience socioemotional benefits, such as an increased feeling of belonging, from seeing their native language used outside of their immediate family.

Bilingual storytimes can also have positive effects on native English speakers. For more information on how bilingual texts can benefit all students, but especially English learners, check out our previous blog post “Embracing Translanguaging in the Classroom With Bilingual Texts.”

Adult Literacy Programs

One of the best things about public libraries is that they really do have something for everyone. Many public libraries also offer adult literacy programs, including tutoring and writing help. This can be a great support for caregivers who are looking to further develop or practice their own literacy skills.

Getting Children and Teens Excited About the Library

With all of these outstanding resources, some children are going to be very excited about a trip to the library. However, other children and teens may not find reading or the library to be all that enjoyable. Here are some ways to make the library trip more engaging for all.

Young Readers

When students are given choices regarding their reading material, evidence suggests that they are more likely to be interested in and benefit from their reading experiences (Gambrell & Marinak 2009). Encourage your children to take ownership of their reading practice by allowing them to choose their own books from the library. Whether they jump at the chance or are unsure where to start, your children may benefit from talking to a children’s librarian about their interests and hobbies. Librarians are often extremely well-read and are ready to offer recommendations that are tailored to your children’s interests. For more information about effectively facilitating independence in young readers, read our previous blog post “The Challenge of Choice: Teacher Librarians and Parents Working Together.”

Another way you can foster feelings of autonomy and involvement related to reading is by letting your young readers take a more active role in their library experience. Even the youngest readers can hand library materials to the librarian at the checkout desk or by scanning them at the self-checkout. As your children get older, you can increase their responsibility levels by allowing them to hold on to their own library cards. Furthermore, encourage your children to be the ones to ask the librarian where they can find a certain book or have a conversation about what they like to read so they can get personalized recommendations. This can help make the process of obtaining books a fun, engaging experience, which in turn can help readers develop a positive relationship with reading from a young age. And according to research, readers who have positive social experiences associated with reading are more likely to feel motivated to develop their literacy skills as they grow older (Gambrell & Marinak 2009).

Another way to help your children build a positive relationship with books is by surrounding trips to the library and other literacy activities with fun, child-centered activities. For example, you and your children could visit a local playground after a library trip and read together on the swings. Or you could check out some games from the desk in the children’s section and play them together while visiting the library. Our “Fun at the Library” (see “Supplemental Resources for Families") caregiver guide includes several easy and quiet literacy-related activities that caregivers can do at the library with young readers. These activities include practice in important early and pre-reading skills, such as alphabetic knowledge, sorting, vocabulary and oral language skills, and more. The guide also features a printable scavenger hunt that your early readers can take with them on a library adventure.

Teens and Adolescents

For older readers, allow them to experiment with different types of reading materials. For example, maybe your car-obsessed teen is not interested in reading novels but enjoys paging through manuals and other technical writing about machinery or engineering. Teens who are on the go with lots of activities or who struggle to focus for long periods may enjoy short story collections more than long-form narratives. While it is important for readers to gain exposure to many different types of text structures, when it comes to independent reading, allowing your teens to try out materials that are better suited to their interests and reading style can be a game changer. And luckily, public libraries contain all sorts of reading materials, from how-to books to classic novels to manga. Plus, if your teen reader cannot find what they are looking for, many libraries can borrow from other institutions or purchase new books upon request. Your young adult (YA) or adult librarian can be an excellent resource for helping teens find the book of their dreams. To read more about the benefits of allowing adolescents and teens to select their own reading material, check out our previous blog posts, “Positive Reading Reinforcement” and “Supporting the Power to Choose Reading.”

As they get older, your teens and adolescents are also able to take more responsibility for their own library trips. They can request books on their own and manage their library card. Encourage this independence by allowing your teens to browse independently at the library. They may even enjoy taking the opportunity to find a comfy chair and read a few chapters. While there are mixed opinions on whether rewards are an ideal way to increase reading motivation, many studies do suggest that when rewards are closely related to the target activity, their usefulness as a motivational tool increases (Gambrell & Marinak 2009). For example, you could purchase your teen’s favorite coffee drink on the way to the library, so that they have something to sip while they browse the shelves. Alternately, check out your local movie theatre to see if they have any upcoming showings of book-to-movie adaptations. Offer to take your teen and a friend to see the film if they complete the novel beforehand and engage in a discussion comparing and contrasting the differences between the two afterward.

First Steps

Whether you have an old library card stuck in a drawer somewhere or are considering applying for one for the first time, it is time to start taking advantage of all the resources your local library has to offer. Not sure where your public library is located? This website can help you find out! Plus, check out our previous blog post “Get to Know Your Library in Four Easy Steps” for more tips on getting started. From audiobooks to afterschool programs and everything in between, there is something for everyone at the public library!

Supplemental Resources for Families

Fun at the Library! Caregiver Guide

This guide includes a list of simple, literacy-focused activities that families can do with their young readers at the library. The guide also explains the early reading skills associated with each activity. A printable checklist with sections for each activity and a printable bookmark for a library scavenger hunt are also included.


Gambrell, L., & Marinak, B. (2009). Reading motivation: What the research says. Reading Rockets. https://www.readingrockets.org/article/reading-motivation-what-research-says