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December 1996

Public Library Services for Home Schooling

Denise G. Masters

What Is Home Schooling?

The term "home schooling" is used to describe the situation where parents or guardians choose not to send their children to public or private schools, but prefer to educate their children by themselves, usually at home. According to Rieseberg (1995), common characteristics of home schooled families include the following:

  • more than 50% have annual incomes of $25,000 to $55,000
  • the parents have attended or graduated from college
  • more than 90% are white/Anglo in racial/ethnic background
  • more than 75% attend religious services
  • the mother is the teacher
  • learning is highly flexible and individualized
  • instruction usually begins at age 5 1/2 and the children study at home for at least four years
  • children are schooled three to fours hours per day and spend additional time in independent study
  • many conventional subjects are studied with an emphasis on math, reading, and science

The reasons why parents decide to home school their children usually fall into two categories: ideological and pedagogical. The ideologues are usually religious fundamentalists who are unhappy with the public school's secular humanist curriculum, and the pedagogues are typically parents who are dissatisfied with the large classes, rigid curricula, and conformity found in traditional schools (Avner, 1989; Wikel, 1995). All states have compulsory education laws which make home schooling an option for parents (Lines, 1995).

Although most home schooled children eventually enter public school after a few years, they do comprise a significant number (Aiex, 1994). The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates that there are between 700,000 and 1 million children currently home schooled in the United States (Rieseberg, 1995). Over the next decade, up to 2 million children, or 5% of the total student population, could be home schooled (LaRue & LaRue, 1991). For example, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has seen a dramatic rise in the numbers of school-aged children of various beliefs who are being taught at home by their parents or other adults (Lockwood, 1996).

Why Should Librarians Care?

Public libraries have a responsibility toward all of their patrons, including home schoolers (Avner, 1989). Public libraries also have a "rich tradition of supporting self-improvement and self-education,"and "have sought to position themselves in the public's awareness as community resources for family literacy and lifelong learning" (Klipsch, 1995). Because in most communities, the only educational resource available to home schoolers is the public library, libraries are very important to them (Geist, Smith, & de la Pena McCook, 1994).

According to a survey of Ohio home school parents, 99% of them use the public library as an additional resource and 73% of them use the public library once a week or several times per week. Books, magazines, the librarian's help, video and audio tapes, reference books, and programs for children are the most widely used services (Schwartz, 1991). In 1993-94, Florida had 14,208 home schoolers, one of the largest numbers in the nation. The School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Florida perceived "the need to pool the ideas, talents and experiences of children's librarians" and later compiled their professional observations into a resource for other librarians who "are currently grappling with the challenge of how to serve the increasing number of their homeschooling patrons" (Geist et al., 1994).

Services for Home Schoolers

Public libraries can offer a myriad of services to home schoolers. These services can involve outreach, tours, programming, and collection development (LaRue & LaRue, 1991). Some specific suggestions compiled by Gatten (1994) include:

  • allowing longer borrowing privileges
  • showing respect toward home school patrons
  • obtaining materials via interlibrary loan
  • creating folders of information about state laws and names and addresses of home schooling organizations
  • collecting curriculum guides from public schools
  • inviting speakers
  • conducting library tours
  • offering instruction on using library resources
  • compiling bibliographies on academic subjects
  • displaying art and science projects
  • attending meetings of home schooling organizations
  • holding story hours
  • setting up volunteer aide programs
  • establishing a well-rounded collection which includes creationist and evolutionary materials as well as information on home schooling
  • lending science equipment and computer hardware and software
  • providing access to career and college information
  • exhibiting at home schooling conferences
  • sending informational packets about the library to home schooling organizations
  • subscribing to home schooling journals

In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a bookmobile making up to 90 stops per month, provides library services to more than 800 rural and small town home schooled students. Curriculum and recreational materials are requested most , and sometimes the students call ahead to request nonfiction titles on subjects they are studying. By providing door-to-door service, bookmobile librarians learn the home schoolers' individual needs and screen and recommend resources for them. Technology is increasing bookmobile services as well9many have online card catalogs, cellular telephones, fax machines, and other high-tech features. Automation makes checkout easier and more efficient, and users have quick access to many types of books and research materials (Lockwood, 1996).

Some Concerns

Librarians have noted certain challenges associated with providing services for home schoolers. Madden (1991) found the following areas to be problematic: (1) censorship: patrons' objections to materials on evolution, the occult, and age ratings; (2) subject wipe-out: one family checks out all of the materials on a certain subject; (3) negative staff attitudes toward home schooling: staff comments and beliefs about child abuse, lack of socialization, and poor quality; (4) time/energy demands: too many requests for service; (5) technology demands: too many requests for software and hardware; and (6) administrative limits: demand for a lot of personalized service. Other problems include an adherence to out-of-print booklists, "mountains" of materials needed "yesterday," unique programs and services offered to home schoolers that do not get a response, unsupervised children in the library, requests for curriculum materials and textbooks, and difficulty identifying the home schooling families (Geist et al., 1994; Brostrom, 1995). Brostrom (1995) states that a fruitful partnership between home schoolers and librarians is possible, but that it is vital for them "to openly discuss materials selection, intellectual freedom, balanced collections, [and] censorship."


The mixed-age, mixed-ability environment of home schooling is similar to the workplace environment more than it is to the single-grade classroom. The workplace of the 21st century will be one of multi-abilities and multi-generations9a place where students who conform with their peers will struggle to compete, while students who develop personal expertise and independence will find opportunities. Advances in technology have created a virtual workplace and have made people who telecommute and manage home-based businesses a large and growing part of the work force. The trend toward telecommuting is compatible with two skills encouraged in home schooling9self-discipline and initiative. When enhanced with access to technology such as CD-ROMs or online resources, home schooling can well prepare children for the workplace of the future (Rieseberg, 1995).

Home schooled children may not have the same access to information as other children, and libraries are in a position to help them. Enhanced services could be offered to them (Hunt, 1996). If home schooled children do not have access to computers with modems at home, they could go to a public library that provides Internet access (Brostrom, 1995). "Libraries are an important part of home schooled children's lives, and it only makes sense that the acceptance and positive recognition these children deserve should begin there" (Hunt, 1996).

References & Suggested Readings

Aiex, N. K. (1994). Home schooling and the socialization of children. ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication. (ED 372 460)

Avner, J. A. (1989). Home schoolers: A forgotten clientele? School Library Journal, 35(11), 29-33. (EJ 398 079)

Brostrom, D. C. (1995). A guide to home schooling for librarians. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith Press. (ED 388 318)

Gatten, S. B. (1994). The development of home schooling services in the public library: A case study. Master's research paper, Kent State University, Ohio. (ED 376 848)

Geist, P., Smith, P. D., & de la Pena McCook, K. (1994). Florida librarians respond to home education. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida School of Library & Information Science Research Group. (ED 378 971)

Hunt, R. N. (1996). Learning in the library: An assessment of library services to homeschoolers. Feliciter, 42(7/8), 62-67. (ED number pending. IR 533 431)

Klipsch, P. R. (1995). An educated collection for homeschoolers. Library Journal, 120(2), 47-50. (EJ 497 967)

LaRue, J., & LaRue, S. (1991). Is anybody home? Schooling and the library. Wilson Library Bulletin, 66(1), 32-37,136-137. (EJ 433 298)

Lines, P. M. (1995). Home schooling. ERIC Digest. Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. (ED 381 849)

Lockwood, A. (1996). Bookmobile provides home-schoolers with regular library period. American Libraries, 27(10), 32-33. (ED number pending. IR 533 966)

Madden, S. B. (1991). Learning at home: Public library service to homeschoolers. School Library Journal, 37(7), 23-25. (EJ 433 201)

Rieseberg, R. L. (1995). Home learning, technology, and tomorrow¹s workplace. TECHNOS, 4(1), 12-17 (EJ 499 868)

Schwartz, R. L. (1991). Ohio home-schooled children and their use of public library resources. Master's research paper, Kent State University, Ohio. (ED 340 377)

Wikel, N. (1995). A community connection: The public library and home schoolers. Emergency Librarian, 22(3), 13-15. (EJ 497 896)

This ERIC Digest was prepared by Denise G. Masters, Database Coordinator for the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244-4100.

ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated.

ERIC Clearinghouse on Information & Technology, Syracuse University, 4-194 Center for Science and Technology, Syracuse, New York 13244-4100; (315) 443-3640; (800) 464-9107; Fax: (315) 443-5448; E-mail: eric@ericir.syr.edu; URL: http://ericir.syr.edu/ithome

This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RR93002009. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions of OERI or ED.