Homeschooling and Libraries

Things I'm thinking about and learning while working with homeschoolers and writing Helping Homeschoolers in the Library for ALA Editions.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Most Libraries Are Only a Decade Behind

“The increasing number of home schoolers and the money they are willing to spend has created an opportunity for bookstores. Often, it seems, simply recognizing and courting the market can make a difference – the books are there. Customer databases and lists of helpful titles that are already in stock can add up to sales. And by listening to home schoolers and providing what they want, retailers can tap into their extensive network of newsletters, radio shows and word-of-mouth recommendations. These potential customers want something a catalogue can't offer – the luxury of browsing, thumbing material to decide whether it is appropriate for their child's age, interest and, yes, the values they want to instill.”
-Gayle White, “Home Schooling Appeals to All Faiths: and They’re Looking for Books and Bookstores” in Publishers Weekly (July 15, 1996)

This is why it’s so important to read Publishers Weekly and other publications related to libraries whose primary audience isn’t libraries. In 1996, this PW article talked about the rise of homeschooling, provided a list of titles of potential use to homeschoolers (and others!), and gave the above concise description of how to best serve them. Most libraries already have wonderful materials and services that homeschoolers could and would use, but many homeschoolers don’t know the full range of what’s available. Some homeschoolers even report not feeling welcome in public libraries. These are easy, easy problems to solve. It’s called education and niche marketing, and it works.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Question of Language

It is homeschool: homeschools, homeschoolers, homeschooling, homeschooled. One word. Pretty much the only people I see who don’t write it as one word are people who are not actively engaged in homeschooling. Embrace it, accept it, use it.

A stickier wicket is what you call children who aren’t homeschooled. You could say “public school” children, except that what you usually mean is “public and privately schooled children,” which is okay to use sometimes but lacks the elegance to withstand repeated use. It could be argued that “traditionally schooled” children are homeschooled, as homeschooling was the only way kids learned before education became a compulsory affair regulated by the government, which only happened in the United States around the turn of the 20th Century. In my reading, one researcher called them “institutionally schooled children.” I am soooo going to start using that one. It describes many things that seem to me to be inherent and true in our current No Child Left Behind educational system.

I’m still trying to figure out the linguistic complexities of Christian homeschooling, so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Research Articles?

Fisher, Jeffrey C., and Don A. Wicks. “Bookmobile Services to Homeschoolers in Ohio.” Bookmobiles and Outreach Services 7, no. 1: 7-28.

There are many problems endemic in research and writing by and about librarians and homeschoolers, and this article is a perfect example. (Sadly, it’s not freely available online, so you’ll have to use your mad librarian skills if you want to find a copy to examine yourself.)

First of all, who even knew there was a journal called Bookmobiles and Outreach Services? Who knew it was published by the Center for the Study of Rural Librarianship at Clarion University of Pennsylvania? Who knew there even was a Center for the Study of Rural Librarianship – at Clarion or anywhere else?

That’s right. Next to no one.

And why is that?

That’s because, at least in public libraries, the people out on the front lines are shockingly out of touch with the scholarship that’s going on and the people doing the research are shockingly out of touch with front line workers. Much of the “research” that’s going on is of the “publish or perish” variety that doesn’t do much besides help people cling to their positions and possibly get tenure or promotions. I don’t want to knock it; this is what these people have to do to work, and I fully support people’s desire to stay employed. However, this has created a body of literature that isn’t particularly helpful and, even if it is helpful, isn’t being found and used.

Which brings me back to our article.

I want to take a moment here to say that I fully recognize the difficulty of what Fisher and Wicks are attempting to do. Homeschoolers are hard to get a handle on. If there is anything that unites them as a group, it is their tendency to guard their privacy and distrust anything that sounds too official. Many of them won’t self-identify, and it’s notoriously difficult to get together a statically significant sample of homeschoolers. Even so, studies like this aren’t the answer.

In order to determine how many homeschoolers were using bookmobile services and what services homeschoolers were using, the authors asked the people who run the bookmobiles. Basically, this is equivalent to conducting a survey to find out how many brown-eyed people visit the library by asking the director. Perhaps the director can give you an estimate, but it’s based on perception, not data. In order to get hard data, one needs to do an entrance or exit survey of actual users. The authors of this study mention that this was an option for them, but they decided not to pursue it because, in my words, it was too hard. I appreciate their honesty, and I wish I saw more of it carry though the rest of the article. What the article as a whole neglected to mention repeatedly was that, for instance, bookmobile staff *perceived* that homeschoolers were using the bookmobile more in 2004 than they were in 1999 and that they *perceived* that homeschoolers were using some services more than others. Ultimately, this is a study of staff awareness, opinions, and attitudes – not, as the authors assert, what homeschoolers are actually doing. To find out what the homeschoolers are up to, we need to ask them. Doing that is less simple than it sounds, but that would make for a much more worthwhile and useful study.

This is the sort of thing I’m coming across again and again in my research. These articles can be interesting but are generally unreliable. I suppose I don’t have any room to criticize, since I am not a scientist and am certainly not out there conducting research, but SIGH. Maybe in another life….

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Model Program?

Check out the Homeschool Resource Center operated by the Johnsburg Public Library District (IL). Nice stuff there, although I must give a big "boo" to the presence of Accelerated Reader.

Friday, May 12, 2006

A School for Homeschoolers?

No, really. It's the Edmonds Homeschool Resource Center in Edmonds, WA, and, apparently, they have a library. Interesting....

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fitness Program

The Brandenton, Florida branch of the YMCA has a special weekly "Gym & Swim" program for homeschoolers (you'll have to scroll down on the page).

Cool.

Of course, everyone knows that being forced to play group sports in gym class was pretty much the worst part of being in school.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Homeschooling News Roundup

The Smoky Hill Library (CO) is hosting their 4th Annual Homeschool New and Used Curriculum and Information Fair this Friday at 11:00 AM. Rock on with that cool program, Smoky Hill!

Also from Colorado, two homeschooled boys won the state's Science Olympiad championship with a machine that (and I am not making this up) unrolls toilet paper.

Here's an interview with Judy Aron of National Home Education Legal Defense. I'll be writing more about them at some point, but not today.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Report from the National Center for Education Statistics

It's hard to get statistics on homeschoolers for all sorts of reasons: many guard their privacy, the definition of "homeschooling" varies from state to state (and even district to district), and it's hard to get a statistically significant sample together. That said, the National Center for Education Statistics has an interesting report on homeschoolers and homeschooling. The statistics themselves are interesting, but I was also interested in the discussion of how difficult it is to gather data and draw conclusions on this population. It's also interesting (and perhaps hopeful for the movement) that the report frequently refers to public and private schools as "other" schools, giving homeschooling semantic legitimacy as a valid school, which I think is great.

Friday, May 05, 2006

How Cool is This?

In Colorado Springs, a woman named Rachel Uzzell has opened up an actual brick-and-mortar homeschooling store called A-Z Homeschool Books and More. I so want to go there. You can read more about the store in this article that appeared in The Colorado Springs Business Journal.