A Home Library for the Ages

A young patron enjoys the freedom of sitting to peruse picture books on a sunny afternoon.
04/13/2021
story and photos by Rebecca Parshall

For many years, our family in Middlesex has been collecting books. All six of our children love reading, making us frequent visitors to libraries, book stores and used book sales. Over the past 12 years of homeschooling, we have amassed a collection of over 3,000 books, most of which are classics or high-quality vintage literature geared toward children and young adults.

Books are one of the ways that our children connect to one another – relationships built on sharing quality literature are strong because children can always find something about which to reminisce (“Remember the time when Mom read us Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea?”), and something about which to debate (“Why do you think Jo should have married Laurie?”). Shared literary experience provides a scaffold on which children build vocabulary by using new words in conversation with one another, and it helps cement the traits that build character, as heroes and heroines model the traits we wish our children to exhibit as adults. Reading the classics, especially those outside of our time period, provide children with valuable perspective about the age in which they live.

We had discussed cataloging our collection – scattered on various shelves in different rooms – in order to enable us to find a book more quickly, but the time required for this project would be substantial. It would require touching every single book, finding its appropriate entry using a library cataloging app, labeling each one, then using the Dewey Decimal System for shelving so that it could be located quickly. The potential benefits of such a project were great: We could more easily loan books to other homeschooling families and people interested in good literature, and we could avoid duplicate purchases because we would have remote access to an online catalog.

Enter COVID-19. Before the pandemic, our life of homeschooling six children afforded little free time for tackling such a project. Our activities mostly revolved around the children’s hobbies, our flock of fiber sheep, and hives of honey bees and community service projects. Now we had expanses of time that were suddenly at our disposal, day after day.

Our 14-year-old daughter spearheaded the effort to catalog the books, taking on the task as energetically as she approaches a new weaving project on her floor loom. It took weeks, but was made much easier by the fact that apps exist to create an online catalog from your book collection. They also recommend the most appropriate Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress number for accurate shelving. We used the free app LibraryThing for this task.

Taking the project to the next level required construction help, which we received from McHugh Carpentry in Shortsville, who brought our organizational vision to fruition.

Our library project is still ongoing. We never stop collecting books, and more shelving is in the works. We have a small community of patrons and we enjoy plucking books based on queries (“What do you have on China for kids?”). We have a collection of books that are out-of-print and hard to find, and they are often written at a surprisingly high reading level, as most older books are.

Today we have a small number of dedicated patrons who seek our books not because we have the current bestsellers in kids’ literature or because we have a big selection of recent authors, but because they appreciate good literature that doesn’t talk down to a child, that inspires, and is written by authors passionate about their subject matter.  We are grateful to the many people, including homeschooling families and school libraries in the surrounding areas, who have donated books that have outlived their usefulness in those places and have renewed lives in our library.

For more information and a link to the catalog, email Rebecca Parshall at rwparshall@frontiernet.net.

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