This post reviews Adrienne Furness, Helping Homeschoolers in the Library (Chicago: American Library Association, 2008).
Furness, a children’s librarian, here produces a book aimed at other librarians, informing them about homeschooling and suggesting ways librarians can better serve homeschooling patrons.
The book begins with a competent summary of the standard history of the movement, noting its left and right wings and several of the important people and organizations that have made the movement what it is today. It then describes in some detail the wide range of people who homeschool–plenty of conservative Protestants and some hippie-types but also members of other religious groups, parents with special needs kids, minorities, and military families. She notes the wide range of pedagogies employed, from unschooling to Protestant school-in-a-box, from Charlotte Mason to Classical education. One unifying feature to all of these groups is their frugality and consequent heavy reliance on libraries.
After six chapters of competent summary and description, Furness moves on to advise librarians on how to best serve homeschoolers. First, librarians should become familiar with the sorts of homeschoolers in their area by chatting with patrons and by contacting local support groups (here she alerts librarians to the bifurcation existing in many places between conservative Protesetant groups and others). She also advises attending local conventions and recruiting homeschooled children to be library volunteers.
While homeschoolers can benefit from many of the same programs that other patrons enjoy (like open houses and instruction about library resources) Furness recomments special homeschooler-friendly programs such as curriculum swap days, homeschooling displays, and a homeschooling special collection. Her book offers much useful and practical advice for creating a good collection.
Perhaps her most intersting comments come in her discussion of different types of homeschoolers. She encourages fellow librarians not to fear conservative religious patrons and to stock a rich supply of religious materials they would find useful. At the same time she alerts librarians to the fact that homeschoolers not in the conservative Protestant mold really appreciate it when libraries recoginze their existence and stock materials they find appealing as well. Such even-handedness accompanied by her ample resource suggestions make the book valuable for librarians everywhere.
This book is perhaps not homeschooling research in any strict sense, but its contents clearly benefit from years of acute observation of homeschooling library patrons, and it does summarize extant research on homeschooling quite nicely, offering a clear and competent primer for librarians too busy to read the original sources. I enjoyed reading it and think librarians who use it to help them understand the movement and to create programs for homeschoolers are in good hands.