What to Expect When You Visit the Library

A teenager standing in the library and smiling at the camera.

Libraries offer books for people of all ages, and much, much more — they are places of learning and discovery for everyone. Learn more about what you can expect when you visit your local library.

Libraries offer books for people of all ages, and much, much more — they are places of learning and discovery for everyone. Many libraries are now offering large selections of Spanish-language books too.

So what exactly can you expect if you take your children to the library? A lot depends, of course, on their ages. And a lot depends on your local public library's resources. The best way to find out what's available at your local library is to visit!

What's available at the library?

While there is a great deal of variety in local library programs throughout the country, there are several elements common to most children's services, as well as some general trends, including children's books, story hour, and other activities.

In addition, many public libraries sponsor programs that may include English as a second language (ESL) classes. At your library you may also find classes where you can prepare for a high school equivalency exam, or earn college credits. There may be informal classes, too, on everything from gardening and photography to computer literacy and raising children.

When are libraries open?

Libraries are usually open during the day, and often are open in the evening and on weekends for working parents.

What is the librarian's job?

Librarians have many responsibilities. One of the most important is to help the public find the books and materials that they are looking for — this is their speciality. For example, if you don't know which books to select for your children, the librarian can help you to select books that are both fun and suitable for your child's age level. They can also show you the other programs and services the library has to offer. It's a good idea to encourage your kids to ask for help in finding books and materials so that they feel comfortable getting the information they need.

Keep in mind, however, that a librarian is there to point out different choices, not to decide what your children should be exposed to. That is your job. So, no matter how helpful or knowledgeable a children's librarian may be, your participation in selecting and sharing books with your child is very important.

Does the library have any rules that my children need to follow?

Although public libraries welcome children and may have special facilities for them, there are common-sense guidelines for behavior that parents should stress to their children:

  • Library books are everybody's property and should be treated carefully.
  • Be sure that you and your children know the library's policies regarding loan periods and fines for overdue books. If you forget to return your items on time, you may need to pay a small fine.
  • Explain to your kids that the library is there for the whole community and they need to be considerate of others' needs.
  • Set a good example by taking care of the books and returning them on time.

Keep in mind that it is your responsibility to see that your children behave acceptably and are not disruptive to others using the library.

If Your Children Visit the Library Alone

Frequently, working parents often allow their youngsters to go to the library after school and do homework until they can pick them up several hours later.

Here are some guidelines to ensure your child's safety, as well as prevent any trouble at the library:

  • Preschool children visiting a library should always be accompanied by an adult or teenager.
  • Remember that the library is a public building. Librarians are busy and are not able to supervise kids.
  • Teach your children how to take care of themselves in public places, including learning how to deal with strangers, recognizing when a situation is dangerous, and knowing what to do if they feel threatened.
  • Assess whether your children are comfortable being at the library for long periods. If going directly from school, do they need something to eat or some kind of physical or social outlet first?
  • Instruct your children on how to be considerate of others using the library.
  • Always pick up your children at least 30 minutes before closing time. In case you are delayed, give your children an alternative plan, such as calling a neighbor for a ride home.


Adapted from:

"Helping Your Child Use the Library: When You Visit the Library." Kathryn Perkinson. U.S. Department of Education Archives, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. First published in 1989, revised in 1993. http://www.ed.gov/pubs/parents/Library/index.html

"Helping Your Child Become a Reader." U.S. Department of Education. First published in September 2000. Revised 2002 and 2005. http://www.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/reader/index.html


You are welcome to print copies or republish materials for non-commercial use as long as credit is given to Colorín Colorado and the author(s). For commercial use, please contact [email protected].

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