Public Libraries: A Great "Life Hack" for Families

Getting hacked is usually a bad thing, but getting ‘life hacked’ means that you’ve found a way to make things easier for yourself and those around you.

Have you ever heard the term “life hack”? Coined in 2004 by technology writer Daniel O’Brien, a life hack refers to a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way. Life hacks can save you time, money and aggravation — to use a video game metaphor, they are the hidden cheat codes for going about your everyday business.

Whether you are a new parent, a grandparent or an adult caregiver, public libraries can be a great resource for families with young children. Not only can you find books, movies and other media for you and your kids to enjoy, but there is a veritable treasure trove of games, programs, activities and services that you can take advantage of as well. Think of your local public library as a life hack for parenting!

Books In Every Size, Shape and Color

Children are voracious readers and new books are expensive. Fortunately, public libraries usually have very well-stocked children’s book sections, featuring a kaleidoscope of board books, early readers and chapter books. Libraries are sure to keep kids’ lit classics like Goodnight Moon and Make Way For Ducklings on their shelves, but thanks to an explosion of new authors and titles you can also find books which address contemporary themes and portray diverse characters. Recent trends in children’s books feature fantastic beasts, popular media tie-ins, sports stories and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Mathematics) related topics; for the older kids, there are comics, graphic novels and manga, as well as bestselling books that thrill and chill with offerings in science fiction, fantasy and horror. Why buy when you can check out a whole stack of the latest books at a time for free?

Movies, Music and Shows (Oh, My!)

Once upon a time you could subscribe to a streaming video service like Netflix or audio service like Spotify and get most if not all of the music, movies and shows that you were looking for. Now however there is a bewildering array of competing services, each with its own catalog that may or may not include your favorite titles. Instead of paying for just one service, sometimes you have to shell out for two or three different platforms just to get your basic media fix. This can be a minor nuisance to adults, but try telling a toddler that their favorite TV show is only available through a service you don’t subscribe to and you very well may have a meltdown on your hands.

Another library life hack to the rescue! Blockbuster Video may be a thing of the past, but public libraries still have an impressive collection of videos, CDs and other media such as audiobooks that you can check our either for free or for a small fee. Libraries also have their own subscriptions to streaming audio and video services — such as Hoopla, Freegal and Kanopy — that you can access online from anywhere using your library card.

Storytime Is The Best Time

There’s something magical about library storytime. Not only are children’s librarians adept at bringing books to life through their storytelling skills, sometimes using puppets, felt board and inventive props to enhance the narrative experience, but they are also masters at finding new and exciting stories to engage young minds and inspire early readers. Bringing your child to storytime isn’t just free entertainment, but it is also a place to help your kid learn valuable skills such as paying attention, following directions and listening intently. Storytime is also a great opportunity for parents and other caregivers to meet and socialize with other families. Many a playdate has been born out of two children meeting for the first time at a library activity!

Other Programs for Young Families

But the fun doesn’t end with storytime — at public libraries you can find a whole schedule of free programs and activities for kids and families, from “Rhythm and Rhyme” dance sessions to messy arts and crafts to Drive-In Movie Nights complete with tiny cardboard cars for your children to sit in while they watch the show. Just like library storytime, kids’ programs are a great way to encourage the development of social skills and good public manners; they’re also a chance for caregivers to catch their breath while the children immerse themselves in entertaining and enriching activities. Please take note, however: some of these events can be quite popular and require advance registration, so be sure to keep an eye on your local public library’s program schedule to see what’s coming up so you don’t miss out on the fun!

Parenting Programs, Workshops and Support Groups

Not only are there library programs available for children, but you can find a world of support for parents and other caregivers as well. Many public libraries offer educational programming about topics of interest to families, such as early literacy and teen depression; children’s librarians also curate collections of books, media and trustworthy online resources that can provide valuable information families with young children. If you are homeschooling your kids, you can find resources specifically tailored to homeschoolers’ educational needs and requirements as well. Instead of paying for textbooks and other costly instructional materials, you can let your local public library be your home-school library. How’s that for a life hack?

In addition to their own programs, libraries are also hubs for their community and host regular meetings for local, regional and national organizations which can provide much-needed support for parents, caregivers and families. There are workshops and support groups for breastfeeding mothers, parents of children with special needs or behavioral issues, teens trying to navigate the college admission process — even baby massage! Support groups and other similar events give families a chance to exchange information, share their feelings and frustrations, and find a community who can give them validation, empathy and perhaps most importantly comfort in the knowledge that they are not alone in their struggles.

Consider Yourself Hacked

Getting hacked is generally regarded as a bad thing, but getting life hacked means that you’ve found a way to make things easier for yourself and those around you. Now that you are aware of all of the amazing free helpful resources available to you at your local public library, you should consider yourself privy to one of society’s greatest life hacks. Be sure to visit your library if you haven’t recently, get a library card for you and your family members if you don’t have one, and start taking advantage of your newfound elite lifehacker status today!