My Chicago Public Library Parenting Hack - Chicago Moms Network

Living in the city where space is at a premium, I’m always looking for ways to streamline & simplify our way of life. Today I’m sharing a system/hack that I’m embarrassed to say I only just recently discovered, after 12 years of living in Chicago!

This past spring, I had a minor panic attack when I realized that we were drowning in books! One of my favorite things is to do is shop for children’s books, and it was clear that I needed to scale back. We did a major clean out, donated a ton of books that my kids didn’t seem to love, and I vowed that our home book collection was complete! I decided that we’d start taking more trips to the library as one of our weekly activities. Honestly though, I didn’t like the idea of relying on the library to have the books that I wanted to bring home. It seemed like whenever we visited, we’d come home with a random assortment that my kids pulled off the shelves – nothing intentional like when I searched for books in a bookstore or online!

Enter the pandemic…

When the protests started in May of 2020, I realized that the first thing I needed to do was commit to educating  myself and my children on being anti-racist. There were (and are!) SO many amazing roundups of children’s books on racism, as well as books about BIPOC that I wanted to add to our bookshelves. I didn’t want to have to pick and choose which books to bring home, I wanted to share all of them with my children! So, I did a little research, and this is when I discovered the Chicago Public Library app, which has completely revolutionized the way we read in our family!

One thing that I did not know about the Chicago Public Library, and what makes this hack so effective, is that the library will ship any book from any CPL location to your library location. So, with the app, you have access to the entirety of the CPL at your fingertips! Here is my system:

1. Any time that I am shopping and see a book that I’d like to read (either for myself or for my children), or if I’m reading an article that mentions a specific book, I add this to the “For Later” Shelf in the app. It’s super easy to search for a book and add it to your “Shelf”! For example, I found a book that looked cute in an article I was reading, but it’s a winter book so I want to keep it on my radar but not borrow it right away. This book can stay in my “For Later” shelf until i’m ready to borrow it! I also like using the “For Later” shelf, because there is a limit to how many books you can have on hold. With this shelf, I can keep a running list of which books to put on hold next once i’ve taken one out!

2. If you’re out shopping and see a book but don’t have time to pull up the app and add it (me at Target for example…), take a picture and have an album on your phone that you call “books to read”. Add these to your “For Later” shelf when you get home!

3. Once I’m ready to borrow a book I’ll click “place a hold” to add myself to the waitlist for that book! When your book is available, it will be waiting for you at the checkout desk at your own library location. It’s as easy as that!

4. We take one trip a week to the library: to return the books we had the week before, and take out any new ones that are now available. I don’t like to track the emails from the library telling me that my holds are ready for checkout, I’d rather just visit once a week and have them hand me the books. It’s literally a quick 5 minute exchange at the checkout desk! No roaming the library trying to find the titles you want, and no overdue books! I am able to read my kids the important books I want to share with them, while not breaking my budget!

I’ll add the disclaimer that I still shop at my local bookstores, to bring home the books that my family loves. Bringing the books home from the library is a great way to test them, and we can make sure that the books we’re buying are ones that will be read over and over!

Beyond children’s books, I also use the same system for the books that I want to read, and even borrow e-books for my kindle! I’m sure there are plenty of offerings that I haven’t explored, so please let me know if there’s anything I’m missing!



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