Adrienne Furness on Service to Homeschooling Families

If you work with children in libraries and have the sense that you are missing a significant part of your audience, you may be right, Infopeople instructor Adrienne Furness maintains. While more than one million children are engaged in homeschooling throughout the country and the majority of them use libraries, few libraries are providing services directly targeted at this audience, she suggests.
“I would say that one of the things that prevents a lot of librarians from providing services to homeschoolers is that they don’t feel confident that they know what homeschoolers are up to…what they believe, how they function,” she said during a conversation this morning. She hopes to reverse this situation a bit through “Service to Homeschooling Families,” an Infopeople workshop she will offer throughout California between December 2008 and April 2009. The first session is scheduled to be held at the Main Library in San Francisco on December 4, 2008.
“Homeschoolers tend to be very reasonable and knowledgeable about libraries because they use them so much. On the other side, homeschoolers are sometimes reluctant to approach librarians” because they don’t know how they are going to be received, she added. “I try to give them (workshop participants) the tools they need to go up to a homeschooler and talk to them without feeling ignorant—some confidence, some background, and some ideas. I think a lot of people are intimidated by homeschoolers.”
Furness herself first became interested in homeschoolers while she was earning her degree and was living upstairs from a homeschooler. She has, since that time, spent a decade serving as Children’s and Family Services Librarian in Webster, New York; maintains the “Homeschooling and Libraries” blog, which includes interviews and an article on library orientations for homeschoolers; and wrote Helping Homeschoolers in the Library for ALA Editions.
“I think for me the most interesting thing is that there certainly will be values we don’t share with homeschoolers, but I think there are a lot of values we do share. How they define education may be different from how we do, but they truly love knowledge, and that provides common ground for us to work together,” she notes.
“One thing that I like to say when I start my workshops is that I’m a working librarian. A lot of times people are overwhelmed by offering services to different populations. It’s doable. You can make just a little effort and get huge returns on it…It’s almost that by letting people know you’re interested, you’ve won over a lot of people,” she concluded.
Those interested in learning more about homeschooling in California; how to develop low-cost, high-impact programs for homeschoolers in libraries; and how to create a homeschooling collection useful for homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers alike can register through the Infopeople website. Additional online resources include a National Home Education Network website on what homeschoolers want from libraries and information available through the HomeSchool Association of California website.