Local Resource: The Incredibly Awesome Calgary Public Library

Fish Creek Library (Calgary)

The Calgary Public Library is one of the best and highest-used libraries in North America, and if you’re a homeschooling family, our amazing library system is your one single best resource. And yes, books are just the beginning–although there are books a-plenty.

Workshops, programmes and events

The library’s (free!) family and kids programmes are the mainstay of our annual learning calendar. From story time and puppet shows for the littlest ones to rocket-building and programming workshops for the teens, our library has an amazing array of offerings. Some of our favourites to date have included:

Mad Science workshops (these fill up quickly, so register quickly)

Presentation by the Calgary Humane Society on dogs, cats, ferrets and all sorts of other critters

Presentations by the Alberta Wildlife Conservation Institute

Lego contests

Bat Basics

Plays by the Calgary Young People’s Theatre

The Rock and Fossil Show, put on annually by the Calgary Science Network

Christmas concerns

Magic shows

Animation and flipbook workshops by the Quickdraw Animation Society

Concerts by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra

Classic movie screenings

…and more.

EFFICIENT USER’S TIP: The library offers so much, it’s easy to miss the best offerings–or to find out about them only after they’re over. Do this: as soon as the new program guide comes out, go through it, and enter all the programs you might want to go to on your Google calendar or equivalent. Don’t register in them all–but plug them all into the system. That way, when that lazy Saturday when you have nothing to do but would like to get out of the house rolls about, all you’ve got to do is peek in the calendar and choose between the four different programmes running at the various branches. What will it be? Magic Show or the Philharmonic? Sweet decisions.

Movies, movies, movies

The library has a stellar movie collection. Documentaries, classics, television shows, as well as the newest blockbusters. Cancel your cable, and get everything you want–delivered at your own schedule–via the library.

Some of the best “educational” series available at the library:

Bill Nye the Science Guy

The Magic School Bus

David Macaulay’s The Way It Works

David Macaulay’s Building Big Series

EFFICIENT USER’S TIP: The DVDs are free if you return them on time, but late fines can be astronomical. While I never limit the kids on the number of books they take out of the library, I’m hardass about the DVDs. No more than two each per week (my rule of two per week per entire family was unenforceable), and if they don’t get watched the first week, they go back. Also, check the DVD case before you take it home: we’ve come home too often with an empty case–or one with a disc so scratched, it wasn’t viewable.


Cinder and Flora adore audiobooks, and I can’t imagine doing road trips without them. The library’s collection is huge, and you’ve got considerable choice of format: old school CDs (the average Harry Potter book clocks in at 24 individual CDs, gasp!), MP3 discs, and, increasingly our favourite, electronic MP3 files from Overdrive. Best thing about Overdrive? The audiobooks return themselves automatically. The end of late fees and lost discs!

E-books, databases, research tools–and research advisors

If you’re not using the Calgary Public Library’s E-Library, you’re not using the library. Read The Globe and Mail archives going back to 1844. Search virtually all Canadian newspapers and magazines–and yes, you get full-text access to most. Learn Chinese from the 150 electronically available Chinese mags. The possibilities are endless.

And if e-research isn’t your cup of tea–don’t forget that the librarians are research professionals. They will point you to the resources you need, coach you in searching techniques, and answer your questions at length. Especially if you come visit with them in off-hours–middle of the day on weekdays when things are moving at a slower pace.

And, of course, books, books, books

We read obscene amounts of books here, and we rarely buy books, all thanks to the library. And the books we do buy–well, they tend to be the books that we’ve taken out from the library and renewed so many times, I know we have to own them. Most of the time these days before I buy a book, I “test-drive” it at the library. And if we love it and it’s clear we are going to revisit and revisit it–then we buy it.

Piles of books

EFFICIENT USER’S TIP: When you’ve got 100 or more books out at any given time, even the $0.10 and $0.35 fines add up quickly. Enter LibraryElf.com. Register your card and your library (Library Elf supports Calgary’s system). And never have an excuse for being late again: Library Elf will send you an email three days before your materials are due, and a nagging (er, reminder) note every day thereafter until they’re returned. The first card for every family is free; if you want to use multiple cards, there is a small fee. Don’t debate. Just do it. Library Elf has saved me hundreds of dollars a year. Word.


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