Friday, March 7, 2014

Booktalks and Book Clubs for teens: why not meet them at school?

While researching the information needs and behaviors of preteens and young adults, I came across an interesting suggestion by way of a question: “Does the librarian ever appear in school classrooms and assemblies to do booktalking so that his/her face, in association with the public library, conjures up good stories and enthusiasm in the minds of children and youth?” (Wilson, 1983, p. 152) I was familiar with booktalks, and with the concept of strong collaboration between school and public libraries, but this exact idea had not before occurred to me, and it seems like an excellent way for the public library to reach out to this age group.

Exploring this topic further, I came across a paper entitled “Rethinking Reading Promotion” (Chance & Lesesne, 2012) which promotes the idea of public librarians using booktalks and book trailers presented in middle and high schools as successful methods of encouraging reading in young adults. I was especially intrigued by the suggestion of recording a live booktalk and using that as a form of book trailer that could be shared beyond the audience of the initial talk. Given the right preparation such a venture could include some of the other elements book trailers are popular for, such as images and music to accompany the talk.

Taking it one step further, a teen services librarian might also hold book clubs at a middle or high school, with the cooperation of the school librarians. Jack Baur and Jessica Lee (a public and school librarian, respectively, both serving teens in Berkeley, CA) detail their successes with a comic book club held in the local middle school (Talking Comics, 2012). While they used comics due to their appeal, and I would personally relish the opportunity to do the same, it is likely that any popular books could be used just as easily. Once a rapport is established, a librarian could then work to expand the club member’s horizons a bit by suggesting similar books that are less well known (as long as they are likely to hold their patrons’ interest).

Both the booktalk and book club programs, when held in schools, provide the benefit of getting the public librarian out of their building and to a place where the users are. This not only directly gets around the problem of users not coming to the physical library as often any more, but it also demonstrates the value of the public library to the users, who may then decide to come in. Even if they don’t, as long as they take part in the program they are engaged. Especially in the case of the book club, once a rapport has developed between the teens and the public librarian, other information needs might be uncovered and addressed, such as in conversation before or after (or even during) the meeting.

Clearly, this would require a great deal of coordination and cooperation between the public and school libraries, but if Baur and Lee’s example isn’t enough to convince you that this isn’t just possible but desirable, consider that there is a long history of such cooperation, and as tightened budgets continue to strain resources and imperil programs, the ALA is strongly encouraging more such cooperation (Amann & Carnesi, 2012). Another benefit of this collaboration is that the school library will be able to promote the program(s) to kids very easily, perhaps using some of the other methods discussed by Chance and Lesesne such as recording promotional messages to be announced over the PA system after the morning announcements (Rethinking Reading Promotion, 2012). This might open the door to further collaboration, such as mutual program promotion, resource sharing, reciprocal lending etc. (Amann & Carnesi, 2012). Even if it doesn’t, the school library, the public library, and most importantly the young people being encouraged to read all benefit. This alone makes it worth pursuing.

While these are clearly not entirely new ideas, given Wilson’s reference to it in 1983, it still has plenty of merit and should be explored, or expanded upon, by any public library looking for more ways to enhance outreach to young adults.

Works Cited

Amann, J., & Carnesi, S. (2012). C Is for Cooperation. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 10(3), 9-13.
Baur, J., & Lee, J. (2012). Talking Comics. Young Adult Library Services, 10(4), 17-21.
Chance, R., & Lesesne, T. (2012, June). Rethinking Reading Promotion. Teacher Librarian, 39(5), 26-28.
Wilson, E. (1983). Reference needs of children and young adults in public libraries. The Reference Librarian(7-8), 151-156.

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