Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Summer Reading; or, It’s Not About the Books

Today, I held my first-ever Summer Reading Book Fair. Also, Seth Godin said something about libraries. At the beginning of the day, I did not think these two events would be related, but I wouldn’t be true to my English major roots if I wasn’t able to draw connections between seemingly unrelated events.

I announced the Summer Reading list during a all-school assembly last Friday (and this year the video played with sound, which was exciting) :

You can see my entire Summer Reading webpage here: Summer Reading 2011
(Have I ever mentioned that Summer Reading is one of my favorite parts of my job? If not, I’m mentioning it now. If I have, I’m mentioning it again.)

This year I’m working with our local independent bookstore to help students order the books they want to read and have them before they go home for the summer. And so I organized a Summer Reading book fair where students could come check out the books on the list and get help deciding which books they might want to read.

Eighteen students showed up--and I know 18 doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me, it is. My school only has approximately 180 students, and about 50 of those are seniors. Which means about 14% of the students who will be participating in the Summer Reading program showed up (unless I’m doing the math wrong, which is possible, but I’m generally pretty good at percentages).

But more than the number of students who showed up, it was which students showed up. There were a lot of students there who not self-identify as avid readers--or even as readers. But they came and they wanted to know about the books. Some spent very little time, but several spent a long time--asking questions, debating between different books, and sometimes demanding I tell them which book they’d like better. One student came with his own personal short list of books he’d come up with after reviewing the list on the website. And students were talking with one another--recommending books and deciding on which books they both should read.

And this all got me thinking about Seth Godin’s post and Buffy Hamilton's amazing response to it and the bits and pieces of discussion I was able to follow on Twitter today.

The book fair was not a success because I had the books on display, or had computers set up for students to look up more info on the books, or because there was a Google form embedded on the page for me to gather feedback from students. It was a success because it brought people together in a particular time and space to talk about and get excited about books and reading.

If librarianship, in your mind, is about things (whether those things be books or computers or e-readers or the next shiny new toy), you’re doing it wrong. Librarianship is about people, and it’s about ideas, and it’s about bringing ideas and people together.

I admit to not having been as fully immersed as I am used to being (and would usually like to be) in the larger professional conversations that are happening lately; part of it is the time of year and the many projects I have going on, and part of it is that some of these discussions suck the energy right out of me, and I need all the energy I can hold on to in order to work on all these projects.

I know how important those larger conversations are, but they do often happen in an echo chamber where we argue about the trees while those outside are unaware of the forest (to brutally mix a metaphor). As Melissa Corey very eloquently pointed out, the changes we’re talking about need to be happening everywhere, not just in some libraries. But these changes do happen one library at a time. And right now I’m focusing on making those changes in my library.

I know that the teachers I work with have a different ideas about libraries and librarians after working with me. And I know the students I work with have different ideas about libraries and librarians after working with me. Everything I do is about changing expectations about what librarians can do and what libraries can be. And it’s not about the books, or the computers, or the physical space I work in. It’s about connections. It’s about people.


  1. I love your summer reading wiki and completely agree with you that libraries are about people!

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  3. YES! What a great response to all this #godinlib dialogue! I find it much like splitting hairs when we argue about ebooks, warehouses, Netflix, etc. You are exactly right - it's about people, not stuff. And now back to my end-of-year projects as well . . .

  4. Thanks, Melissa and Mari! I think the reason libraries have survived for as long as they have is because they've focused on a mission, rather than the means of accomplishing that mission. Part of this, too, is connected to working with students with learning disabilities, and really trying to immerse myself in the ideals of Universal Design for Learning; if we focus too much on format, we lose sight of the actual goal. Once the school year is over I might try and turn some of my thinking on this issue into a full post.