Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hosting Teen Book Discussions

This post will explore how librarians can host teen book discussions. Anne of My Head Is Full of Books recently asked me how I go about my discussions, where I get the books, etc. so, I decided to write a post in response!

First, I briefly give my background. Then, I consider ways to get the program going. Then I share how I have conducted teen book discussions.

My experience is that of a public youth librarian. My educational background is an English major undergraduate and a Library and Information Science masters student with an emphasis on youth services. I host a teen program once a week and once a month the activity is a book discussion.

Book Acquisition. My library budgets for the books. We cut other things so the teen book discussion can happen. My strength is literature. It would be a waste not to use my ability. I am a part of a branch library system. We share our book discussion kits between the branches. Nearly all do a discussion each month. Each book set begins with 12-13 copies. We try to get paperbacks to keep costs down. We number the books, stick some library labels on them (no cataloging) and keep a spreadsheet to track internal circulation by youth personnel who use the set.

Other book acquisition ideas:
  • Request free or greatly discounted copies from the publishers. You’ve nothing to lose.
  • Fundraise. It is often easier to get money for the purchase of books than a money gift. Request a specific title which patrons/donors can donate to the set.
  • Thrift shop. Hit the Half Price Books Educator Appreciation week. Bargain hunt at Goodwill and By definition, library users share books. They won’t be offended if they are not brand new copies.
  • Supplement your book set with copies the library already owns for circulation.
  • Remember out-of-copyright classics are mostly free to access online.
  • Start small. Maybe you will only need to purchase 4 copies and use 2 the library already owns.
  • Get the program going and make your case for more funding!

Selecting Titles. As a public librarian, I DO NOT have a captive audience. So, I choose books they will enjoy! Think fun, popular. But use your librarian skills to find decently written fun books. Be wary of literature which teens might associate with homework. I mix it up now and then with a “challenging” book but don’t beat them over the head with them. Choose age appropriate titles. Do you expect young teens? Older teens? Will you allow 11 year olds to join? Will a 12th grader enjoy the books an 11 year old will? Just keep age in mind when selecting titles.

Advertising. As with any program, advertise! Make signs, posters, flyers. Mention the book club when giving book talks. Tell parents and teens, tell leaders of teen groups like Boys and Girls clubs. Contact homeschooling groups! Tell everyone!

Incentive. I offer pizza and off-brand Crystal Light to those who read the book and engage in discussion. Perhaps pizza isn’t an option...what is? Popcorn? A drawing for a free withdrawn book or a coupon for a free pretzel (perhaps provided by a local business?). How about a late fee forgiveness coupon? Are you a school librarian… is extra credit an option? Be creative! But don’t underestimate the power of good food with teenagers. =)

Check Out. Our discussion books are not cataloged so they do not “check out.” We take a name, grade and phone number. Returning is on the honor system. Those who don’t return books get a reminder call and a note in their library record regarding the missing book (though they are not charged) in hopes the teen will eventually return it. Most teens will bring the books back. Those who do not cannot participate in future discussions. I know of other libraries who actually give the books to the kids for keeps. That is generous but would not work with my library’s budget as the branches share the sets to get the most bang for our buck.    

Hosting discussion. Don’t worry. This is the fun part. I’ve had as few as one teen and as many as seven. Even with just one participant, I’ve had engaging discussions. We take one hour for discussion.

Prepare questions and activities. They can be simple activities and should be open ended questions. Take notes while reading about intriguing points. I like to check the publisher’s website for a discussion guide. I don’t always use their questions. But it’s a good starting point which gives me ideas. I poke around the author’s website and look up information about people, places or things discussed in the books.

Let book chatter continue largely uninterrupted. If it’s about the book we read, let ‘em talk! Start with easy questions: Did you like the book? Dislike it? As leader, play Devil’s advocate and don’t let any one teen feel they are being “picked on” for liking or disliking a character or book. Make sure your teens understand the setting -- time and place. Often this is missed by my young readers. Be prepared to fill in details like when a certain war took place or where a country is located. Then move into more philosophical questions.

For activities, we’ve done knot tying, drawing “vocabulary” words (great laughs) and compared international covers. We’ve played card games mentioned in one book and traced a character’s journey on the map from another story. We’ve listened to youtube videos of old radio broadcasts. Everything we do is low key. There’s no grade. No pressure. Just talk and try something new.

Discarding sets. When copies get ratty, we either replace the copy or weed the entire set (i.e. books go into the library sale). Sets which are in decent shape but are no longer being used by youth personnel may end up in our circulating book discussion sets for the public to check out.

How will you start your Teen Book Club? Maybe my library’s method won’t work for you. Maybe you can only host a discussion every other month or only in the summer. Advocate for the programming you want. Book groups are a lot of fun and certainly support literacy. It’s great to watch teens get excited about reading!

Do you have any tips on getting a book club started at a library? Do you have a great discussion activity? Leave a comment below!

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