I started the school year with a vision and goal for doing more to build our community of readers. At the LLA Conference last spring, there were two sessions that really inspired me — a session from my friend Elizabeth Kahn about her library’s book clubs and a panel I facilitated that included students and librarians that are active in the Louisiana Teenage Library Association. This had me fired up to start something.
The start of this school year has been particularly challenging for me. This year brought on schedule changes that have me really struggling with library expectations and maintaining consistency in our library space. I’m spending a lot of time in a purely supervisory role during large amounts of free time for our students, and it is extremely draining. Coming to terms with this added stress took away quite a bit of my enthusiasm and slowed down my momentum in kicking off student book clubs.
In early September, I was finally ready to get things started with three different grade-level groupings for book clubs: 6th & 7th, 8th & 9th, and 10th – 12th. I made announcements, posted flyers, and sent out surveys and email reminders. I wanted to spend time asking the students what THEY wanted from THEIR book club, and I had some fun Lit Chat cards to have some “get to know you” conversations. For the first group’s meeting, seven students showed up, the next group had four, the final group had two. These meetings are at a time during the school day when nearly all students are available. Frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of turn out.
Both leading up to and immediately following the book club meetings, I asked quite a few of my students about coming (or why they didn’t come) to book club. The number of times I heard, “I’m not really a reader,” shocked me. Especially coming from kids that I know are readers — or that were literally checking out a book at that very moment. With those conversations, I started coming to the realization that our student body as a whole has some negative feelings towards reading or being considered a reader. The fact that I am at the beginning of my fourth year at this school and just now having this mind-blowing realization is embarrassing and has me feeling ashamed. How did I miss this?
In my previous school, my circulation numbers were astronomical. I know that was a different school, different enrollment size, different grade levels, and different demographics. Those results were also something that was built over time. I’ve done some good things at my current school and made what I thought was positive progress. I started off with weeding and genrefying the fiction collection, then continued on to complete the massive weeding of the outdated nonfiction collection. The circulation numbers here have never been high, but my teachers have quality collections in their classrooms and many of my students prefer to purchase their own books instead of checking out from the library. This is how I rationalized the low circulation numbers. With middle school, I brought over the same Battle of the Books program that I created for my previous school. I’ve been extremely proud of the student involvement in the program these past few years, although this year has taken a bit more pushing to get teams filled up for the kick-off. All of that to say that I’ve done things. I’ve made progress and had some success. I’m trying to remind myself of that as I’m feeling disappointed, frustrated, and inadequate.
Right now, I feel stuck. I’m a do-er, a planner, a person who likes to have ideas and put them into action. The fact that this particular conundrum comes at a time when I also have a lot of feelings and roadblocks from some other semi-related situations is keeping me stuck, feeling like I’m spinning my wheels. I’m hoping that a series of thoughtful conversations and brainstorming sessions can get me moving on a path forward. I know myself and my patterns, and I need to be busy, feel needed and relevant, and be making progress on specific goals/projects to feel solid in my work. These things have been lacking for me for a while now, and I have to find a way to turn it around.
Have you turned around the reading culture and views on reading in your school? I’m especially looking for ideas that have worked in very high performing high schools.