Using One Librarian’s Tricks to Get Kids Reading
Reading and the deep concentration it demands faces stiff competition for attention with screens of all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, this means reading for pleasure keeps getting pushed to the margins of life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of minutes Americans read for pleasure has dipped from 22.8 daily in 2005 to 16.2 in 2019.
Yet, a recent survey by the NOP World Culture Score Index finds that just 6 extra minutes of reading a day can turn a struggling reader into a proficient one and those who read for 15 minutes daily are five times more likely to graduate from high school than those who do not. Although research remains ongoing on this topic, evidence suggests that the so-called “summer slide” of reading skills does in fact exist and only gets worse as kids get older and their lives get filled with more activities.
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Like most other institutions, public libraries have worked hard during the COVID-19 crisis to keep providing services to their communities within safety limits. For example, many libraries are offering their summer reading programs online this year. As a parent or caregiver, how do you corral your reluctant reader to focus on a book? Take a page out of your librarian’s book and conduct a reader’s advisory (RA) interview.
Reader’s Advisory refers to a set of techniques librarians use to achieve that ideal of finding the right book for the right person at the right time. Successful RA follows four basic principles:
1. Ask open-ended questions — i.e., ones that do not allow the respondent to fall back on a simple yes or no. ‘Do you like mysteries?’ will not lead you in a direction. ‘Do you like mysteries where the main character is a cop or private eye?’ lends itself to a second and third question that helps narrows down your focus.
2. Engage in active listening skills. Librarians use active listening skills because they often don’t know the patron needing help. As a parent or caregiver, you should engage in active listening because you know your child. Tastes change fast at this age, so don’t assume you know what’s captured their attention at that moment.
3. Paraphrase what they’ve said back to you. This ensures that you have reached an understanding on what they’ve told you they want.
4. Work to ensure that your questions are neutral. A librarian’s goal is to find the patron a book they want to read, not to judge their reading tastes. We achieve this goal by working to keep our personal biases out of the conversation — a task that might prove difficult for a parent or caregiver. As hard as it might seem, remember that reading for pleasure only works when children and teens have the agency to choose materials for themselves. If, in this process, they pick something that surprises or unsettles you, using it as a starting point for a conversation could make this process an enlightening one for both of you.
Now that you have a general idea of the process, how does it work in real life?
Play detective: The brilliant thing about books is that their diversity gives you plenty of entry points for every topic, so ask your kid what they are into right now and really dig deep. What are they watching/streaming on TV or social media? What video games are they playing and why do they like them? Do they have a favorite sports team or player? What music are they into?. Regina Renee Ward, Manager of Reference and Reader’s Advisory Services at Pueblo Library in Pueblo, Colorado, and Co-Chair of the Reader’s Advisory Group in the Colorado Library Association suggests starting with ‘What is your favorite book ever?’ Once they give you a title, ask them ‘what did you like about it?’ The answers to these questions can give you a lot to go on. Did the plot or the characters hook them in? What matters here is to start having a conversation.
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Lean into where they lead: For example, right now, kids are missing big milestones: prom, graduation, summer camp, or summer jobs — books about these topics can help fill those voids and give kids who are connecting with their friends online something to talk about. Embrace whatever they give you. Also, don’t focus on format. Graphic novels, manga, and audiobooks are amazing gateways into reading so embrace these formats as well.
Embrace social media because many other readers have. Passionate readers love recommending books. If you head to Google, YouTube, or Instagram, you can find posts about all genres with suggestions for readers of all ages. Sites like LibraryThing, What Should I Read Next or BookRiot can provide you with plenty of options. Many public librarians have a Goodreads or LibraryThing account to offer you their suggestions or you can use one of the many lists the American Library Association has created.
Depending on where you live, libraries are in various states of re-opening, some offering curbside service that will let you check out a book from their physical collections. Each state is different and the rules will likely change throughout the summer, but all libraries still have digital services available, so take a look at Overdrive, Hoopla, Kanopy and other online platforms for free digital content available to you using your library card
During this uniquely challenging summer families have many responsibilities and worries on their plates — books, have the power to calm and center our troubled psyches and provide us with some much-needed escape By borrowing reader’s advisory skills from the librarian’s toolkit, you can help reluctant young readers find their next favorite book and help beat the dreaded summer slide as well.