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Running a Book Club for teenagers: some thoughts

I’ve been in my current role as the Librarian at a Sixth Form College for over a term now, and for the last half term or so have
been running a Book Club for thirty minutes every Friday morning, one of two which the Library runs. It occurred to me just after I started the Book Club that there were, perhaps, some things that I hadn’t really adequately prepared for, and also that I know some colleagues struggled with. This being the case, I thought I’d write a quick blog about it, in case anyone else out there was thinking about starting one or has any pointers to help us improve.

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My first point is the question of communication – how do you gain feedback and responses from students? We initially had lots of students sign up at our Fresher’s Fair, but trying to get students to fill in a brief questionnaire via email about their preferences proved problematic. So this was the first hurdle. While some of the students who had signed up were known to staff, and we could therefore ask them in person, for new students it proved difficult to further engage them. This led on to another problem – when should we timetable the Clubs? Thanks to changes in the College this year, there is no time in which all students have free time, making it virtually impossible to find a time which will suit both students and staff. In the Library we run a shift timetable, so we also had to find a time when it was suitable for staff to be out of the Library. We finally settled on 9am on a Friday morning, as lessons don’t start until 9.30, but obviously the somewhat early nature of this meant that some students were reluctant to come.

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The second big issue was that of picking the book itself. Given our disappointing lack of response to the survey, we decided that the staff members responsible would pick the initial book. I picked Unwind by Neal Shusterman, which is the first in a trilogy; set in a dystopian future and focusing on the ability of adults to ‘unwind’ teenagers – letting their bodies be divided up into separate parts and used as transplants. My book proved popular, with all the copies quickly being taken out on loan. One of my colleagues picked a book recommended by one of the English teachers, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter which unfortunately proved less than popular. Personally, I’m of the opinion that this is because the students saw it as ‘academic’ and not recreational, unlike the teen fiction book that I chose. Another issue with choosing books is the number of copies – being a Sixth Form College Library we do not have massive amounts of space, and so it’s hard to justify ordering multiple copies of the same book. Our original theory was that we could hopefully rotate books around the different Clubs, thereby reducing the multiplication of copies, but that obviously hasn’t entirely worked. Yet another problem is that of enforcing attendance – all of the copies of my book are out on loan, and yet several of those students don’t attend the Book Club. Should they still be allowed to have the book? And, perhaps more importantly, should they be allowed priority access to the sequels, despite not attending? I’ve ordered less copies of the sequels, thereby not allowing for students who aren’t attending meetings, but hopefully this won’t result in ill-feelings towards me!

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My final concern with this matter is that of targets. So far my group and I have tried to come to a mutually agreeable target for reading a certain amount by the next week, which works in principle but not as well in practice. This then creates problems with students who have read further than others, and want to talk about certain developments but can’t due to this risk of spoilers for others. We’ve firmly agreed to avoid spoilers at all costs, but it does make the discussion more restrictive when some students aren’t meeting the agreed target. Is there some way I should be addressing this? I’m very aware that the Book Club is supposed to be fun, not work, and also that, as AS-Level students, they have large amounts of work to be doing anyway, which reduces their leisure time. It’s a delicate balancing act I think, and if anyone has any ideas then I’m all ears!

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My last main thought on running the Book Club is that it’s a great opportunity to encourage students to read for pleasure, and to build positive relationships between staff and pupils (something that’s very important when you work with teenagers and therefore spend large amounts of time telling them off). I really enjoy doing the Book Club, and I’m hoping that I’ll encourage even more students to come along and join. Let the reading revolution begin!

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The life of a College Librarian

So I’ve been working in my new job as the Librarian in a Sixth Form College for two months now and I feel like it’s time I blogged about it. This is partly in case there’s anyone out there who’s interested in what it’s like (forlorn hope), and partly just for me to catalogue my own experiences for future reference. I guess it’s kind of a ‘Day in the Life’ post really. So, anyway, I’ve just completed my MA at UCL, and this is first professional post. First things first, I really enjoy my job, and it’s nice to feel justified in having spent all that time and money getting my MA. Having said that, I still don’t feel like I’m being paid enough to have really got value for money from my MA which is a bit depressing.

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Nonetheless, my job is good and it’s great experience. One of the things I like most about working in a College is that because the
Library is fairly small (in comparison to University libraries for example), there’s more scope for a broad range of duties, which is brilliant for a new professional like me. My duties, to name but a few, include sole charge of the catalogue (including cataloguing from scratch, importing records, and amending/merging/cloning records and authorities), generating statistics on a monthly basis, student disciplinary meetings, acquisitions, information literacy, acting as departmental link and staff performance reviews. That’s a lot of experience for my future career, all from one post. Plus, a big positive for me is that when there’s such a variety of tasks to do it’s harder to get bored, and therefore easier to enjoy what I do.

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So, a typical day for me (if there is any such thing) consists of spending anywhere between three and six hours (depending on staffing levels) on either the Library desk, or supervising the computer room which is under Library control. Working on the desk and in the computer room is pretty standard Library stuff – issuing/returning books, dealing with behaviour, answering enquiries, selling stationary, fixing the printer, helping students work the IT software etc. Some of the duties are a bit more specialist to working in a College, such as proof-reading work, checking personal statements for UCAS, and it helps to have first-hand knowledge of teen fiction, but otherwise it’s fairly run of the mill stuff. The rest of my day can be spent in a variety of ways. I have sole charge of the catalogue so most days I do either some cataloguing from scratch (we have a lot of donations) or importing and amending records, as well as amending records that need it when I’m just browsing the catalogue. Similarly, most days I tend to have some sort of departmental duties. I’m the Departmental Library Liaison for the English, Film and Media and Social Sciences Departments, both of which are rather large. My work for them encompasses a huge range of things
including attending staff meetings, creating resources for sessions such as study help/reading lists/time management, acquisitions, processing new books, researching new resources and delivering sessions to students. I really like this part of my job, as it allows me to reach outside of the Library and demonstrate our importance and relevance to both staff and students who may not otherwise realise this. Other things that I might do on a typical day will be to help students with assignments, run reports from the LMS to determine cataloguing and usage statistics, Imageand analyse stock levels/resources within my departmental areas. I didn’t really enjoy cataloguing that much during my MA, so I never thought I’d take a job that involved a lot of it. I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy it though, and by how possessive I feel about “my” catalogue now!

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Further to this, there are always opportunities for additional involvement in both the Library and the College, which helps to keep the job fresh and interesting. We are currently setting up some Book Clubs, one of which will be run by me, with the aim of encouraging recreational reading among the students. Additionally, I am hoping to go on a School Visit, to promote both the College and the Library to potential students, in the next few weeks. So that’s my job! To me, the best things about it are the interaction with students (although they drive me mad at times), the feeling of positively impacting on the lives of young people, and the variety of tasks I have to do. So become a College Librarian, that’s what I say!Image

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