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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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