Tag Archives: librarianship

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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To diss or not to diss…that is the LIS question.

The discussion I participated in on #uklibchat on Twitter last week (1st October – agenda here) got me thinking, not only about the value of the MA LIS in general (some of my thoughts on the course at UCL can be found below), but on the value of the dissertation. One of the questions explored whether it is relevant to employers whether graduates have an MA, MSc or PG-Dip and it got me thinking how important the dissertation really is. I completed the dissertation at UCL and therefore will (hopefully) be gaining the MA. To me the decision was easy – the dissertation is of value, in my opinion, not only to employers, but also to the student in question. What I mean by this is not that I think most employers will discount graduates who have a PG Dip as opposed to an MA, but rather that having the MA can help to increase your chances. One of my fellow students only completed the PG Dip and she now holds a professional post, so it clearly didn’t harm her career prospects. Nonetheless, I stick by my assertion that completing the dissertation is the better route.

My reasons for this belief that the dissertation should be an integral part of the qualification are this:

1.      Completing the dissertation shows dedication to a project, as well as relevant skills such as time management, working on your own initiative, and a variety of research skills which, in our profession, are highly relevant. I know that many of these skills can be developed through the assignments during the course, but the dissertation proves that students can go the extra mile.

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2.      Undertaking the dissertation shows a dedication, enthusiasm and interest in a particular area or topic which can be highly relevant to your future career. Not only does it benefit the student by allowing them to explore a topic they are extremely interested in, but it can also help students, in the choosing of such a topic, to clarify for themselves in which area of LIS they are interested. The value of this cannot be under-rated on courses which are generally broad reaching. Furthermore, I think that if the topic chosen really is of interest to the student, then the dissertation can actually be enjoyable. I’m not saying I enjoyed every minute of mine – it was stressful at times, very time-consuming and at times I resented doing it, but ultimately I wouldn’t change my decision.

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3.      The dissertation could well (and I deliberately say “could”, not “will”) help you to land your first professional role. Applying for a job which you can show you are enthusiastic and passionate about, through a relevant dissertation topic, hugely increases your chances of success. I’m not saying that it’s always relevant, but, certainly in my case, I was appointed to my first professional post partly because the subject of my dissertation addressed the way in which the institution is hoping my role will develop. Similarly, one of my friends has just been appointed to a job based largely on the subject of her dissertation.

 

This is not to say that the dissertation is necessarily an essential part of the MA. I understand from the reactions on Twitter during #uklibchat that many people think the PG Dip is enough to gain a professional post, and if it worked for them then who am I to argue? However, I remain convinced, from the point of view of my personal career, that completing the dissertation was the right route to follow.

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