Student Book Selection and Voting Activity

By Karyn Silverman

I read a number of articles in VOYA as preparation for this part of the assignment. The article I found most interesting was "Talking with Young Adults: A Focus Group Experience," by Leslie Lea Nord. The article described the author's experience working with focus groups of students from her area as part of a project for increasing library productivity. It was clear from this article (as well as some others I read) that students, given the opportunity, are the best, maybe the only, resource for revamping library services to young adults. I then turned to two books, More Books Appeal: Keep Young Teen in the Library and Sizzling Summer Reading Programs for Young Adults, for specific program ideas. The article and both books focused on public library usage, but the ideas are equally applicable for school libraries, especially those outlined in More Books Appeal.

I decided to create a middle school library program, because I believe that middle school is a sort of final stand for librarians. High schools frequently do not have required library periods, unless study hall is held in the library, and students have already chosen either to embrace or ignore the library by the time they reach ninth grade. Middle schoolers, on the other hand, are old enough to participate in more challenging and intensive programs, but library is generally still a required class for them. This means that librarians still have a chance to foster a love of reading and of the library in this age group. Students at this age are also still young enough that they respond particularly well to a reward system, and they have more time for reading than many older students, who have heavier work-loads and are more likely to have jobs or be strongly active in other activities.

The games in More Books Appeal are perfectly suited for seventh and eighth graders, but are often either too silly or too didactic for my tastes. Many of the best ideas were those that would work best as background programming; for instance, a silent reading period every week, or a reward system for students with the least number of overdue books in a semester or school year. Programs like these serve as quiet encouragement to keep students reading and also help keep the library functioning smoothly. But what is really necessary are events that will get students reading in the first place. For this, I would adapt ideas from the summer reading plans in Sizzling Summer Reading Programs. I particularly like the idea of page contracts (rather than number of books), so that slower readers will not be at a disadvantage. I would have students submit book suggestions by voting; a shelf of books (perhaps 25, a number low enough that each student could, in a single class period, read the back or jacket blurb of each book and cast their votes) covering a range of subjects and reading levels would be presented, and each student would vote on his or her level of interest for a given book. Using the trends indicated by this vote, a selection of books (number to be decided based upon the number of students, but perhaps around 100) would be placed in a highly visible location with a sign along the lines of "Everyone Else Is Reading These...," but preferably catchier. Students would also be free to choose books from any other source, but this shelf would allow reluctant readers an easy entry point. Each student would then sign a contract, on a monthly basis, outlining the number of pages they believe they can read. There would be certain guidelines; not less than 20 pages per week, perhaps, to ensure that every student would read at least a few books in the course of the year. The library would also have a very relaxed policy regarding renewal of books, so that slower readers could take as much time as needed.

Students who surpassed their contracted number would be asked to increase the number for the next contract, and a steady rise would be rewarded. Merely fulfilling the number contracted would also earn a reward. These would be simple, inexpensive, rewards; perhaps a monthly party with pizza and soda for those who finished the contracted number, and some additional incentive for those who surpassed it (such as a badge or bookmark, or their names posted on a list in the library). However, the librarian and teachers would need to check the projected numbers for accuracy; a student who reads avidly but contracts for only 50 pages and then reads 200 should not be rewarded for that. I think the requirement to increase to a more accurate number in their next contract would avoid anyone taking consistent advantage of the system. No one would be punished or reprimanded for failing to meet their number, but efforts would be made to help students choose a manageable amount of reading and to find books they might complete more easily. There would be an educational component; a very basic reading report to be filled out for each book read (a reading log, in essence), which students would keep and show the librarian along with their contracts as each month ended. The log could be as simple as title, author, and number of pages, but students would be encouraged to make it more of a reading journal, with thoughts and commentary, and perceived similarities or differences from other books the student has read. The librarian would glance at these, but not actually read them, so that students could be as personal as they chose. I would even bring in mine from fourth grade as an example, and perhaps a few entries from my current log, both verbose and simple, to encourage them to maintain the logs throughout the summer and beyond and to demonstrate the kind of reactions a reader might want to record.

For more active readers-or more competitive students, who will participate in any competition for the right prize-I would also implement a second level of reading contracts, with specific titles that were more challenging. This would be tailored to individual students (for instance, for a child in a remedial class, the challenging book would be simpler than that for one in a gifted class; for this the teachers would be asked for input and assistance, and all would be done with great discretion) and if possible would relate to classroom curriculum. For instance, if the eighth grade was studying the American Revolution, books for that month or semester's intensive competition that related to the time period would be selected. Fiction and nonfiction titles would be available, and students would be encouraged to find titles outside the list provided if they wished, although they would be required to check outside titles with the librarian to be certain the books fit the criteria. Prizes at this level would be based primarily on number of books read, and the prizes would be somewhat more impressive, to encourage greater participation; parents and local businesses would be asked for donations, as would publishers, who might be willing to donate books to give as prizes. This level of the competition would be voluntary, whereas the book contract and log would be a required part of class. The combination of these two programs would ensure that every student reads, even if they only contract for a small number of pages, and would allow students the freedom of choosing to extend their reading for additional rewards.

Throughout, students would be asked to give input on library selection. Books read by students but not in the school library would be listed on a piece of posterboard in a prominent location, and students would be asked to make a mark beside a title on this list if they had read it as well. Popular books could then be purchased for the library collection, assuming the book meets other selection criteria. A volunteer group could also be assembled to aid this process; students with opinions on the library's collection would be asked to meet with the librarian in an informal setting to discuss books and book selection, so that titles that are less popular but have a strong case from one or two students could also be considered for purchase. Special attention would be given books that might not be considered YA (adult or genre titles), as this is an area where students are often more equipped than librarians to determine suitability. Also, if it seemed that many students purchase books themselves, a book exchange box could be implemented, where any student who wished could leave a book in the box and take another in its place.

The success of this program would be hard to judge perfectly. If even one student is reading more by the end of the school year, I would consider that a success, and the hope would be that far more than one student would have increased his or her reading. Also, the reading logs are a very important concept, and the possibility that some students would continue to keep them, even irregularly, would be another area of success that would be hard to quantify. Overall, my goal would be to keep kids reading, and this is something that is immeasurable and of the utmost importance.


  1. Donelson, Kenneth L., and Alleen Pace Nilsen. Literature for Today's Young Adults, Fifth Edition. New York: Longman, 1997.
  2. Gomberg, Karen C. More Books Appeal: Keep Young Teens in the Library. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1990.
  3. Kan, Katharine L. Sizzling Summer Reading Programs for Young Adults. Chicago: American Library Association, 1998.
  4. Nord, Leslie Lea. "Talking with young adults: a focus group experience." VOYA 21, no. 5 (1998):343-346.

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This page last updated May 10, 2001
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