16th October 2017

How should librarians engage with young readers?

Nahide Arabadji and Paula Högström, from Det Fria Ordets Hus, in Växjö, Sweden, interviewed 95 students at age 16-18 to understand their opinions on reading, freedom of speech and self-expression. As part of the Engage! project, the youngsters also took part in workshops and a reading group after school, where they read and discussed specific books each week.

After doing the interviews they gathered the frequently answered opinions. What did the youngsters need in order to read more, and what were their own thoughts about the matter? These results will be presented to the Seminar “Hey, you reading inspirer” next May, in front of a diverse group of European librarians: 

  1. Most students feel they don´t know their librarian and would like to know her/him better. Librarians should, therefore, aim at building personal relationships with them.
  2. They think there should be better information towards the young audience about what’s happening in the library and why.
  3. They suggest more personalized book tips. “If they knew what I like and gave me tips, I’d probably read more.”
  4. They defend that reading is not something you only do through books. Short stories accessible in mobile phones would be preferred by many youngsters.

When talking to the students about reading, most of those who didn’t read much blamed it on the lack of time. For them, reading is not interesting enough. Every student has to read a mandatory book in class, and they stated that it was more than enough. Some of them also said that the big offer of books in libraries is misleading and makes it difficult to choose a good book. Both the ones who read and the ones who don’t thought it would be good to create an area in the library where you could sit and just “hang out” or talk to each other. For them, thus, it is essential to create a meeting place where they feel comfortable.

The figure of the school librarian appeared as indispensable. They wished a librarian that shared the space with them and who was up to date with what types of book each specific age rank can be interested in. Many students showed interest for books written by “influencers and YouTubers”, as well as books recommended by influencers, so librarians should be aware of these tendencies and help the students find what they are most appealed by.

There is a relevant constraint that should be noticed: often there’s only one librarian for more than a thousand students at a school, so there is too much to handle in such a short time. One solution would be to cooperate with the teachers, for example, when picking the mandatory books to read in class. The librarian could create a selection for both the teacher and the students to make the choice easier.