Building out a library collection that teens will actually want to patronize is like stocking a bookstore. As the librarian, you’re the sole buyer and that means your decisions mean the difference between bare shelves (good thing: means people are checking things out) and busy doors or full shelves and a dusty walkway. After years of working in an inner city high school I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at picking and choosing what works and what doesn’t. So, I did a little video on some strategies that I think have worked for me and will work for you.

It’s important to pay attention to the reasons why kids stop reading. It’s not always because they can’t read or they struggle with reading. Many times it is because you just don’t have anything on your shelves that they would like to read. And if you’re in the inner city and you have kids dealing with drugs, teen pregnancy and crime you need to have books that deal with the same. People need to see themselves in the books they read. If that makes you squeamish then you’re in the wrong business. I love Sarah Dessen, but Sister Souljah is the queen of my check-out list with The Coldest Winter Ever being the most read book for five years straight.

So if you’ve just started to work in an urban high school, and when I say urban I mean Black and oftentimes Hispanic, as well, here are a few categories you’ll want to pay extra attention to:

  • Adult Biographies – Leave the baby books behind. They can tell when you think their too illiterate to comprehend the content. They also like juicy details.
  • Contemporary Fiction/High School Drama – Authors like Nikki Carter, Stephanie Perry Moore, Paul Lanagan (Bluford Series), Paula Chase
  • Black Studies – Essayists like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Michael Eric Dyson
  • Street Lit- Use a critical eye to make sure that it’s not too racy.
  • Self-Published Authors – These authors write people of color into the genres that don’t get a lot of attention on mainstream shelves. Try Zetta Elliott, Imani Josey, and Milton K. Davis
  • Manga – All kids like Manga

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