There is much written about the decline of readership among young people, especially boys and most specifically, black boys. I won’t go into all the studies that pit this percentage against that percentage. It’s been done and frankly, it’s boring. We all know the issue, so what are we gonna do about it?
First, we have to change our approach. No matter how enticing you make your library or your programs, some kids just aren’t going to come. It requires effort on their end and expending that effort may come at a cost higher than they would like to pay. Books are free, but having to explain why you’re carrying around a book may cost you respect. In some neighborhoods, displaying interest in anything makes you stand out and standing out in any way can be very dangerous, socially and even physically. We have to make it easy and discreet, but above all we have to make it relevant.
One of the main complaints that reluctant readers spout is “Y’all don’t have anything I want to read”. We have to admit that a lot of times they are right. If you have gangs in your school you may not be catching too many fish with Harry Potter as bait. That isn’t to say that you should stop purchasing fantasy titles, but you may need to begin looking at the In the Margins booklist. They highlight titles that best appeal to incarcerated youth. This does not mean these titles have any less literary merit than other titles, just that they have a perspective that is often overlooked. Case in point, Buck by MK Asante. I did a booktalk to an all-male advisory class this week and they loved it. They wanted me to read more and at the end of the period it was checked out. Who says black and latino boys don’t read?
Guns, gangs, sex. I have books on them all, sometimes all three. Does it make you squeamish? Go live in the burbs then. I don’t mean to be harsh, but you have to serve the students you have not the students you wish you had.
Make it easy
I’ve become convinced that the trek up to my third floor library is too much for some and that’s okay because I have rolling carts. Just like Shawshank Redemption I go to where the people are. I collect titles that will appeal to a group and then I visit them and check-out on the spot. I set up in the cafeteria and do check-outs there. I waive fees and ignore overdue accounts (until Senior year). I make it easy to browse and I do it often enough that it doesn’t feel odd.
Make it discreet
Now this is something I haven’t perfected. Maybe a front office pick up/drop off in a brown paper bag. I’m not sure. Hey, I don’t have all that answers.