I am responsible for managing both the juvenile and teen collections here at my library. I am more of a Children’s Librarian, both in title and at heart, so when faced with purchasing teen materials I feel less confident. I can look at circulation statistics, but I know from doing the pull list that a lot of the books are being circulated to patrons at other branches. That’s not the worst thing, but I want to buy stuff that the teens in my library want to read. So back in November, I started an experiment to make the teens and kids partners in my collection development process.
There are not many teens in my library, and most of them seem happier to browse without my assistance. (Which is fine, I was that kind of teen myself.) However, this doesn’t help me gauge what kind of books they are choosing. So I started a binder for them to give me their input. In my library system, the teen carts are made by a selection team. I print out the book cover and publisher description for each of the titles in the teen fiction cart and stuck them in a binder. I put a note on the front of the binder inviting teens to look through, making a star or check mark on any book that they would like me to purchase.
And they started to give me feedback. There still aren’t that many teens participating, but I have been spending most of my teen fiction budget on books they select. (Obviously I decide to buy certain books even if no one chose them.) The teens have not limited themselves to stars and check marks. They have taken to writing comments on different books like “looks lame” or “no more walking dead zombie stuff” or “YES PLZ BUY THIS.” All of which is helpful. They have also written notes on the Suggestions page I added to the back of the binder.
I have also started a binder for my juvenile fiction/series carts. This has seen way more usage than the teen binder, because I have so many more kids of that age in my library. (Also, I put this binder on a table right near my desk, so I can prompt kids to look through it. The teen binder is not so close to me, so I don’t have as many opportunities to promote it.) I realize that a lot of the kids are flipping through, checking off books based only on the covers. But that is useful info! It is often how they decide what to take home.
I noticed kids were checking off titles of books in a series which we have, but don’t circulate that well. So I started adding a big, colorful note “We have other books in this series!” to those pages and now kids are asking for them.
I haven’t tried this out with the picture books, although a few parents have asked. Nor have I tried it with the non-fiction, because I feel that is a more delicate collection development process. I have printed some of the non-fiction books out and stuck them in the fiction binder, however. I did this with a group of world-records type books when there were multiple different books from a series in the cart, and I decided would buy only one. But should I buy the one with world’s grossest animals or the most extreme animal defenses? Let the kids decide.
I started these binders thinking it would help me choose which books to buy and help kids feel like their opinion matters. It has had unexpected other benefits as well. It has provided an opportunity to talk to them about how the library works – and how much effort goes into putting each book on the shelf. I get to explain to them that I choose the books, then they are purchased, then shipped to us, go through processing downtown, and then are shipped out to the branch. After they asked, I explained to a group of middle schoolers about having a budget and how I decide how much to spend on what. Another bonus has been that they are much more forthcoming in requesting books now that they understand I am the one making purchases, and that I am willing to buy what they want.
I would love to report whether or not there is a difference in circulation statistics for the books kids/teens have chosen. Unfortunately, when I first started this project, I didn’t do a good job of keeping all of the data. More recently, I have been keeping track of which books are kid/teen choices and I hope to look back in a couple of months and see how the circulation compares.
Even if the circulation numbers aren’t dramatic, I think the binders are totally worth the effort. The kids and teens really enjoy it, and I love the way it has brought them into the process. It reinforces that the library, at least the children’s room and teen space, is FOR them and that I want and respect their input – on books, on the computers, on the rules, on everything.