Relationships and Book Clubs

One of the new things I tried this past year was a book club for faculty and staff. Like many of the successful programs in my library, it was suggested by a coworker, and I only had to be brave enough to say “let’s do it!” However, I had two caveats for this undertaking: we would only use YA materials and each meeting would have a theme. At my school most teachers were familiar with professional development books, but not as many were comfortable with YA materials. I felt that faculty and staff who read books popular with our kids would have one more tool in their arsenal to forge positive and helpful relationships with their students. (It turns out this was 100% true.) I wanted to have a theme to make it easier for the readers to connect…and easier for me to choose book options.

I started with a “Book Tasting” based around the theme of Empathy. With the help of Canva and more creative colleagues, I sent an invitation to every adult on campus to come and sample books during their lunchtimes. I provided cookies as a bribe, because who doesn’t love free food? Afterwards, I followed up with a Google survey for participants to vote on the title for our first meeting, and they chose The Hate You Give. (This was the only time I held a book tasting. Subsequent book titles were chosen by survey with book descriptions revolving around various themes such as diversity, mental health, etc.)

With the support of the Director of Learning and Instruction (and her budget), I was able to provide the title to everyone who wanted to join the book club. I sent out periodic timelines, and we met after the deadline to finish the book. Our discussions were thought provoking, eye opening, and meaningful. I could see the participants making connections with society, each other, and perhaps most importantly, with our students. Largely being a predominately white prep school, The Hate You Give gave an understanding of possible experiences and sentiments of our minority students that many had not considered before. However, the most exciting thing to me, especially if this was one of the first or few times a person had read YA, was the dawning that they could learn something from a “kids book!” They saw value in Young Adult fiction. Not only for the kids who read it, but also for them. They could see the importance and positivity for our students to be able to see themselves in a book or learn about people different from them.

There was one thing that got me, however, above all the other positive outcomes of our Faculty and Staff book club. This one thing has ensured that I will keep the book club in my ever-increasing, hectic, sometimes overwhelming, schedule. That one thing began with a conversation. A faculty member told me that a rather quiet, somewhat withdrawn student approached their desk where The Hate You Give was sitting. The girl initiated a conversation that, admittedly, began with surprise that their teacher had read this book, a book that was one of her very favorites. She was impressed and felt that her teacher was clearly taking an interest in the students by reading “their” books. This sparked a year-long discussion of books, shared book recommendations, and made it easier for the teacher and student to connect. (Not surprisingly, that student did much better in class after making this connection!) I am grateful the teacher chose to share this with me, and so happy that I was able to make a difference with her relationships with her students.

Don’t get me wrong, not every book we read last year had such a heart warming result. I learned quite a bit about scheduling, location, cookies vs brownies, frequency of emails, and how many books is too many book options. As I sit here with my summer brain and contemplate the upcoming year with the false sense of always having enough time (ha!), I realize that changing the relationships for even only one person is worth it.

Let me know if you want more information about the Book Tasting or book club procedures. If you’d like to follow our fun in the library on Twitter, check out the hashtags #TPSlibrary and #TPSreads.