Getting Personal with Books

How do we encourage teens to come back to reading for fun? For my high school library, getting personal with books has made all the difference. Part of the answer lies in knowing your specific patrons and collection and matching students to books that might draw them in. Another part of the answer lies in choosing programs and promotions that might engage your teen readers.

Research from Common Sense Media shows that as students grow through adolescence they spend less time reading for fun. Common Sense Media’s study “Children, Teens, and Reading” found that the number of students who read for enjoyment decreases “from 53% of 9-year-olds to 19% of 17-year-olds.” As a librarian, how can I promote independent reading in a way that will keep kids with a book on their nightstand? How can I share my love of books with students when I don’t see them on a scheduled basis? My answer to this has been instituting a personal book shopping program at my high school.

If you ask a teacher in any grade level or content area what one of the largest barriers they face is, they will invariably tell you it is time. Time to teach, time to plan, and time to collaborate with colleagues. As I started conversations with students, I found they were facing many of the same challenges with time. Many of the students I speak with say they would love to come to the library to check out books, they just simply do not have the time to do it. Many of our students choose academically rigorous days and have no lunch periods, free periods, or study halls. A large majority of our students also participate in school activities like clubs, honor societies, and sports. These conversations were a lightbulb moment for me, and I began to brainstorm ways that I could get quality books to students in a quick and easy way. I needed to find something that was flexible, manageable for a high school of over 2,000 students, and cost effective. As I searched through library blogs and websites I came across the idea of personal shopping for books. I tailored multiple ideas together to fit my needs and created our program, which I launched this September.

Personal book shopping is a school-wide library program where I hand-pick 4 books for each participating student based on their answers to a few short questions. I ask students to list the last book they read, the last book they liked, and their favorite movies, video games, or outside-of-school hobbies. Students can fill out a paper copy of the form at the circulation desk, or they can fill out a Google form from our school LRC webpage. Students have used both forms; however, more students have used the digital form, which they can access from anywhere at any time. After I learn about the students’ interests it usually takes about 5 minutes per student to choose the books I want to recommend to them. To choose the books I rely on my own knowledge of YA literature to start. I am constantly reading titles that we offer to students so that I can book talk and match students with books on the fly. If I get stuck on a student my first go-to is our library catalog for a topic search or to has an extensive free database of books that can be searched easily, and the “readers also enjoyed” section on each book’s page offers great suggestions of books for students to read next.

I then stack the books together, tie them with string, and attach a tag that has the student’s name on it. I do reuse the string and tags to save on a consumable cost. I have two designated bookshelves that I put the books on for students to pick up from. I send an e-mail to students when their book recommendations are ready; they can then stop by to browse the selections at their convenience. Shoppers have about a week to pick up their selections. I do send email reminders before I reshelf anything.

By choosing books specifically for students I eliminate a significant amount of the time commitment previously needed to check out materials in the library. In the past, students would spend at least 10-15 minutes browsing around the stacks, not sure what to choose. For students who are not avid readers, more times than not the amount of choices became overwhelming. I have always felt like a large responsibility of my job is to be knowledgeable about the books that I have to offer students. One of the best parts of my job is knowing my collection and being able to recommend books to students that I think they would enjoy. Having a personal book shopping program allows me to share my knowledge with students on a time table that works for us both.

I have seen overwhelming success with the program among my teens, and our circulation has also improved tremendously. Last school year in the first month of school we had approximately 1,287 books checked out in the first month of school. This year we have seen a significant increase to 1,963 books checked out in the first month of school. I attribute the 66% increase to the success of the personal shopping program. This is the only new initiative I began this year, and our school enrollment has stayed consistent from the previous year.

As librarians we all want our students to find the joy and wonderment that we find in reading books that we connect with. If we can play matchmaker between our students and the books we know and love, the benefits are boundless. All it takes is that first book in a series, or by a specific author, to spark a fire in a reader and they are off and running on their own. This personal book shopping adventure has been my attempt to ignite some reading bonfires and it seems to be gaining momentum. As S.I. Haykawa said “It is not true we have only one life to love, if we can read, we can live as many lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.” Truer words could not be spoken on motivating students to read for fun and experience adventures through books abound.

Work Cited

Common Sense Media. 12 May 2014. “Children, Teens, and Reading.” Accessed 4 Oct. 2017.


Author: Elizabeth Libberton

Elizabeth Libberton is the library media specialist at St. Charles East High School in St. Charles Illinois. She currently writes book reviews for School Library Journal. She is a member of the ALA Awards Selection Committee. Also, she is a member of the steering committee for the AISLE Lincoln Book Award.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

6 replies

  1. I love this idea! I too am a high school librarian, and your personal book shopping program has given me ideas of collaboration with teachers (particularly English). I could replicate your steps and processes with my students (especially now that we are a 1:1 school). Thanks for sharing.

  2. What a great idea! I think I might give this a try to encourage Winter Break reading.


  3. This is such an awesome idea! The presentation is really attractive and I can only imagine how much your students appreciate the personalized touch!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Definitely going to try it and see how it works!

  5. Such a great idea! Thank you for sharing.

  6. have done something like this with specific LA classes and the students loved it. But it was time consuming. I like the shorter form and the online option, the mail notification, the dedicated shelves for the book bundles, and even the string! A great project to start in January!

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