How do you decide what to buy, watch, or read? How do you choose what to eat or where to travel? Do you rely on crowdsourced reviews on popular sites, or the streaming algorithm? Do you use specific reviews and lists or the trusted opinions of family, friends, or a favorite expert?
Or, do you take a risk and check out that book from the shelves because the cover and title appeal? Did the back-cover blurb snatches your attention? Would you walk around randomly and go into the nearest restaurant or buy a new cereal without checking your phone? How many of us like spontaneous discovery? We may tout it to our learners because there is something magical about relying on our intuition to result in a good outcome, that joy of random chance that works out.
But who are we kidding? Pleas, give me that review. I don’t want to be disappointed.
Summer Reading Lists
We are familiar with the “summer slide.” Unfortunately, it isn’t a fun waterpark ride. No, the slide means the knowledge that slides away from learners if they don’t maintain good academic habits for two or more months. School librarians champion “Summer Reading” as a way for students to retain and build background knowledge, vocabulary, and maybe even problem-solving skills by reading about dysfunctional characters or who-done-it thrillers. Or, we look for an emotional break, a mindful activity to get away from the turmoil, stress, and challenges of the latest headlines and last few years.
So, how do students decide what to read? We give them a curated list we designed, maybe from the local public library or another school librarian. But, as with any decision, social media and crowdsourced opinions exist. Perhaps these start with our authority but need to explore other options.
Just as we go to Yelp, Google, or Amazon for reviews, readers can go to sites like Goodreads with its starred and written reviews (or Amazon, which incidentally owns Goodreads). Other sites have different purposes – BookSloth for young adult lit, Bookstagram, The Storygraph for the mood reader – but they all rank and review books. Of course, there is also your school library catalog if you have had students write reviews and rate books. What better system of recommendations for students than their peers? If you haven’t had students rate or review books, this could be an excellent program for next year to bump up evaluation skills, persuasive writing, and critical thinking and improve your collection development decisions with student recommendations.
You may direct students to recommendations from the built-in algorithm of your school library catalog via the Similar Titles functionality or the You May Also Like. Most public library catalogs have this feature by subscribing to Novelist or having a built-in feature. Akin to our streaming service friends, these coded equations could provide titles for students who love a particular book, author, or genre.
Encourage them to go to the library in person or online
Suggest students go to the school library (if open) or their nearest public library branch to peruse the shelves and see what they find. This excursion offers a way out of the house and may lead them to discover their passion and identity. Or, if leaving the house is not feasible for whatever reason, eBook sites like Sora offer limitless possibilities. Here in New York City, we have a citywide digital library with hundreds of thousands of titles and various lists.
It all comes back to a list, doesn’t it?
Author: Leanne Ellis
I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.