One of the most exciting annual events in my high school library is our March Book Madness Tournament. On Friday, March 13, after weeks spent composing this year’s bracket, I began circulating the room, giving book talks about the contenders. Dozens of students, even those who were not my regular readers, got involved with opinions and questions while I delivered my brief pitch for each book.
That was all cut short by the obvious. Book talks took a back seat as we struggled to adjust to this new distance learning. Supporting teachers and directors, compiling resource lists and instructions for databases, assisting students and teachers with their research. . .working remotely has taken on a life of its own. As I was sharing some casual book recommendations during my weekly Zoom meetings for the school literary magazine and book club, I was struck by how much I missed giving book talks; I also realized how many students were missing out on being exposed to new books. I decided it’s time to start making digital book talks to share with the staff and students.
Though I know that most librarians have the skills to create successful video book talks, I found it to be much more difficult than I expected. When I walk around my library delivering book talks I am at ease, with the words flowing out of me seamlessly. The students’ expressive faces and playful banter energize me. Not so with the video version. I used Screencastify, a simple platform that took a short time to figure out. The problem, I found, was in the execution. After two days, and about 200 takes (I wish that were an exaggeration but, sadly, it’s not!), I had one brief book talk for The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones.
To save you from some of the stress I experienced, here are a few tips I learned while making my digital book talk:
- Have a script: Write down a detailed narrative of what you would like to say. Even if you know the book well, you will forget any important points you want to convey when the camera starts rolling. You don’t have to read robotically from the script, but going over it several times before the recording begins will help keep you on track.
- Find a hook: It’s intuitive to start immediately speaking about the book, but unlike a person-to-person interaction, when your body language and animated words can hold students’ attention, a video can easily be ignored or turned off. Find some sort of interesting question, angle, or anecdote that will draw listeners in.
- Relax: The most challenging part of filming a video of yourself is appearing natural. I cringed each time I watched back the many versions of my talk. I seemed rigid, unnatural, and monotone. Even after two days of practicing, I still am not thrilled with the final product. Speaking as if you’re among real students helps to get you in an informal mind frame so you can express yourself in a more conversational tone.
- Edit: I resisted using the editing tools, which, on Screencastify is a simple scissors icon that allows you to clip parts of the video. I figured it would be easier to have one running video without having to touch it. But this forced me to make a ridiculous number of takes until one was finally acceptable to me. Instead of being a perfectionist, try to become familiar with the editing tools on whichever platform you’re using so that you can easily cut out a small section that is not to your liking.
As we continue to deliver book recommendations to our students and colleagues in the form of lists and book photos, we can connect in a more personal way with the addition of video book talks. While it’s not a replacement for being together in our libraries, it’s a way to animate our suggestions and remind everyone how excited we are to talk about books.
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.