Two recent Knowledge Quest blog posts have focused on book clubs. Steve Tetreault shared innovative “Digital Solutions to Book Club Issues,” while Ronda Hughes wrote about different types of book clubs and shared fresh ideas for book club activities in “Not Your Traditional Book Club.” These posts prompted me to reflect on the book club I have sponsored at my school for the past fifteen years.
Originally, my book club was comprised of about eight students, and we met once a month to discuss a book we all read. However, over the years the club has evolved as membership has grown (we have 23 members this year), and we have added activities. We still meet monthly to discuss books. Most months we all read the same title, but once a semester we have “book of choice,” which means each member reads a book he/she chooses, and students share what they’ve read during a “speed dating” activity (students switch tables and talk to a new partner every five minutes) at our monthly meeting. In order to provide copies of the books we read to our members, we’ve added fund-raising events. These events include an annual book fair at our local Barnes & Noble, occasionally working the school concession stand, selling boxed meals to teachers on parent-teacher conference nights, and participating in a local high school Battle of the Books competition.
Sponsoring book club is one of my most rewarding job responsibilities, which is why I would encourage any school librarian who does not sponsor a book club to start one. A book club is a win-win-win proposition — it’s a win for your students, a win for you as the school librarian, and a win for your library.
Benefits for Students
Obviously, starting a book club is something you do for the students. A book club benefits students by allowing them to turn their hobby of reading into a social event. My book club students enjoy sharing their opinions about literature, participating in sometimes spirited discussions about the titles we read, working together on our fund-raisers, and belonging to a group of passionate readers. I’m often pleasantly surprised by how much the book club means to students, especially the ones who participate in it throughout their entire high school careers. Every year, I receive at least one thank-you note from a student expressing gratitude for their book club experience.
Benefits for the School Librarian
The book club allows me to share my love of reading with students who appreciate it, while providing me a chance to build relationships with a small group. Over the years, many of my books club kids have asked me to write college recommendation letters, come to me with their problems, and regularly stopped by the school library just to chat. Some of them friend me on social media after they graduate. It’s almost like having my own class. Moreover, this is a group I can try new ideas and strategies on. For example, when I wanted to try a breakout box for the first time, I created one related to the book we were reading the month. The students loved it, convincing me it was worth investing my time in creating breakout boxes for other activities.
Benefits for the School Library
Book club kids become unofficial school library ambassadors. Because they enjoy reading, the book club, and the school library, they tell their friends and classmates about new books available for checkout and services offered by the library. Members also talk about book club in front of teachers and other staff members, which raises the visibility of the school library. Staff members often seek me out to talk about a title they’ve heard the book club is reading. Some of my teachers take part in our fund-raising activities because they support our goal of providing books for students. All of this is great PR for the library.
If you are reluctant to start a book club because your schedule is already overbooked, consider co-sponsoring with a teacher. Last year, a new language arts teacher in my building asked if he could help me with my book club. After sponsoring it on my own for so many years, it was hard for me to say yes, but I’m so glad I did! He’s great with the kids, and sharing the responsibility has lightened my load a little. But the best part is we’ve established a great professional relationship, and he’s become one of my most frequent collaborative partners.
Or, if someone else sponsors a book club at your school and isn’t interested in sharing that duty, sponsor another type of club. My co-librarian sponsors a successful community service club that’s a win-win-win proposition for many of the same reasons the book club is. (Several of our students belong to both the book club and the community service club.) The bottom line is that almost any extracurricular activity we as school librarians sponsor has the potential to benefit students, school librarians, and the school library.
Author: Margaret Sullivan
Margaret Sullivan is a librarian at Rockwood Summit High School and also serves as the Lead Librarian for the Rockwood School District. A past president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians, Margaret’s professional interests include advocacy, teacher collaboration, professional development, equity, and YA literature. You can connect with her on Twitter @mm_sullivan.