How To

10 Ways to Build a Community of Readers in Your Library

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You know that feeling when you’ve just finished a book that was so good, the kind of good that had you staying up half (all?) of the night reading, and now you just have to tell someone about it? I get that feeling all the time. As a Book Riot reader, I’m sure you do too. Most recently, I experienced this after finishing Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. For me, racing to finish a good book feels like bubbles of excitement fizzing to the surface. As I reach the final pages, the bubbles overflow, and my mind floods with scenes from the story. I’m bursting with the news about how much I loved the book. I have thoughts about the characters and theories on their motivations. Who do I turn to? Why my community of readers, of course.

My favorite thing to do as both a reader and a library staff member is share my joy in reading with others. Libraries are community spaces, and they serve as the perfect hub to build and celebrate a community of readers. A community of readers takes the joy you’ve experienced in reading a good book and increases it a hundredfold as you’re given the opportunity to share about the book. According to the National Literacy Trust (2006), “…children and young people who choose to read in their leisure time see themselves as members of a reading community that interacts socially around books and shares a love of reading with at least one family member (Strommen & Mates, 2004).” Interacting socially about books and feeling part of a reading community is an integral part in nurturing a joy in reading.

So, how can we as library staff members build a community of readers in our libraries? Below, I’ve compiled a list of steps I’ve picked up from my time spent working in libraries and visiting them as an enthusiastic patron. How do you support a community of readers in your library?

10 Ways to Build a Community of Readers in Your Library

1. Share What You’re Reading With Your Patrons

In their study on enjoyment of reading, Strommen & Mates (2004) discuss a number of variables that can promote joy in reading, including, “providing a model for children to emulate,” and “encouraging interest through conversations about the books family members read…” Reflecting back on my own experiences growing up as a reader, I see both of these factors as crucial. Seeing other people reading as a model and talking about books with others helped nurture my own enjoyment of reading.

In the library, you could share what you’re reading with your patrons through conversations and displays. A simple way I do this at the library I work at is by posting a “Currently Reading…” sign in my office window with a picture of the latest book(s) I’m in the middle of.

2. Make a Display Featuring What Patrons Are Reading

A reading community is collaborative and connected, so I love to hear from our patrons about what they’re reading too. In-person conversations can provide this outlet, as well as displays. For displays, you could take a look at circulation data to find the most circulated and popular titles in the collection, or send out surveys to patrons through platforms such as Google Forms.

3. Create a Staff Recommended Section

Whenever I visit another library or bookstore, I often find myself gravitating towards a staff recommended section. This is another great avenue to share about the books you’ve enjoyed reading. Staff recommended books don’t have to stay confined to one section either. Shelf-talkers, or signs sprinkled throughout the library in front of the books they’re recommending, are another great way to share staff suggestions.

4. Invite Patrons to Help Curate a Recommended Books Display or Special Collection

Along with staff recommended sections, you could also create patron recommended displays or special collections. If a patron tells you they enjoyed a particular book, you could ask them if they’d like it added to the patron recommended section. This could also be a great project for library volunteers.

5. Promote “Suggest-a-Purchase” To Patrons

If you don’t have a book a patron requested, direct them to a “Suggest-A-Purchase” feature on your library website. Whenever I visit another library and they don’t have a book I’m looking for, I really appreciate it when librarians mention this option to me. As a library staff member myself, I think it communicates to the patron the important message that we value their reading interests, and we take these ideas into consideration while developing our collection. This is just one more way we can help build a reading community that feels collaborative and supportive.

6. Host and Support Library Book Clubs

Book clubs are a delightful way to bring people together to talk about books and nurture a reading community. Since the beginning of COVID-19, I have jumped on the bandwagon and am now a part of two virtual book clubs with friends. Not only am I exposed to interesting and varied books I may not have chosen myself, but I love the opportunity to share my thoughts about the book when our club meets.

woman reading book while sitting on chair
Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

7. Offer Storytimes, In-Person or Virtually

Like book clubs, children’s storytimes create a community of readers as you shift reading from a solitary experience to a shared one. As a group, you and your patrons can enjoy and talk about the story together. To build their community of readers, Kansas City Public Library created a YouTube channel in 2020 to share virtual storytimes during the pandemic.

8. Invite Therapy Dogs in for Patrons to Read With

A library’s community of readers can include our furry friends too! Reading to therapy dogs is a wonderful service I’ve seen libraries offer, especially for children. It provides them with an opportunity to practice reading aloud to someone in a more relaxed and judgement-free environment.

9. City and Statewide Reading Programs

I love when I hear about city and statewide book clubs. These allow entire cities and states to feel like they’re a part of a reading community together. For examples, check out the Greensboro Public Library’s One City, One Book community read, as well as the North Carolina Humanities’ statewide book club, North Carolina Reads.

10. Social Reading Apps

Social reading apps, like Goodreads, are great avenues for building a virtual community of readers in the library as they provide a platform for librarians and patrons to share and review what they’re reading online. Ellis & Cook (2013) discuss a neat way to build a community of readers through the use of a single aggregated ebook reading app. This, they argue, could allow for a more social reading experience, which “combines the convenience of Kindle highlights with the discussion capability of Goodreads. Users are able to bring the conversation into the ebook they are reading.” Ideas like these have so much potential for building a more connected community of readers.

So, What Do You Think?

Feeling like I’m a part of a reading community helps my love of reading take root and grow. In what ways does your library build a reading community? If you’d like to dig further into community and social reading, check out these related topics below. Thanks for being a part of our Book Riot reading community, too!

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