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Library Book Jar: Book Recommendations on the Go!

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Having a Book Jar is not my original idea. I don’t know where I stole it from but I’m sure I took it from somewhere. If you’re a librarian reading this right now, then please accept my apologies.

I tried a Book Jar idea four years ago in the high school library that I manage here in London and it was a big hit. Then I completely forgot about it.

I’m going to try and remember to do a Book Jar every year before the summer break. The students love it and it helps to generate conversations about books, their reading habits and introduces them to new reads that they might not have heard of before.

The idea is simple. You take a jar and fill it with book recommendations on slips of paper. You can go one step further and make every genre a different colour of paper but that idea didn’t come to me until after I had already put it together.

Book JarWhat I did do was write the kind of book it was below the title. Things like Fantasy or even more specific like Has a tornado in it!

I then place the jar on my desk with a “punny” sign and wait for the shenanigans to start.

“What’s this?” one student said. I remained silent, waiting for them to read the sign and then pop open the jar.

“I don’t like these kinds of books,” she said, holding up the strip of paper.

“There’s lots more in there,” I said, “dig around.”

While doing this, one of her friends came over. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“You can go into this jar and it will tell you what book to read this summer,” she said to her friend.

Her friend looked at me, “Can I try?”

“Sure,” I said.

And that’s how we had a queue of students waiting to put their hands in a jar full of paper.

It created a huge result, in that I had discussions about books with students who normally come in, head down and seemingly not interested in engaging.

I make sure I have as many of the books mentioned in the Book Jar nearby so I don’t waste time running around the bookshelves looking for them.

It was a good reminder that sometimes the simplest answer is the best approach: Give them some titles and they will go seek them out.

It was a fun little experiment that really paid off. I’d love to hear from any other librarians who have tried a Book Jar!