Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Magic Words: Getting Into the Schools for Booktalks

Image Credit: cleverclaire1983
I've been trying to get into our local schools for booktalking since I started my job five years ago.

And this year, I've hit upon the magic words to make it happen.

I LOVE booktalking. It was something I got to do on a regular basis at my previous library in Illinois; we had several regular programs set up with some of the schools up there. When I moved to my current library, I was eager to set up booktalking programs, but the marketing I was trying just didn't seem to work. No one seemed to be interested. What was up with that?!

Two things I learned helped us get started:

1. Teachers are super busy. My State Library Youth Services Coordinator, the awesome Suzanne Walker, suggested advertising "booktalking in as little as 15 minutes". That's what helped us get into the first school. One fourth grade teacher said, "I can spare 15 minutes of my language arts time for booktalks."

2. The word "booktalk" is jargon. Not everyone knows what it means. I kept shouting at everybody about doing booktalks, and it turns out they had no idea what I was talking about. Once I started adding a brief explanation (booktalks are brief previews of books, like movie theater trailers, designed to get kids interested and excited to pick up the books), interest shot WAY UP.

Knowing these things helped me get us into our first school. Last year, we visited the fourth grade classes at one of our local schools once a month. We spent 15 minutes in each classroom and found that we could comfortably booktalk 5 books in that amount of time.

It turns out that getting into one school and figuring out the nuts and bolts of how this type of program could work was the best thing to do.

This year, I approached principals about talking at a faculty meeting to tell teachers about the services we offer for teachers. I was able to give them some concrete examples of how booktalking programs can work. I made sure to take down email addresses of anyone interested in having us set up booktalks. I know teachers have a ton of things on their plate, so I took responsibility for getting the ball rolling.

And things snowballed from there!

Last year, we saw one grade at one school each month. This year, I have fifteen grades at six different schools on our schedule (so far!).

Guess what? Teachers talk! If you bring them something they like, they will tell other teachers! Some of these new groups are folks I have approached at faculty meetings, but we had several who came to us because they had heard about what we were doing.

And we're ready to handle them. I've been laying the groundwork for this by establishing our Reading Wildly staff readers' advisory program. Each month, my staff members have been sharing booktalks with each other, so they already have an arsenal to choose from. To start with, I'm scheduling booktalks in pairs. As everyone gets more booktalking experience, we may be able to break up the teams and schedule individuals instead of pairs.

(Although... being able to send staff in pairs is really nice. Not only does it cut down on the amount of prep each person has to do, it gives kids and teachers two different styles of booktalkers. It's also easier to get a balance of different types of books when two people who potentially gravitate towards different genres present together.)

I also shared with my staff some booktalking best practices. Read the book you're going to booktalk. The best booktalks are books you truly enjoy and are excited to share with kids. Even if a book's not your personal favorite, if you can get excited thinking about the kind of kid who would like this book, it's a good choice. And bringing balanced selections - including nonfiction, graphic novels, and diverse titles - is a must. We're seeing so many different kids and we want to make sure that every kid is seeing something they like at some point.

I encourage my staff to leave a minute or two at the end of their visit to get feedback from the kids and find out what books THEY recommend so we can get an idea of their tastes and better tailor our booktalks.

As I'm scheduling groups, I'm trying to say YES as much as possible. It's most important to me to start fostering a better relationship with our schools and teachers. We'll figure out details as we go along. I recommend booktalks for grades 2 and up, but if teachers of younger grades want us to come and do something, we'll brainstorm some program ideas. It sounded overwhelming to booktalk to the entire 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades at one middle school, but we're making it work.

And what I've found is that as we divide up groups between staff members and as we all start planning, things are coming together. So far, scheduling has been the hardest part (and that's maybe because we just switched to a new software and I'm terrified something's going to fall through the cracks).

And thus begins our journey into the schools. May it be long and positive for all parties!