Who has time to read? With so many entertainment options and educational demands competing for time, reading for fun may not be high on a teenager’s list. But as the adage goes, kids need to “use it or lose it.” To become good readers who are prepared for the future, they should read often and widely.

So this Teen Read Week, turn your library into a place that gets teens excited about books!

Why Teens Need You
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reports that students who said they read for fun almost every day had higher average reading scores in 2004 than those who said that they never or hardly ever read for fun. But between 1984 and 2004, NAEP says the number of 17 year olds reporting they never or hardly ever read for fun rose from 9% to 19%, while the percentage who read daily dropped from 31% to 22%.

Junior high school and high school students who fall into this trend could face significant setbacks in later life. Even those who don’t plan to attend college will need strong vocabulary and comprehension skills. In fact, one school administrator consulting with Scholastic recently indicated that a mechanic’s manual requires better reading skills than a standard college text. And throughout adult life, they will likely need to decode complex information such as healthcare forms and insurance documents.

Get Ready with a Library Makeover
Take a cue from today’s makeover-loving kids and reinvent your library for Teen Read Week with these step-by-step tips:

1. Appeal to Consumer-Savvy Teens. The iTunes generation is used to getting exactly what they want when they want it. So as they say in the corporate world, you want to create a good “customer service experience.” Test out some of these library improvements for the week:

  • Extend your hours — Kids who work on weekends, have sports practice after school, and schedules to juggle may need the library to be open earlier, later, or simply more often.
  • Stock up on paperbacks — “Out of stock” is an instant turnoff. If you can, stretch your budget to get extra copies of favorite titles in paperback. If these bring more readers through the door, it might be worth the expense.
  • Recruit additional volunteers — The goal is to attract more kids who don’t use the library frequently, which means you’ll need more people on hand to answer new visitors’ questions. Reach out to parents as well as teens who are familiar with the library.
  • Ask for feedback — Set up an opinion box where teens can drop comments. To really draw teens in, start a Teen Advisory Group (TAG). TAG members can plan displays, suggest books to be purchased, and write a newsletter. See the ALA’s tips on setting up a TAG.

2. Put on a Fresh Web “Face.”If you don’t have a Web site yet, get one. If you do have a district or local site, look for ways to make it even more meaningful for teens.

  • Tap into techies — Invite some computer-savvy teens to help you brainstorm simple ways to make your Web site better: creating downloadable flyers, upgrading security, or adding new graphics.
  • Build an online community — Post a few books on your Web site for the week, and invite kids to submit reviews. Connect with out-of-town authors through online moderated chats. If you don’t have access to the technology, join Scholastic’s online teacher and student communities.
  • Keep an up-to-date calendar — Promote upcoming events at your library as well as community happenings and national competitions such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards , which inspire budding writers and promote literacy.

3. Throw a Party! Pull out the usual stops — decorations, snacks, invitations — and add some twists.

  • Collect book reviews — Have kids submit them throughout the week, and bind them into an annual volume.
  • Declare an amnesty week — Teens (or anyone else) can return overdue books and have their fines forgiven.
  • Host a library read-in — Guests can participate in all-night readings, poetry slams, and other activities. Include viewings of movies based on books and, of course, breakfast!
  • Hold daily contests — Have teens compete for awards in categories like storytelling, poetry reading, short story writing, or debating.

Recommended Titles that “Get Real”
Once you get teens through the door, keep them interested by displaying books that appeal to avid teen readers and their more reluctant peers. Try these nonfiction recommendations:

  • 8 Ball Chicks: A Year in the Violent World of Girl Gangsters
    by Gini Sikes
    Enter the world of girl gangs in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Milwaukee.
  • 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East
    by Naomi Shihab Nye
    Drawing on her Palestinian-American heritage, Nye uses poetry to facilitate cultural understanding.
  • Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors
    by Piers Paul Read
    Readers will be on the edge of their seats with this gripping story of a Uruguayan rugby team whose plane crashes in the Andes.
  • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
    by Stephen Ambrose
    The inspiration for the HBO series, this journey takes readers to the frontlines of World War II from training camp to D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge.
  • The Greatest: A Biography of Muhammad Ali
    by Walter Dean Myers
    The life of the prizefighter told by the popular award-winning author will inspire teen readers.
  • The Secret Family: Twenty-Four Hours inside the Mysterious Worlds of Our Minds and Bodies
    by David Bodanis
    Take a microscopic look at what really happens in a day in the life of one family.

For additional recommendations see these booklists and websites:



References for You
As you take on the challenge of reaching out to teenagers, draw on these books for ideas.

101+Teen Programs That Work
by RoseMary Honnold
A seasoned librarian provides detailed instructions for year-round activities that have been successful.

Best Books for Young Adults
by Betty Carter
This is the essential resource for any library catering to a teen population.

New Directions for Library Service to Young Adults
by Patrick Jones, for the Young Adult Library Services Association
Find information on serving teens, encouraging their participation, and meeting their developmental needs.

Teen Book Discussion Groups @ the Library
by Constance B. Dickerson
Begin teen book discussion groups today with this informative and practical guide.

Thinking Outside the Book: Alternatives for Today's Teen Library Collections
by C. Allen Nichols
Get ideas on expanding your collection to include media that will get young adults into your library: graphic novels, magazines (and zines), audiobooks, video, music, interactive software, and more.

Ginny Wiehardt is a freelance writer who has also worked with in Library Relations at the ACLS History E-Book Project. Her favorite book as a teen was A Swiftly Tilting Planet.