15 October 2012

@ My Library: Teen Read Week Edition

In schools and libraries across the country, teens and adults alike are gearing up to promote their love of reading.  Spearheaded by the Young Adult Literature Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), Teen Read Week aims to inspire a love of reading in teens.  Ju-well, a senior at Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte, NC, says that the purpose of Teen Read Week is to "read because you want to, not because you have to."  This is exactly the kind of attitude YALSA wants to see in as many teenagers as possible, but how does one inspire a love of reading?

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the last twenty years have only seen small increases in reading achievement, even though the young adult genre has exploded with books like Twilight and The Hunger Games.  The problem may be that, when teens have free time, most turn to social networking sites, web videos, athletics and socializing with friends instead of to a book.  Reading skills atrophy when they aren't exercised often and, according to research, teens who read for fun score higher on tests and generally succeed better in the workforce.  Teen Read Week plants the idea that reading can be just as entertaining -- and satisfying -- as that trip to the mall with a friend.

To get a more in-depth look into the semantics of Teen Read Week, I visited the Mallard Creek High School library.  Having been a library student my senior year of high school, I already knew about Teen Read Week, but now I was a visitor, not a student.  What I found when I stepped through the doors was a wonderfully familiar sight: a "Fiction" sign reigning over an entire wall of books, waist-high shelves topped with displays, and computers jammed with students.  And all over, the remnants of Banned Book Week lingered.

On my way to my old school, I had a nagging feeling that Teen Read Week wasn't getting the hype and awareness I thought it should get.  However, I knew that visiting my old school library was a wise choice as soon as I saw a student put up a poster with "Teen Read Week" plastered across it in bold, colorful letters.  I knew from my time at the Mallard Creek library that creativity ran rampant when it came to promoting an event, as evidenced by the impressive Banned Book Week, Dystopian Reads and Stephen King displays.  The sight was comforting, so, my confidence bolstered, I headed off to find the masters of the house.

I found Amber and Deona, both juniors and current library students, clustered around the circulation desk, chatting away.  They gladly agreed to let me in on what they thought about "the whole Teen Read Week thing."  

When asked on how important they thought it was for teens to read, Amber replied, "You find things in a book that you don't find anywhere else."  I was surprised by their level of enthusiasm, especially from Amber, who admitted that she wasn't really a "reader."  Even being "not a reader," she seemed electrified when describing how important a book can mean to someone.

Amber with Clean
Neither one hesitated when I asked what book they would recommend to me if I were a reluctant reader. In fact, Amber already had the book in front of her. "This," she said, sliding a copy of Clean by Amy Reed across to me. "Definitely this." When I asked why, she said, "Even though I can't relate to it myself, I feel that there's people who can relate." 

Deona with Teach Me
To my amusement, Deona immediately asked me, on the tail end of Amber's sentence, if she could give two answers.  They were: Forever by Judy Blume and Teach Me by R. A. Nelson. About Teach Me, she said, "It's really deep. There's a lot of meaning behind what they say."

Ms. Lord, the librarian, suggested The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. "It's one of those books that isn't a difficult read and it makes you think about life and how you live your life. So almost anyone can find some meaning it." Hmm... makes me want to go check out a copy.

While I stood and talked with Amber and Deona, an unexpected thing happened.  What had started off as just the three of us had, within a matter of minutes, doubled into a group of six.  How curious... Even when I had been a student working the same circulation desk that Amber now ruled, I had never seen a group gather so quickly, drawn together by the subject of books.  And the energy!  I loved seeing the excitement from Amber and Deona, as well as Chickelle, a sophomore and aspiring writer, while we chatted about books and reading.

Despite my thoughts that maybe Teen Read Week was underrated, seeing a group of teens (girls and boys) come together that way gave me the feeling that YALSA had accomplished more than they may realize.  These teens as a whole seemed to have little to no relation to each other inside school, yet they had been drawn together by the subject of reading. 
It is not true we have only one life to love, if we can read, we can live as many lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish.
- S.I. Hayakawa