Sunday, July 10, 2011

Finding books for boys at the library

So, I was reading the redoubtable Ms. Yingling and she just put up a post on her experiences at the public library, especially the difficulty in finding books for boys. I started to write a comment and it turned into a blog post...

In my library, I have a teen section upstairs and a juvenile fiction section downstairs. I have about 1400 in my budget for the teen section for the year - this includes fiction and graphic novels - and about 2000 for the juvenile fiction - including series, beginning chapters, graphic novels, etc. These numbers are kind of general as I shift them around a bit, but that's what it usually works out to.

I do think my teen section skews towards books of interest to girls and with female protagonists. There's three reasons for this.
  1. Circulation and budget. We are very dependent on our circulation numbers to survive. So I buy more heavily titles that I know will check out and check out frequently. This generally means bestsellers which generally means paranormal romance and teen chick lit. Once I've bought the popular stuff and all the items teens specifically request, there's not much left.
  2. I've seen various studies that girls read more socially than boys and this shows up in my own experience. All the teens who request titles, tell me about what their reading, ask for recommendations - they're almost all girls. So, their voices get more weight. I have to justify my purchases and "10 girls asked me to buy this" is going to trump "I think a boy might really like this" every time.
  3. My library focuses on early childhood and elementary school programming. I have maybe 3-5 teen programs a year, compared to 7-10 storytimes and after school programs for kids 12 and under every week. I also have no outreach in place for teens above 6th grade. Would I like to have more teen programming? Yes, of course! I would also like to live to see 30 without burning out or having a nervous breakdown. In addition, even the really strong teen programs I've seen at other libraries in our area have widely varied attendance and I have to show regular, strong numbers for my programs by the end of about 3 months or they get cancelled. All of this is to say, I have a good relationship with a group of teen girls that I snagged in 5th grade and with a few older teens I've managed to hook, but I don't have regular interaction with most of our teens - the teen section is on the upper floor where there is no librarian for another thing - and I don't really know what the guys want to read.
Finally, I would say that yes, boys are much more likely to read if a book is pressed into their hands. I am able to do this more when parents bring their boys up to my desk, but for the random teen boys on the computer or hanging out with friends in the teen area...I simply don't have time for extensive individualized readers' advisory, much as I would like to see every boy leave the library with a book.

So, honestly? Yes, we have waaaay more girl books than boys books because it's the easy way out. It's easier to buy books I know will circulate without me having to booktalk each one to boys I may or may not see. It's easier to justify using my budget to buy books specifically requested by patrons who are waiting to check them out.

I do have more "boy books" in the juvenile section, because I think there's less gender division - girls will eagerly read the "adventure and explosion" books that grab younger boys as well. Also, since our combined services desk is in the children's area, I have more chance of booktalking the kids who come by.

I don't think this is a good thing. We should have more boys reading, more teen programming, more books with a wider appeal.

Any suggestions?


Anonymous said...

This is interesting to me, because it is different from my experiences. I do agree that girls are more social and do read a lot of books from the library. But I'm more likely to get teen boys or rather their moms asking for suggestions. Girls seem to know what they want, while boys read all the popular series and then cast about to find something to read. My problem is that it is hard to translate the dozen or so avidly reading boys to library programs, many are SO busy they never come to the library in person. They place holds and we do reader's advisory via their mothers.

Abby said...

It's a hard situation to be in, having such a limited budget, and I know you have to set your priorities. But I think that we, as librarians, have a responsibility to build a balanced collection.

Maybe there's another way to reach boys without individually doing extensive reader's advisory. Maybe you could make shelf-talkers or bookmarks that feature great guy books. Maybe there's someone in your community that you could partner with to offer some kind of Guys Read program.

Also, it sounds like a perfect opportunity for a grant... combine building a collection for guys with some kind of teen outreach targeted at guys... sounds like it would really fill a need. (Although, I know, who has time to write grants...)

Jennifer said...

Hmmm, a grant might be a good idea. I have an intern right now, maybe I can get her to try for something! Although I'll still be the person implementing it...I have done some "guys read" type displays and I have a list of possible ideas for future ones - but there again, time crunch!

I think you're right that more moms ask for suggestions for their boys - although I get that mainly for younger boys up to about age 12, which is an additional reason that our juvenile fiction is more balanced. Maybe if we did some kind of facebook promotion asking moms what their teen sons want to read...

Ms. Yingling said...

You absolutely have to put the money where it will be most used. In a school setting, my job is to make sure that all of my students get books. A public library has to feed demand. One thing you could do that might help is to make the books for boys that you do have very visible. Boys are visual, and less likely, in general, to look at the spines of books. If they do wander in, chances are better that they will find a book. Can't find the title of the paint by number book, but there is a cool web site:

Glad that this got everyone thinking!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

This is so tough. As an author, a former teacher, and a mother of two boys, I hate the idea of boy books, but I know, too, there are titles that appeal more to boys than girls.

I'd say anything by M. T. Anderson, David Lubar, Daniel Pinkwater, Andrew Auseon, or debut author Geoff Herbach would draw boys to the shelves.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the suggestions - I'm familiar with Lubar and Anderson; Pinkwater really doesn't circ in our library and I'll have to look into the last two.