In Our Words

Building a Community of Readers at YIS
Building a Community of Readers at YIS

by Librarians Katy Vance and Viki Radford

Marie Kondo does not want you to throw out your books. The important part of her message is not that the ideal number of books for HER household is thirty, but that every single book she keeps sparks joy. With our whole school commitment to reading, we nurture students who read for pleasure and will have houses with bookcases filled of books that spark joy. Our goal is to have every student who graduates from YIS, confidently saying, "I am a reader".

When students transition from elementary to secondary school, there is often a drop-off in reading for pleasure. As part of our whole school commitment to reading, we're collecting data about how our grade 6-9 students see themselves as readers, what they want to read, and how the library and librarians can help them as readers. According to the survey we conducted at the beginning of this school year, 50% of our surveyed students read for pleasure in the last 48 hours and another 20% of our students read for pleasure at some point in the previous week, which is wonderful news. But that means another 30% of students aren't regularly reading for pleasure. Furthermore, 25% of our students are confident in their ability to choose books for themselves, which is great, but it also means 75% of our students would benefit from having their skills built up in this important independent reading skill. So how are we going to use this data to build a community of readers?

In the fall of2017, we started regular library visits for grades 6-9 with middle schoolers visiting the library once every two weeks. Beginning in the fall of 2018, our program expanded with the grade 9 students visiting the library once a month for a reading session with Ms. Katy. Our visits most often start with a simple prompt: "Who is reading something awesome right now?" Hands fill the air... Followed by a second prompt: "Great! Tell us about it." After discussing what the students are reading and enjoying, Ms. Katy takes the opportunity to recommend books to the students. What does this look like? It comes in many forms, but most often it's a booktalk, a curated selection of genre-specific recommendations or a classic read-aloud. After the recommendations comes the most important part: students choosing books and reading independently.

As part of the aforementioned survey, students also made recommendations on how we can help them become stronger, more independent readers. We're listening to them by:

  • Expanding our Japanese language collection, including the addition of student recommended manga
  • Expanding our ebook and audiobook collection with Wheeler's ebook access platform so readers can enjoy books in a variety of formats
  • Developing students' ability to self-select books through browsing and using the catalog
  • Developing and sharing "If you liked this, then try..." reading lists
  • Sharing genre-specific recommendations based on the most popular genres for each grade level
  • Soliciting students requests through booktalks and our recommendations notebook
  • Purchasing more mysteries, humorous books and books with sports as the theme of the story

How do we know it's working? After reintroducing regular reading visits in the middle school last year we saw a 32% increase in overall circulation statistics and a 12% increase in the statistics of our Japanese collection. By the end of January 2019, our readers had already checked out as many Japanese books as the whole of last school year. It's not just the circulation statistics we're elated about; it's the number of students who come to reading sessions with a book in progress, the number of students who are recommending books to one another, the students spotted reading a book on the train in the morning and the conversations we overhear between students about the books their friends MUST read that demonstrate our community of readers is growing.

These reading sessions are just one small part of our whole school commitment to reading. Our Japanese classes are scheduling regular visits to the library to help students select books in their mother tongue. Our Japanese teachers are working with the librarians to help order new Japanese books, and our Japanese speaking parent volunteers help catalog them to get them on the shelf and into the hands of students. The English department is collecting and advertising "Top Three" book recommendations from teachers and students to display around the school and starting middle school English classes with silent reading everyday. Our HS library council is reading aloud to second and third grade students on Tuesdays and Fridays before school, posting book advertisements in the bathroom, and hosting a library lock-in for secondary students in March. Our MS library council is developing a "Library with Legs" to allow students to checkout books in the cafeteria during lunch and building a Poet-Tree for sharing poems. It takes parents, teachers and students to make a school a community of readers.

Our library is not a quiet place, but a place buzzing with conversations - recommendations, discussions, and celebrations of the pleasure that comes from reading just the right book. Throughout our library space, conversations sparked by the joy of reading take place between students and their peers, teachers, parents, and librarians. Part of the joy in reading comes from sharing the experience - whether that means talking with a friend or family member about what you've been reading, listening to an audiobook together, or passing on a recommendation for something really great. So go ahead, spark some joy - come to our library!


"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves."

- Anna Quindlen, author, journalist, and opinion columnist.