Guest Blogger

The Margin Project

We have just created a fun unprogram called the Margin Project. It originated from Jenna Malone’s website. The original idea was author’s trading their books and writing feedback in the margins. We adapted this for libraries, similar to what ELA library does at their library. The program kicked off on the first day of our SRP.

(Photo courtesy of guest blogger)

Basically, we filled a basket with specially labeled books allowing patrons in grades 3 through 6 for the youth section and patrons in grades 7 through 12 in the YA section to write in these books. It would feel kind of like an unofficial book club or pen pal service where you would write your thoughts and the next reader could respond to you. Readers can be anonymous or use their actual name. The only requirements were to use a different pen color so we could see the interaction, and not to write or draw anything inappropriate.

We added labels to record readers, give suggestions for notes to add, and differentiate these books from our regular books we didn’t want kids to write in. We put a giant sign behind the basket to reiterate how to use this collection and to showcase where it was.

To tie the project into SRP, we gave a raffle ticket to a patron if they checked out and wrote in the books (grades 3+ only).

The kids were really excited to write in a book. They basked in the idea that they could do something that used to be forbidden. They also liked that it was only for the designated age group. They finally had something of their own. And… there is a Harry Potter coloring book and their little siblings can’t draw in it, so there’s that!

Although that was the most popular reaction, we also got kids who were afraid to write in the books because their parents scared them out of defacing public property even though we begged them, please write in this! And the younger set (elementary age) needed a little guidance as to what to write (we added some examples) because students aren’t required to write in their books at school until high school. That being said, the teens jumped right on it.

We tried our best to make it sound fun and not academic, because, who doesn’t want to write in a book?! Haven’t you ever had favorite quotes you wanted to underline in sparkly pens, or am I just crazy? Did you ever wonder if someone was thinking the same thing as you? Have you ever been too shy or busy to participate in a physical book discussion? Now’s your chance to do all of this. It’s a new way to promote the love of reading among youth patrons. We’re having so much fun with it. And there have been no inappropriate pictures or writing yet (ELA hasn’t had problems either).

Here’s our process. We selected about 10 books of varying genres per grade level so patrons would find something at their reading level (nothing was overtly labeled or written down). We have 53 youth books and 29 YA books (we’re adding 10 more) right now.

We spoke to the cataloging department on how best to catalog these books so patrons could find them, other libraries wouldn’t accidentally ILL them, and patrons could get a clean copy if they didn’t want to participate. We wanted to differentiate these books from the regular collection to discourage drawing in ALL our books. We added a spine label that said Margin Project with a pencil logo to denote a book you can doodle in. The youth books were in blue and the YA books were in green font (all the labels) to help staff know where they go in the library. We ended up putting special “codes” to look up in the catalog to bring up this collection so that patrons could see what was there even if the book was checked out. We also barred holds on the books so that other libraries wouldn’t accidentally get our crazy books and have a heart attack when they saw it written in (since we’re in a consortium there wasn’t really another way). When the books come back and are checked in, they go on my desk and I check them page by page for the “bad stuff.” I haven’t found anything so far. Then I put a new bookmark in the book and put it back in the basket. Once you set it up, it’s pretty hands off and fun to watch.

When we get especially good comments or doodles, we’ll scan that page and put it up on our social media outlets to share the creativity, love of reading, and promote our unprogram. We’ve had good results so far. In the first month we rolled out the Margin Project, we had 200 checkouts exactly from our 82 books. Yay for checkout stats! If you decide to try this project out, do be aware that it takes time for the cool comments in the books to build and you may have to explain how it works to parents and children. It was well worth it.


Photo courtesy of guest blogger
Photo courtesy of guest blogger

Our guest blogger today is Rachel Reinwald. Rachel is a youth services librarian at Lake Villa District Library. She loves crazy creative projects and researching professional development. She blogs at

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


  1. Heather

    I’m starting a Margin Project book club at my library in January, so I’m glad to hear yours has been a success! I wasn’t able to have our books added into the collection, so checking out and returning them will be on more of an honor system, but I’m excited to see how it goes.

  2. Rachel Reinwald

    That’s awesome! Actually, I originally wasn’t going to have the books catalogued, but my library wanted me to do it. Also, it makes it easier for kids to search online which books are available for the Margin Project when they are checked out (although we don’t let people put them on hold because of our interlibrary loan system). Have fun with yours!

  3. Pingback: Confession Time | Lit Laugh Learn

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