Blogger Abby Johnson

Summer Reading Under Construction

Readers, I made it. As of Tuesday, August 3 our local kids are back in school and I made it through this supremely unusual summer. Of course we were dealing with a global pandemic. But also, our Children’s Room and teen space have been under construction and closed. And doing Summer Reading under construction has not been easy.

What has doing Summer Reading under construction meant for us?

At my library, it means that our entire lower level has been closed. Families and kids have not had access to the Children’s Room or teen space for books, computers, or a space to be. My biggest concern running Summer Reading under construction was to maximize children’s access to books. How did we do that? We moved tons of books to our upper lobby displays every day!

Two of our display tables that held books for children to browse during summer reading under construction.
Two of our display tables featuring books for children and families to browse. Photo by Abby Johnson.

But Abby, you’re behind the scenes…

You may think that Collection Development is a behind-the-scenes job, but at my library we all pitch in where needed. This summer, I’ve spent anywhere from 30-60 minutes most days moving high-appeal books upstairs for families to browse. I didn’t have to do programming or help much with running the Summer Reading program. So this was a way I could help my colleagues help our families.

What did that look like?

Each morning when I came in, I assessed the upstairs displays. We repurposed our two freestanding octagon book displays to hold as many picture books and easy readers as we could cram on there. I started the summer refilling those myself, but quickly delegated that task. As much as I loved picking out which picture books to display, it quickly became an overwhelming task. Picture books and easy readers flew off the shelves all summer. I asked my staff to pick any books that had a “new” spine label (the way our spine labels look changed a couple of years ago when we moved to having vendors process them instead of processing them in-house).

Our easy chapter book table, displaying a variety of books for children to browse while we did summer reading under construction.
Our easy chapter book table.

I kept the task of refilling our other displays. I set up low folding tables (so they would be at child height for browsing) and designated different areas. I soon realized that it was not possible to have something for absolutely everyone. I aimed to please the most kids I could with super popular stuff. I also made sure to include books with characters of different races and abilities. I set up tables for easy chapter books, graphic novels (by far the most popular table), middle grade novels, and popular series.

The overflow bookshelf that held additional titles for families to browse during summer reading under construction.
Our overflow bookshelves with a selection of graphic novels, nonfiction, picture books, and more.

We had an empty bookshelf around the corner from our front lobby that I repurposed for overflow. That way staff could fill the tables throughout the day. In the morning, I would generally be able to reset the tables from the overflow shelves. Then I spent some time choosing books to restock the overflow. This also worked as a great “secret” bonus area for families who wanted to browse more books than were on the table. We definitely had some heavy library users that took advantage of this! I didn’t alphabetize the books, but kept them loosely organized by the tables I had set up to make it easier for me to fill the tables.

How did you choose which books?!

Our graphic novel table, displaying a variety of graphic novels for children to browse during summer reading under construction.
Our graphic novel table. This was *by far* the most popular table.

Once I realized that I was never going to please everybody, it got easier. I focused on popularity and inclusion. I chose bestselling authors like Raina Telgemeier, Dav Pilkey, and James Patterson. I chose popular series like Dork Diaries, Big Nate, Who Was?, and I Survived. I chose browsable nonfiction like National Geographic and DK titles. I always made sure to display titles by authors of color. When my stocks got low, I switched them out for a different series. I aimed for my tables to look like a bookstore display as much as possible.

One really neat outcome for the popular series table is that I was able to highlight series that fly under the radar. For example, I Survived was one of the hottest series of the summer. I also added the Girls Survive series, the I Survived True Stories books, and books from the You Choose Can You Survive series. Those all went like hot cakes and some of those are books readers might not have discovered in the stacks.

What about specific books kids wanted?

Of course we had tons of requests from kids who wanted stuff that hadn’t made it on to our tables. We kept staff on hand to run down and grab books from the lower level. If kids knew they wanted basketball books or books about unicorns, staff could grab a quick selection for them. We also encouraged kids and families to search our PACs and make a list of books they wanted. With the help of our summer interns, we did the best we could to get each child something they wanted to read.

What did you learn doing Summer Reading under construction?

I definitely learned a ton this summer about what books and series are popular. Filling these displays myself also gave me a first-hand look at what our collection looks like. I discovered that all our Elephant and Piggie books had checked out a ton of times. They looked really gross and it was time to order new ones. I was not at all surprised by how much the graphic novels checked out, but I was a little surprised at how quickly cookbooks flew off the shelves.

I also learned just HOW MUCH our children’s collection is a browsing collection. We did everything we could to encourage families to place holds. Some definitely did. But the vast majority of kids and families relied on browsing to choose their children’s books. It makes me really excited for when we’re going to open our Children’s Room. One of the new features is that we are moving our picture books into bins instead of stacks. The new shelving is much more kid-centered. I think those picture books are going to fly off the shelves!

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