Promoting reading for pleasure in school libraries

UK school librarian Emma Suffield shares reading initiatives that have helped to increase her school’s lending numbers by 400 per cent over the past five years.

I have been a school librarian for five years now and what a journey it has been. The reason I applied for this role was to promote reading for pleasure and share my love of reading with young learners; there is nothing more satisfying than turning a reluctant reader into an avid one.

When I started at Saint Wilfrid’s Academy, book loans were on average 2,600 per year; this was for all students from years 7–13 and staff! In the last academic year, we hit over 13,000 loans. This is due to new initiatives and reading schemes that have brought about a real change in the culture of the Academy. I would like to share some of these with you, which you are welcome to adapt and use as you wish. 

Accelerated Reader scheme

Implementing the Accelerated Reader scheme has played a huge part in developing our Learning Resource Centre (LRC) into a thriving and busy place, and it has contributed to the dramatic rise in our loan statistics over the last few years. I work closely with our literacy coordinator and vice-principal, who run and support the program. Having a team involved with this scheme really works and benefits the students academically. The reading ages of our learners have improved significantly. The combination of reading and taking interactive quizzes on tablet devices provides learners with instant feedback and a real sense of achievement. I know not everyone is a fan of Accelerated Reader. It does take a lot of time and effort to get it right, but it works for us and the statistics reflect this.

Golden tickets

Each term, I place six golden tickets in books that haven’t been taken out for a while. If a student reads a book containing a ticket, they are asked to write a short summary about it in order to win a prize. It is always nice to see books that are not ‘popular reads’ being taken out and students reading and enjoying them.

‘Get caught reading’ raffle

When students are ‘caught’ reading silently in the library during break and lunchtimes, they are issued with a raffle ticket by one of our student librarians. At the end of every half term, this raffle is drawn and the winner receives a goodies bag of reading-related materials. Students can be entered as many times as they want, but only once per day. This is a great initiative to encourage students to use the LRC for reading during break and lunch.

Twitter review raffles

Students are issued with a Twitter review sheet for every book they take out of the LRC. They are asked to write a short review about the book, which is then posted to the author on our Twitter page (@stwLRC). Students receive a raffle ticket for every review they write and are entered into a prize draw to win a reading-related goodies bag of at the end of every half term. If the author likes, re-tweets or even replies, I let the students know. They become thoroughly excited to be interacting with an author — particularly when it is a book they have really enjoyed.

Book suggestion box

One of the most important things about keeping a library popular is having the right books on the shelves. I do my best keeping up to date with new and upcoming books and I focus on popular reads for young adults, but the best people to recommend books for young people are young people themselves. I have a book suggestion box near the library desk where students can recommend fiction, as well as revision books to support the curriculum. I go through the box at the end of every half term and purchase the most popular titles. Students write their names on their recommendations so, when the books arrive, I can offer them first refusal.

‘What should I read next?’ book jar

All our fiction books have genre labels to help students choose their book easily. However, sometimes the students just do not know what they would like to read. I created a ‘book jar’ that contains coloured paper slips. Each colour relates to a book genre and each slip contains a book recommendation. Students are invited to select a genre, then take out a piece of paper that matches the genre colour. Students excitedly run to find the book on the shelf and start reading. Student librarians update the jar on a regular basis.

Students are encouraged to help with collection development through the library's 'What should I read next?' book jar.

Book clubs

When I started at the Academy, I had one book club. Now I have three, with a total of 30 participants. With greater demand for genre-specific book groups, that number is likely to increase this year. We shadow some local book awards, which really enthuses the readers, and are very fortunate to attend award ceremonies to meet the authors of the books they have been reading. We also have group reads, which have resulted in two cinema trips this year. I have found it beneficial to familiarise myself with upcoming films, then the group can read the book of the film before the release date. Taking students to the cinema as a reward has been enjoyable. I really enjoy running the book clubs and sharing my love for reading with other enthusiastic and avid readers.

Harry Potter Book Night

We host a Harry Potter Book Night bi-annually, which is a lot of fun. We invite students who have made progress with their reading, are prolific readers, and who promote reading throughout the Academy. In 2018, we had 36 students attend from across years 7–12. They took part in fun activities including an interactive quiz using tablet devices where the ‘Daily Prophet’ newspapers came to life, along with a great feast and some drama. All students who attended received a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Students and staff dressed up as Harry Potter characters and the LRC was decorated throughout. It was magical; all the efforts of the months leading up to the event were worth it.

Author visits

With the support of the school and a local school librarian who hosts many author visits, I overcame my apprehension this year to host my first author visit. Seeing the students’ faces when they met the author, and how enthusiastic they were during the workshops, was so rewarding. Some of them even bought the author’s book and have become keen readers. I cannot wait for my next author session in February 2019, and I will aim to have one every year.

Creative writing club

For four years, I have delivered a creative writing club and we have produced some amazing ‘books’ with the help of our marketing manager. Students have recreated and twisted fairytales to suit the modern day, as well as writing stories inspired by a title or genre. We have also tried our hand at poetry; the students particularly enjoyed creating blackout poetry. We have experimented with sensory description and created scrapbooks from diary entries. Hosting this club is a privilege as all young people have a story to tell; it is often putting pen to paper that can be tricky. Writing really helps with literacy and I am glad I can support the English department by hosting this club.

Stan Lee Excelsior Award

Graphic novels and manga were not something I knew much about before becoming a school librarian, but, after speaking to some passionate students, I decided that I needed to devote a section of the library to them. The Stan Lee Excelsior Award in the UK is a book award for graphic novels and manga. There are eight shortlisted titles to read, and students have the chance to vote for their favourites based on cover design, images, and text. Taking part in these awards has developed my understanding for these two genres, and boys’ engagement with reading has certainly increased since introducing this section of the library. Added to this, book loans have increased for our lower level readers, too.

Displays

Keeping the school library bright, colourful and inviting is so important to me and I relish creating displays to promote events, new books, and specific genres. Changing displays regularly helps to keep the students on their toes. Location is key. Having them at the entrance or near the library desk will catch the students’ (and staff’s) eyes and encourage more to read.

I love being a school librarian and being able to share my passion for reading with others. Every day is different and I enjoy getting involved in the unexpected. I think, as a profession, we are all learning new things every day and it is important that we share these ideas, really advocate for our work, and have an impact on the future generation. Our motto is: Those who read: succeed! 

Emma Suffield

Learning resources centre manager

Saint Wilfrid's Church of England Academy, Lancashire

SLA School Librarian of the Year