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Middle Grade Monday – Targeting Non-Readers

As a school librarian, I have the somewhat enviable position of having a captive audience. I see language arts classes on a regular basis for circulation as well as classes I work on research projects with, and I can get to know some of the students quite well. At my particular school, there are around 600 students, which may seem like a large number, but is actually quite small for a middle school in my school system. The students I know best, however, are the ones whose needs are being met, either through our current collection or through other resources they have access to (public libraries, book stores, etc.) These are the students who are in my library weekly if not daily to get new materials, who want to discuss the books they’ve read, and who want to recommend new titles they’ve read that they think would be a good fit for our collection. I love working with these students. They are encouraging and delightful and give me a great deal of hope. They also don’t really need me. Sure, I’m very useful to them, but in terms of genuine need? They would still be readers even if the school had no library. Reading is already an essential part of their being.

Then I have students who are not self motivated readers but will live up to whatever reading expectations are set for them by teachers or parents. This group encompasses the vast majority of my student body. They are fairly easy to reach with regular books talks and displays. When they are assigned a specific genre, theme, or category of reading assignment, they will often seek out my help to find something that fits the requirements of the assignment that they will often enjoy. And most of the time I spend with whole classes for circulation is devoted to meeting these students’ needs. They do need me, and I am able to meet their needs on a regular basis. Although often I find myself wishing I had several clones, especially with my sixth graders.

The final category that students fall into is my group of non-readers. For whatever reason, these students are not checking out books. Some of them can’t read, or can’t read English. Some of them have never found anything interesting to read. Some of them face significant social pressure against being seen as a reader. This is the group I’m going to try to target this semester. Starting with my sixth grade classes, I’ve arranged to have language arts teachers send me students individually during our school wide enrichment block. These student will essentially be taking a reading survey, but instead of doing it online (which is how I do whole school or whole grade level reading surveys) they will be sitting with me individually for ten to fifteen minutes to really discuss their interests. I’m looking to see what their interests are outside of their academic lives, what motivates them, and what might be an area where I could target collection building resources to better meet their needs. For some, I’m hoping to boost them into the middle group. I’m hopeful that at least a few are simply too shy to approach me when their whole class is using the library. Or, perhaps, that there will be some who don’t really understand how the library works to whom I will be able to suggest titles and areas they might find interesting.

Once I’ve finished surveying a number of my sixth grade non-readers, I plan on trying to quantify the information I gather and use it to inform our collection development plan. This will, hopefully, inform our purchasing and marketing decisions going forward and help us to better target our less easily served populations.


  1. WOW! What a wonderful, ambitious goal. I’d love to have the opportunity to really understand the reading need and opportunities of all my most reluctant/non-readers. I can only imagine how much you will be able to enrich your service to your kids!

    • Robin Willis Robin Willis says

      Thanks, Susan! I hope to be able to give some updates as the process goes along – I’m really excited about it.

  2. Esther Keller says

    I hope you keep us updated on your progress. I think I’d like to try something like this too!

  3. Great article! Would you share a copy of your reading survey?

  4. This was a thought provoking article and I hope to see the results of the survey and maybe other librarians can do a survey such as yours and share the results. That would be interesting to see, and the data can assist in choosing books for the reluctant readers. One article I read (in SLJ), discussed the lack of diversity in books and writers of literature. Something I have found is that the choices that the children have to pick from did not interest them or wasn’t culturally appealing. Once a child finds his niche, they read and become book lovers.

  5. Jill Slapnik says

    Do you have a copy of your reading survey you could share? I would love to have my students do this in my library.

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