Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

#SJYALit: Making a Social Justice Book Display that Engages Teens

After the election, we noticed that some of the teens we talked to were seriously worried about many themes: GLBTQA+ rights and safety, racism, and women’s rights, to name just a few. We heard them talking about them with each other. And sometimes, they talk with us. So we wanted to signal boost books about social justice that really addressed their concerns. But we wanted to do it in a way that wouldn’t put any preconceived politics on our teens. So here’s what we did:


Why did we choose to do it this way? There’s not slogan, no wording, no heading – nothing that tells our teens what to think or feel about the topic. In fact, there’s nothing that even tells them what our topic is. We pulled books that covered any topic that fit under the social justice theme, including feminist YA, GLBTQA+ YA, Civil Rights, Own Voices, Religious Freedom.


We made lists and we checked them twice. In fact, we went out and found lists online and checked them against our collections to make sure we were doing a really good job of having a diverse collection for our teens. Since I do this fairly regularly as a part of my collection development, we found that we had a pretty well represented collection. But we want to make sure and get it into the hands of our teens.

Here’s what we’ve found: Because there is no heading or signage, just books and a background, teens walk up to the display much more frequently. They are forced to pick up the books and read the back jacket copy to learn what the book is about. And they are pulling books off the display more often then they have seemed to when we have thematic displays with labels. It’s been an interesting experience.

As you can see from the notes above, we talked about naming our display Books Fight Hate, based on a hashtag that was popular on Twitter in the days after the election and with the rise of hate crimes. In the end, we decided to go with a more subtle display and see what would happen. We have been very happy with the results. The books have been moving and that’s what we like to see.

PS, that beautiful painting on the left was painted by one of our teens. We put all their artwork on display in the Teen MakerSpace. It wasn’t designed to go with our social justice display, but man is it a beautiful painting that just happens to work really well in that space.


  1. I would LOVE to see the list of books that was brainstormed. Any plans to share? 🙂

    This idea is so interesting. I’m definitely going to try a display with no title/heading and see what happens!

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