March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

How to Create a “Culture of Reading” | AASL 2013

What makes a culture of reading? How do you get tweens and teens to be interested (and stay interested) in reading? These were two of the questions that Toni Vahlsing, director of libraries at Abington Friends School outside Philadelphia, posed to the audience during “Here’s a Challenge: Get Teens and Tweens to Read for Pleasure!” a session held during the 2013 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) 16th National Conference in Hartford, CT.

After a presentation where the sprightly Vahlsing covered how students choose books—peer recommendation is the number one way—and why allowing kids to select their reading is crucial, she invited members of the audience to share their tips for getting children to read.

Below are some of the suggestions that Vahlsing and session attendees shared. We encourage you to post your ideas in the comments.

Ideas and Tips

  • Newspapers, magazines, and websites are reading.
  • Know what’s new even if you can’t buy it.
  • Covers matter. Kids do judge books by their covers, so whenever possible replace dated, dull books with more eye-catching, new editions.
  • Have faculty or fellow librarians post what they’re currently reading on their office doors.
  • Use Pinterest to get and share ideas for displays.
  • Encourage students to have a “blind date with a book.” You do this by wrapping some titles in brown paper and sticking an intriguing description on each. Kids are not allowed to unwrap the books until after they’ve checked them out.
  • Create a Best Books of the Year display and the titles will be snatched up.
  • Show student recommendations and endorsements whenever possible.
  • Appeal to middle school and high school student’s nostalgia by inviting them to check out their favorite picture books from when they were little.
  • Link books to the movies they inspire.
  • “Use every opportunity you can to be a spectacle,” said Vahlsing. “For reading, it’s worth it.” She told an anecdote about how she participated in her school’s Halloween parade for the first time this year and wished she had taken part every year.
  • Take part in D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read).
  • Booktalk! Booktalk! Booktalk!
  • Host author visits.
  • “You have to always think on your feet,” said Vahlsing. For example, right before Hurricane Sandy forced her school to close she posted a handwritten note encouraging kids to take out books in case school was suspended for a few days.
  • Survey kids to see what they want. Vahlsing said her middle school students love filling out surveys—as long as they’re readily accessible and not too long.
  • Remind students that you have ebook editions by placing signs, shelf markers, or fake books where the digital versions would be if they were physical books on your shelves.
  • Host book fairs.
  • Create ways for students to suggest books to purchase. Maybe have a comments box at the circulation desk or an online form.
  • Have a “candy display” of books at your circulation desk that will prompt students to make “impulse purchases.”
  • Be on social media (Twitter, GoodReads, Facebook, etc.). Think of social media as a marketing strategy as well as a way to connect with students where they “hang out.”
  • Create a vibrant summer reading program. (Maybe even let kids choose the books.)
  • Hold competitions. Vahlsing holds a “Stump the Librarian” contest where students give her tough reference questions to answer.
  • Use Photoshop to make fun posters.
  • Don’t forget that kids love nonfiction!
  • Change it up. From book displays to young adult titles, “you always have to have something fresh” in order to catch kids’ attention, said Vahlsing.
Chelsey Philpot About Chelsey Philpot

Chelsey Philpot was associate book reviews editor and editor of Series Made Simple. She’s on Twitter @chelseyphilpot, and blogs at



  1. Lorena Reyes says:

    Graphic novel versions of books

  2. Have them participate in SLJ’s annual Battle of the Kids’ Books! We are currently finalizing the 2014 contender list and judges!

  3. Thanks for the opportunity to get even more ideas. Here’s a link to the padlet that we made during the session with participants’ ideas.

  4. Toni's All Time Favorite Student says:

    Kids either look at a library and say, “There is nothing there that interests me,” or “I can’t check out the whole thing?!” Toni is a great librarian! She is a great resource and her displays always draw even “non-readers” in. But one of the best things she that she reads such a wide variety of books and always has something on hand, no matter what type of book I’m looking for. I say “Toni, I need a book. I’m looking for one that…” and she will already be pulling out suggestions. That is what makes a fantastic librarian!

    • Cherrylittle_reader says:

      Creating a culture of reading -that’s exactly what we need now.. Thanks for the tips and ideas. I think it’s great and enojyable too to hold a contest like “Wanna Bet the Book Challenge?”. In this contest, there will be five stations created, where the librarian will give questions on every station and then the kids will find the answer in the selected attractive books displayed in one corner. The one who will finish first the five questions given, will then be the first to receive an award… :)