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Six Tips for Building Book Displays That Matter

If I've worked with your school district or spoken at your state's conference or you happened to run into me at your neighborhood Starbucks, then you've probably heard me rant about school library book displays.  I'm afraid they are something of a pet peeve of mine.

Back in the day, I loved building book displays.  AND I was pretty good at it, (if I don't say so myself).  My displays were often works of art. Checkout this beauty from back when I was a middle school librarian. I, along with a very dedicated and crafty parent volunteer, spent days making this happen.  And when it was finished, I was so proud.

The Theme: Hidden Library Treasure: Books That Aren't Famous, But Should Be!  The Goal: Expose students to titles they might not otherwise know about.

And that's pretty much where my work ended.  And, maybe I was just a bad librarian, but I'm pretty sure that's where most of us stop when it comes to book displays.  We may point kids towards them or talk up the titles, but for the most part we adopt an "if we build it, they will come" philosophy. If the books get checked out we call it a win and if our masterpieces find a home on Pinterest, all the better.

That said, if I had it to do all over again, I might still build this display, but I'd do it differently.

I've written before about how Dr. Sandra Hughes-Hassell's work on library displays altered my thinking when it came to building book displays, but it's worth mentioning again.  She advocates for using book displays as an opportunity to affect social justice.  This is a powerful and important message. AND it elevates our practice by, literally, putting our work (in addressing the literacy needs of our most vulnerable students) on display for the whole world to see. Dr. Hughes-Hassell focuses her work, in this area, on affecting literacy rates among African American students, but I believe her advice can be applied more broadly.

Sure... book displays wrapped in caution tape during Banned Books Week are good fun and raise awareness of an important topic, but I just don't think that's good enough.  Too often we view our displays as a way to communicate an idea, when really we should think of them as a chance to connect with kids.  Every display presents us with an opportunity to tackle big things: to address individual student needs, to awaken dormant readers, and to engage all kids in meaningful conversations about books, reading and their lives as learners.  What's more, it is my strong belief that every display we build sends a message (not just to our students, but to everyone who walks through the door) about what we value and the purpose of our work with students.  Why would we waste that valuable real estate on displays that don't tell the real story of how librarians make a difference for kids?

In short, if I could go back in time and rebuild my former book displays,  I'd give students a voice in building them and I'd make sure I collect some data on their impact.  And most of all, I'd make them less about books and more about readers.

This may seem like a tall order, but here are some tips for getting it done.  In the end, I realize that not every book display is going to change the world....but, really, shouldn't that be our goal?

Download Hi-Res version here.

PS: Big thanks to my friend Jennifer Northrup for giving this infographic the once over before I hit publish. You're the best! UPDATE:In response to a conversation on Twitter w/my pal Walter Carmichael I've added a few resources for further reading.  As I've mentioned here (and on Twitter) these resources altered my thinking and changed the way I did business in my own library.  If I ever get to meet Sandra Hughes-Hassell I will give her a great, big, grateful hug.

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