It was a sunny June afternoon, perfect for playing baseball, taking a dip in the local pool—or having a virtual chat with a favorite author over Skype about what you’ve been reading. That was the message the New Albany–Floyd County (Ind.) Public Library set out to impart this summer through our first “Guys Read” program series, which was designed to attract boys to the library and get them excited about books. We sought to make that virtual guy-to-author connection with the help of local high school teacher and Twitter legend Paul Hankins (@PaulWHankins).
A voracious user of our library, Hankins quickly jumped at the chance to give something back. He turned out to be the perfect partner for this project: a passionate reader and, as a teacher and father of two, someone who’s comfortable with kids.
He suggested arranging Skype chats with some guy-friendly authors—an approach he has had success with in his high school classroom for many years. By reaching out, he has developed personal relationships with many authors on Twitter, by attending conferences, and via his classroom writing project RAW INK Online.
Our first step was to approach authors who would appeal to our male readers, and this is where Hankins’s expertise really helped. We decided on Phil Bildner (author of the Sluggers series about baseball and other sports books), and Scott Seegert and John Martin (cocreators of the Vordak the Incomprehensible books). Since Hankins had already established personal relationships with all three, they did the Skype chats for free.
Both kids and authors had a blast at these programs, and we were lucky to “host” authors who went the extra mile by recommending great books to our young patrons. Most of the youngsters had read our guests’ books beforehand and were full of questions. Even those who hadn’t read the books left excited by authors who encouraged them to write and to read what they like. The youngsters quickly grabbed copies of books the authors had recommended and books I featured on display. I chose books by the Skype-chat authors and readalikes so the kids would have plenty of choices.
It was inspiring to see our guy authors and Hankins connect with our young male readers and how seriously the youngsters took those book recommendations. When you solicit reading role models, you just might be creating long-term partners for your library. After the success of these programs, Hankins told me he had already been thinking about possible authors for next summer, and we’re eager to continue to offer this program to our patrons.
Think local, phone global
But what if you don’t have a Paul Hankins in your community? First ask yourself, “Am I sure about that?” I knew Hankins from his frequent trips to our library, but it was in connecting with him on Twitter and Facebook that I got to know him well enough to ask him to work with us. If you’re not putting yourself out there to connect with people in your community who can be valuable resources, you may never know about the reading advocates in your midst. Seek them out and don’t be afraid to ask for their help.
If it turns out that you just don’t have your own version of Hankins, you can still offer Skype chats at your library. Carefully choose books and authors likely to appeal to your male audience. (If you’re not sure, ask some guys.) Then, check out the Skype an Author Network, which lists potential guests, many of whom will offer brief “meet ’n greet” chats for free. Just make sure to check with them before you purchase books or supplies for your program.
Connecting boys with books is a perennial hot topic among librarians, and a program like this may be just what you need to inspire the young male readers you serve.