Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Post-Harry, Whatever Will They Read?

Reading the NY Times piece Potter Has Limited Effects on Reading Habits, I thought, "Well, duh." A quote from a teacher & author sums up the situation perfectly:

“Unless there are scaffolds in place for kids — an enthusiastic adult saying, ‘Here’s the next [book you might like]’ — it’s not going to happen,” said Nancie Atwell, the author of “The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers” and a teacher in Edgecomb, Me. “And in way too many American classrooms it’s not happening.”

You get exactly one guess as to where I'll say it is happening. Did you guess libraries? Oh, well done! A gold star for you. (I mean it! If you see me at a conference, and you guessed "libraries", I will give you a gold star. Either that, or I'll buy you the beverage of your choice.)

I would argue a few things:

  • Harry Potter has had an impact on young peoples' reading habits, but it may be more subtle than the study conducted by the NEA was designed to reflect. Many teens go through a period of not reading much, but those who start out with a foundation of enjoying reading early in life come back to it as older teens or as adults.
  • Harry Potter has had another indirect impact on teen & children's reading, and that is the impact it's had on publishing. Publishing for children & teens is one helluva booming business these days, and although that's partly to do with demographics -- there are more youngsters, with more disposable income, than ever before in this country -- it's also due to Harry's stunning popularity. One of the reasons we see series of all kinds, from Gossip Girl to TrueColors to Cirque du Freak to Bartimaeus to Skybreaker to Keys to the Kingdom to Spiderwick Chronicles to Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to the comeback of Choose Your Own Adventure is that Harry showed publishers that kids & teens will read.

I happened to be in my car during NPR's Here & Now program, and was so pleased that Robin Young interviewed YALSA's new president, Paula Brehm-Heeger to get the YA librarian's POV on this topic. Thank you, Robin, and great job, Paula! You can listen to the segment here.

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  • At 6:27 PM, Blogger Liz B said…

    I'll probably be doing a full post on HP because there is so much to say. But JKR has been so succesful that it often seems open season on her & her books. In all honesty, so what if HP has limited effects on reading habits?

    Plus, love or hate HP & JKR (and I'm a lover, for the records), HP has made reading and books "an event." I cannot recall anything like this from my own reading childhood; but being eternally the uncool one, I think yes, these events are a good thing. They promote the joy of story.

    Whether or not kids continue to enjoy stories is up to adults, because, like it or not, we are the gatekeepers: as writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, librarians. Even if its not direct contact with a child, it's indirect via cover design, where the book is located for sale, blurbs.

    If we truly want to improve reading habits, we have to look at all the books out there. Not just HP.

  • At 6:29 PM, Blogger Liz B said…

    Oh, and another thing. So nothing has changed per the article; kids are reading at the same rate. Perhaps, without HP, those numbers would have declined. Perhaps HP's success is that it has kept the rate stable.

  • At 7:43 PM, Blogger Christine said…

    why is everyone getting their knickers in a twist about this, anyway? the NEA data is three years old..... just look


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