Book Buffets in the H.S. Library

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In the past couple of weeks I’ve posted a lot of pictures of my Book Buffets on the library Insta (@gvhslibrary), leading to several requests from my fellow librarians about what a Book Buffet is and how it works.

Book Buffet, aka “Book Tasting”

The Book Buffet is basically my version of what is often called a “Book Tasting,” or “Book Speed Dating.”  I like the idea of Book Tastings and such, but I found that my students didn’t respond as well when I used those other terms. I think it is because teenagers can’t really relate to speed dating or tastings (which is based off the idea of wine tastings.)  Most teenagers have, however, had experience with buffets and therefore seem to grasp the concept a bit better when I use that term instead.

Plus, I like the alliteration of “Book Buffet.” 🙂

How it works

I am very fortunate, and very excited, that our ELA departments are currently working to revamp their curriculums to include many more independent reading opportunities. This has opened up a lot more library-classroom collaboration opportunities which I have been only too happy to take advantage of. For independent choice reading assignments our teachers USED to give students a paper list, where anywhere from ten to a hundred book titles were listed in columns, without summaries or any other identifying information. Students were instructed to choose any book off the list for their independent reading.

You can imagine how engaging and exciting (and successful) this method was……… not.

So, ever since I started at my H.S. four years ago I have been endeavoring to demonstrate to my teachers the other methods we can use when encouraging independent choice such as book talks, library browsing visits, Roaming Library Cart visits, and Book Buffets. Each of these methods have been far more engaging and successful than providing students a simple list, but the Book Buffet method has proven by far to be the best one we’ve tried yet. So here is how we do it.

Step #1 – Student Interest Survey

The first step is that the teacher reaches out to let me know they have an independent (or lit circle) reading assignment coming up. The teacher tells me any requirements of the assignment (such as specific themes, topics, genres, or book types like nonfiction, fiction, memoir, etc).  Based on that information I will create a 1-2 question “Interest Survey” for the classes to fill out.  I create my surveys using Microsoft Forms.

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Step #2 – Review the Results 

After students take the reading interest survey, I review the results.  After reviewing the results, I use that info to decide on the 6-10 most popular topics/themes indicated by the students.  I then pull piles of books that fit within those 6-10 topic/themes and they will make up the book buffet.

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Step #3 – Create the Buffets

Each of the 6-10 topic/themes gets assigned a table.  I create a sign for each table indicating what that table’s topic/theme is.  Then I pile tons of books for each topic/theme on its table.  I always strive to choose as broad and diverse a range of titles as I can in regards to representative characters, situations, and text complexity.

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Step #4 – Feast Time!

Finally it is time for the students to come to the Buffet!  Students enter the room and choose a table to sit at initially.  Once everyone is seated I explain how it works, that I used their survey data to create the table themes and to choose the books on each table.  I then spend the first 6-10 minutes of the period doing thirty second book talks for a few books on each table.  Then students are given the rest of the period to circulate among the tables at their own pace to browse and “sample” as many books and tables as they’d like.  We encourage students to bring their reading journals with them so they can jot down titles of books that catch their interest, so they can refer back to it later.

Sometimes I create a “Buffet Menu” instead which students can use to keep track of their experience.

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Step #5 – Check Out & Read

Once students have decided on the book they want, they come check the book out with me. They are then able to find any place in the library to get comfortable and start reading their books.  We are sure to stress the fact that, after they’ve started reading the book they should take some time to pause and self assess. If they decide they are not enjoying it they are encouraged to return the book and circulate the tables again to find another book to try.

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How it has been successful

The Book Buffets have been wildly successful for us on multiple fronts. Firstly, it has been a great way of enticing teachers to bring their classes to the library, which means more collaborations and library use in general. Secondly, the surveys have provided me with invaluable data as to the reading preferences and habits of my students, information which I then use to inform my collection development and purchases throughout the year.  Thirdly it has led to far more students actually checking library books out for their independent reading assignments instead of purchasing the books themselves. This is not only good for our circulation numbers, its also good for our student’s finances, as they really should not be expected to purchase books for school assigned reading.

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Results: Circulation is Booming

As an example of how successful Book Buffets have been for us, I’ll leave you with this data.  In the first three weeks of school last year we didn’t do any Book Buffets and we checked out only 174 books.

This year, in the first three weeks of school we’ve already had 11 classes in for Book Buffets (10th grade for fiction, 11th grade AP for nonfiction, and 12th grade for memoirs) and we’ve checked out 589 books!

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