A Book Club for the 21st Century

How one project connects and inspires young readers using social media
Biddeford, Maine
Deanna Gouzie

The McArthur Public Library and Biddeford Intermediate School in southern Maine collaborated to create a successful program whereby young readers use technology to discuss and share books in creative ways. In this interview, children’s librarian Deanna Gouzie talks about how the program got started and what makes it thrive — offering an opportunity to see Edge Benchmark 5 in action.

A powerful partnership, thorough planning and enthusiastic participants are all part of the success in Gouzie's programs. The McArthur Public Library is helping to support educational needs by encouraging students to engage with technology to express their reading interests and to share their ideas and reactions with others. The library introduces the students to new technology tools for communication and content development – making technology an engaging part of the learning process.

The McArthur Public Library serves a community of 21,000 in Biddeford, Maine. Gouzie’s role includes overseeing everything from collection development to programming for newborns to preteens. One project especially close to her heart is the library’s technology based book club program, done in partnership with the nearby Biddeford Intermediate School. This project is an extension of the library's MSBA (Maine Student Book Award) Book Club, and involves helping middle schoolers use tech tools such as blogs, video software, Twitter, and Skype to learn more about their favorite books. This successful program serves as a great example of Benchmark 5Libraries build strategic relationships with community partners to maximize public access technology resources and services provided to the community.

The project started as a book group where children met at the library to discuss the books each was reading. “We had this great group of kids who were showing up for those and they had great things to say about the books,” said Gouzie. “And I thought, well, maybe we should start a blog or something and then the kids could put their reviews online.” Gouzie began a partnership with Susan Dee, the Literacy Education Adjunct Instructor at Biddeford Intermediate School, to set up a Google form to provide some structure, and then invited kids to edit their own reviews before posting them to the Book Buzz blog.

After the blog launched, Gouzie noticed that the content was a bit static. Exploring ways to make the blog more exciting and engaging, they came up with the idea of creating digital book trailers. They also wanted to find ways for the children to connect more directly with authors, finding success using Twitter during the book groups. “We'll tweet out to the authors the comments that the kids are making about the books,” said Gouzie. “And then the authors — not always, but sometimes — are online, and they see it and will start responding back.”

This project not only connects kids with books, Gouzie says, but helps them to use technology in a meaningful way, providing opportunities for students not only to consume but to contribute and create. Participants write book reviews on a blog and create book trailer videos (just like for the movies, but for books). This helps teach students how to plan, apply critical thinking, analyze story elements, and organize their thoughts, Gouzie says. “Students basically have to go from reading the book to adapting that information, designing, and then presenting it in the book trailer format,” she said. The students also learn a bit about copyright and online creative content, and then post their videos using the web app Animoto.

To further develop the children’s connections to the books they are reading, Gouzie and Dee host Skype visits with authors and with other kids around the country who are reading the same books. Gouzie said she works with the kids to come up with questions beforehand, and the kids get a glimpse into the real world of an author.

Gouzie shared how this program is really changing the lives of the children participating through this success story, 

Since the book group was inclusive and anyone and everyone was welcome to attend, we had a very diverse group of kids. One particular participant was this very quiet boy who (at first) did not really participate but was more of an observer. When we were gathering a group of students to take to a conference for librarians to book talk titles from the MSBA list, we invited kids from the book group. He agreed to go. This seemed to be a turning point for him. When he participated in the book trailer workshop his mom pulled me aside one evening and told me what a difference being included in these activities had made for him. He had lacked self confidence and was never before selected to do anything like this. She was overwhelmed at how his confidence had grown and how his being part of a team had impacted him. He made the most amazing book trailer AND became a regular contributor at our monthly book group. Whatever difference being included in these programs made for him, he more than returned to me. Seeing evidence that the work that Mrs. Dee and I were doing was making an impact was amazing! This boy continued his participation in our book group this year and is a regular library patron and program participant.

What made your library successful?

Gouzie credits the program’s success to a strong partnership with Dee. “I think it is because we are both really passionate about connecting kids with books and looking for any way that's going to make that happen,” she said. “So that partnership has been invaluable in helping get all this off the ground.” After brainstorming together about plans for projects and the tools they might use to support them, Gouzie said, the ideas snowballed.

After realizing that transportation to the library was a barrier to book group participation, Gouzie reached out to the school to see if the groups could be hosted as an after-school activity. Attendance doubled, with an enthusiastic, captive audience. Gouzie said she is enthusiastically greeted when she arrives. “I feel like a rock star!”

Realizing some kids were still not able to participate, Gouzie and Dee decided that regardless of their ability to attend a book group, kids could contribute book reviews and share their excitement online via the blog.

Gouzie also emphasizes that the support she receives from library staff helps make her work with these kids successful. She credits her success to a strong library team as well as to having meeting space and laptops at the library she can reserve for student programs. For Tuesday night programs, the meeting room turns into a welcoming and active space for the kids, with 10 laptops saved for them to create blog posts, book talk videos, and more.

What did you learn during this process?

After diving into this work, Gouzie now considers herself tech savvy after learning “a ton” about using online resources and different social media tools, including Twitter, which she touts as "the most unbelievable professional development tool she’s ever used." Not only does it allow children to connect with authors, she says, it has helped her connect with other library professionals as well.

Gouzie says that she has also learned that, when reaching out to partners, it is helpful to introduce herself in person, rather than approaching people by phone or email. Instead, go in person to make those introductions and “float those ideas” for collaboration. It takes time and persistence to build relationships, she says, and face-to-face is the way to show you’re committed to the same goals. Gouzie also stresses the importance of persistence: “Get your foot in the door, and don’t take it back out!” Even better, she suggests, offer to serve on a school committee or team to help assure your library a place at the table.

What was the key to your success?

Besides strong partnerships, Deanna believes the key to their program’s success is that it is fun for the students. Because participation is voluntary and because kids are encouraged to make their own choices it gives them a sense of pride and ownership. They pursue individual interests as they select a book of their choosing, create their own video trailer, and write a review on the blog. Students read their blog post comments, which connect them to their peers, teachers, librarians, and sometimes even the authors.

What would you do differently?

Gouzie said she learned early on that the kids needed snacks in order to stay focused. Since they were usually hungry after school, pizza and cookies helped fortify them so they could successfully participate. She has also learned that it is best to keep the computers turned off until it is time for the kids to use them, finding that if the computers were set up when the kids arrived, students were immediately distracted and weren’t as willing to listen to her instructions. For example, when it came time to create the book trailer videos, Gouzie provided the kids with planning sheets and had them map out their work on paper before logging on to the computers.  

Gouzie said she would also consider changing how the library hosts Skype visits with kids from other parts of the country. Unlike the author visits on Skype, the kids often become camera shy with their peers, remaining silent unless prompted with questions. Even though on the group does some Google Earth research beforehand to learn more about where the students live, and brainstorm questions to ask them, Gouzie says she feels they need something more (like perhaps a pen pal exchange to break the ice) to move past the awkwardness.

What advice would you give to a colleague?

 “Don’t over analyze. Dive in,” Gouzie said. Citing herself as an example, Gouzie said that while it may seem that she’s always known about the tools and technology she uses for her program. However, there was a learning curve to finding, learning, and then teaching the right tools. She was motivated by wanting to find ways to help her students share their enthusiasm about books in ways they would enjoy.

Gouzie also emphasizes the importance of thoughtful and thorough planning. By thinking through how to would work through a project with 10 kids step by step, Gouzie was able to get an accurate sense of how much time she needed for each activity. Time management and planning made all the difference in ensuring the program’s success.

What three steps would you tell a colleague to start doing now?

  1. Partner with someone at a school or find ways to get involved at school. (For example by joining the school literacy team.)
  2. Dive in and do it.
  3. Don’t be afraid to learn.

To learn more about this fun and successful technology program, visit Gouzie’s and Dee’s LiveBinder.