What encourages teens to trade Spider-Man comics for Machiavelli's Prince? What inspires them to read voraciously, revisiting classics like Gone with the Wind or churning through more than 50 of ALA's Best Books for Young Adults? What leads them to make time in their busy lives to talk about books?
In Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., the answer involves the Arlington County Public Library's teen reading group. Known as the Teen Advisory Board, or TAB, the group brings together highschool students to discuss books ranging from the Best Books selections to old favorites such as Bridge to Terabithia. A selection of TAB members met with me to explain their perspectives on libraries, books, and reading in a lively exchange that prompted Young Adult Services Librarian and TAB sponsor Margaret Brown to observe of the group, "It's hard to have just one conversation."
It is clear that TAB is a refuge of sorts, albeit a dynamic one--a place where these teens can go to talk about books and interact with others who enjoy stories and ideas conveyed through the printed word. "If you talk to other random teens, they're like, 'You read?'" said Allison, then a high school junior. "When you come to TAB, you know you're with people who do." Others in the group concurred about the value of the monthly meetings as a source of ideas for new titles and authors. Theresa, 16, depends on her peers' guidance. "When I'm in the library, I'm like, 'What do I read?'" she explains saying TAB provides dependable answers to this question. Even James, also 16, who read 56 Best Books titles last year and was currently in the middle of 12 different series, said he counted on other TAB members' advice to find authors he will enjoy.
Despite their commitment to TAB, not all members decided to join on their own. Hallie, 16, who enjoys fantasy fiction like The Mists of Avalon, suggests the importance of peer recruiting when she explains her introduction to the group. "One of my friends dragged me into TAB," she said, adding, "I feel grateful for that."
All of these teens believe that family and friends play significant roles in their avid interest in reading. Some see a connection between their parents' print-centered professions, like librarianship and editing, and their love for books. Others, like Hallie and 16-year-old Pushpa--who lists John Grisham and Michael Crichton among her favorite authors--cite their parents' belief that reading is important. Hallie explained that not only did her parents tell her she should read, they also read as a family "My parents used to read to me when I was little," she said. "We still read together." In Pushpa's case, a younger sister also spurs her to read and visit the library. "I come here to get her books because she loves stories," the teen said. …