Libraries Reboot to Lure Tech-Savvy Boys Using Movies, Video Games, Teens Learn How to Use Libraries' Research Tools
Riopell, Mike, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Mike Riopell Daily Herald Staff Writer
Once a week, John Strott sits quietly in the Grayslake Area Library children's department, speaking of his favorite books and how best to find them in the library.
But what really makes his face light up is talking about his first video-game system, an Atari.
Strott is the first man hired for the Grayslake library children's department, and his female boss hopes his varied interests will help draw more boys into reading.
Librarians agree boys in their early teens seem to lose interest in reading. Libraries want them back and are willing to use video games, macho movies and a targeted selection of books to get them there.
Because if they lose touch now, the most likely time for their return is when they're grown up and bringing their own children.
"They forget what's in the library," Cary Area Public Library Director Diane McNulty said.
And what is in libraries is changing.
As a man working in a field dominated by women, Strott might have a better chance relating to boys.
He recently helped a grumpy boy, dragged to the library by his parents, find "Star Wars" books - a much-appreciated departure from standard classic literature.
But what they really bonded over was Xbox.
"I think that he thought it was cool that I played some of the same games," he said.
Why won't they stay?
As teenage schedules fill with sports, band and spending time with friends, the library gets pushed out.
"Teens are definitely into socialization at this age," said Pam Spencer Holley, president of the American Library Association's teen division.
At that age, boys become interested in girls, and vice versa, and cuddling up with a good book isn't the ideal teenage romance.
Still, Holley said, girls tend to not mind socializing at the library, compared with boys who might see the library as an obstacle to fitting in.
"It's not as cool," she said. "They're really into image."
But experts say sitting down with a novel isn't the only activity libraries can push.
And missing that fact over the years is forcing libraries to play catch-up.
"We think that if a kid's not sitting, reading a fiction book, they're not reading," Holley said. "For years, we've been measuring the wrong thing."
Catering to boys
Librarians don't have any hard numbers illustrating how teenagers leave the library.
Perhaps the most telling proof lies in the efforts libraries put forth to keep them in.
For example, Schaumburg Township District Library created an entire teen area - complete with a sports theme - several years ago.
Fremont Public Library District in Mundelein has movie nights, some of which target teenage boys with PG-13 flicks such as "The Longest Yard" and "The Ring Two."
Keeping boys reading could be a matter of simply addressing what they like to read.
Pam Greedan, Strott's boss at the Grayslake library, said boys are drawn to nonfiction because "boys want to find their place in the world."
Some libraries want to be pop culture centers.
The Antioch Public Library District stacks wildly popular Japanese animation and lets kids check out computer games - more than just the educational ones.
The Cary library lets them dance. It holds contests using the popular video game "Dance Dance Revolution," in which players follow a dance and have to move their feet on sensory pads. Players usually watch a screen, but the Cary library projects the directions onto a wall so everyone can follow along.
"First off, it gets them into the library," McNulty said. "It gets them to realize that the library is more than just books. …