Ask Your Librarian! Four Surveys Reveal Where Young People Turn for Reading Advice

By Gallo, Donald R. | American Libraries, November 1985 | Go to article overview

Ask Your Librarian! Four Surveys Reveal Where Young People Turn for Reading Advice


Gallo, Donald R., American Libraries


Ask your librarian!

Four surveys reveal where young people turn for reading advice

MOST PEOPLE, IF THEY HAVE a medical problem or question, seek the expert advice of a physician. If they have a problem with their car, they seek the expertise of an auto mechanic. But when kids--especially teenagers --need advice or information about good books to read, they are not likely to seek that help from librarians, from those who ought to be able to offer the most expert guidance in that field.

One of the college students in my YA literature course last semester expressed his feelings this way: "I have developed a fear of libraries because our library in my hometown has some very rude librarians who discourage people from using the library, which they protect like a shrine.'

Pre-teenagers are more likely than teenagers to ask librarians for advice, just as they are more likely to use the library as their major source of books for pleasure reading. (Older students are more likely to buy their books.)

In 1982, with the financial support of H.P. Kopplemann, Inc., a Hartford-based supplier of paperbacks to school and libraries, I mailed questionnaires to English and reading teachers I knew in nearly 50 different schools in 37 different towns and cities throughout Connecticut. I asked each teacher to survey one or two different classes and to ask another teacher in his or her school or town to do the same thing, hoping to get as wide a sampling as possible. Teachers in all types of schools were included: public, private, parochial, and technical in urban, rural, and suburban areas. Teachers distributed the questionnaires to all students in one or two of their classes. We eliminated only a handful that were incompletely or improperly filled out.

Librarians ranked last as source consulted

The study I conducted by questionnaire of 3,399 students in grades 4 through 12 revealed that 19% of the students in grades 4-6 (14% of the boys and 24% of the girls) most often acted on a librarian's suggestions for good books to read. In contrast, only 4% of the junior high students and just 2% of the senior high students did so. For YAs, friends' suggestions led the list. The librarian's suggestion ranked third out of 12 categories among elementary grade students generally; in grades 7-12, librarians ranked last.

In all four surveys I conducted, we obtained data from essentially 100 percent of the students who were present in classes on the day questionnaires were distributed.

Dell survey confirms results

The results of that survey were confirmed in a more recent questionnaire survey I supervised for Dell Publishing Company in October 1984. This survey was conducted similarly to the first one: I contacted one teacher or principal in nine different schools, each in a different type of community, and asked the individual to enlist the aid of other teachers to distribute a brief questionnaire to an entire class of 4th, 5th of 6th graders.

Surveying approximately 760 students, we discovered that seeking the librarian's recommendation of a good book ranked fourth, as can be seen in the following chart.

In contrast are the findings from a survey of "Leisure Time Reading of College-Bound English Classes' in Meriden, Conn. Librarians at the town's two high schools conducted the survey. Among the 866 college-bound students surveyed during the winter of 1985, only 5.5% of the students (7.3% in one school and 4.2% in the other) said that "The best books are discovered through . . . librarians.' The top ranking, or 62%, went to friends' suggestions.

Perhaps one of the reasons older students don't trust in suggestions of a librarian as much as younger students do is the quality of the information they are likely to receive. Younger children are more likely to go to the children's librarian for information and assistance. …

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