A continuing trend for colleges and universities is to sponsor a Common Reading Program for incoming freshman. These programs aim to connect new students around a shared experience that promises to build community. Every freshman (in theory) reads the book, so when they arrive in August, they have something to talk about beyond the normal freshman small talk.

Now, this isn’t a new idea and in fact, lots of libraries have done similar programs with their more broader community. We might call it something different, like City Reads or One Book, One City, but the concept is the same. It’s a way to bring people together, create common ground, share diverse perspectives, and come to a better understanding of one another.

The library is a natural partner in these sorts of programs, not only for our ability to provide copies of the book, but also the wealth of resources around the book itself. We are in great positions to provide programming and additional information for those really interested in the book content. Additionally, because the library is often considered a third space, it’s a natural spot for some community discussions on the book.

In my current job, I have the opportunity to sit on a campus-wide programming committee for the Penn State Reads. This year we are tackling It’s What I Do by Lynsey Addario. The book is Addario’s memoir, following her life as she realizes she wants to be a photojournalist and what that’s like in a world after 9/11. While Addario will be visiting Pennsylvania in October, the committee wants to host some sort of programming for the entire 2017-18 school year.

As the committee figures out what year-round programming will look like, I’ve always got an eye on how the library can contribute. Below, I have a few ways I’m currently helping promote the library and thinking through Penn State Reads programming.

  • Library exhibit tie-in: Myself and another co-worker are in the process of putting together an exhibit of library resources related to It’s What I Do. Our exhibit is due to open mid spring semester (2018) so we’ve got plenty of time to curate a collection. The library is full of biographies and memoirs on photographers, the wars in Middle East after 9/11, and photo theory (which includes visual literacy).
  • Enhanced “Resources” page on the central website: Each year, Penn State Reads website includes some additional resources for faculty, staff, and students who are reading the book. The library contributes and helps to cultivate a rich list of resources and includes link to our catalog descriptions (for easy requesting). Not only are we directing people to our resources, it also allows us to see if there are any collection gaps we could fill this summer before the students return. 
  • Helping to navigate film rights: For a book like this, a movie series comes up as a way to extend the themes of the book into various films. While the library might not moderate a discussion on these films, we can play the role of helping navigate gaining public performance rights or working with specific classes to host extra-curricular film nights for an educational purpose.

A role I also see the library playing is being able to fill gaps of knowledge about the events that are described in this book. If we think of our incoming freshman, many were born in 1998 or 1999. This means they were under 5 when 9/11 happened. Their perspective on these events vastly differs from our experiences where we usually vividly remember where we were when we learned about 9/11. It’s important to help set that historical context for a greater understanding of Addario’s work during that time.

Finally, the Penn State Libraries does have some broader community connections we tap into for our common reading program. For many years, we have worked with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council to host the author an extra day in State College. The extra day allows the author to speak at a community event and to bring together the town and gown.

With all this programming, I’m curious: does your library do a common reading program? Do you ever collaborate with the local university or college in town (if there is one)? How do you involve your teens in City Reads programming? What could be other ways to collaborate with community partners in programs like these?

About Hailley Fargo

Hi, I'm a new professional working as the Student Engagement Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. As someone who provides reference to undergraduate students and teach information literacy to primarily freshman, I'm curious about the intersections of the work of YALSA and academic libraries (and how we can collaborate and work together to help our teens). In my spare time, I like to bike, read memoirs, watch TV shows, and consider myself an oatmeal connoisseur.

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