Savor the wonders of spring in Santa Fe, while reading, dancing, planting, bird-feeding, cooking, observing nature, playing math and, perhaps, finding the silver linings of a monstrous year!
By Tracey Mitchell
Tips for finding books remotely when we can’t browse the shelves in person.
One tough problem for parents and other caregivers right now is finding appropriate reading material for students. Children and youth often can’t go into their school or classroom libraries to pick out a book suited to their reading level. With the public libraries’ services largely limited to curbside pickup and e-content, it’s a time-consuming challenge to look up books in online catalogs, try to evaluate them, and select some that are at the appropriate level and — just as importantly — of interest to the young reader. But there are tools available to help make this easier.
Libraries to the rescue!
First, your very best tools (after your child’s teacher) are your local children’s librarians. Do not be afraid to ask for their help finding what you need. While it isn’t as easy to talk to them as it was in the days of going inside the building, it is still doable. And rest assured that children’s librarians are missing their library families and will jump at the chance to help you get the right books into small hands. At Vista Grande Public Library and many other libraries, patrons are encouraged to call or email staff for help (see below for contact information to Vista Grande and Santa Fe Public Library).
The best way to get assistance at VGPL is through the Grab and Go Bags, our concierge service for children, teens and adults. Patrons fill out a form, available at the door or online, that tells the librarian the age, grade and reading level of the reader, as well as what kind of subjects they like. Questions include whether the reader would prefer fiction, nonfiction or a mix of each; preferred book length; favorite books as a comparison; and even what the reader definitely does not like. Staff will then put together a selection of books tailored to that request. The patron is notified and can pick up the bag as part of the usual outside pickup services.
One advantage to this over even indoor browsing is that families will be introduced to titles and authors that they may never have discovered on their own. After a couple of requests or so, the librarians (and parents) can better know the young readers’ tastes and abilities. This makes each Grab and Go bag a better fit. And at a certain point the patrons know what to ask for to create their own lists of reserved books. At VGPL, grownups can take advantage of this option, too. Santa Fe Public Library has a similar offering: Personalized Book Bundles, which a librarian compile at your request based on your child’s age, reading level, the subject or genre they enjoy, and preferred number of books. See their form here.
In addition, VGPL offers pre-selected Binge Bags, which are backpacks holding an assortment of books on a particular theme. Patrons check out the backpack and all the items inside, and can return them separately or all together the same way they return other items. Currently, the Binge Bag selections for youth and families include Newberry Award Winners, Space, Biographies and Social Media. The options change periodically for seasons and holidays. Is there a topic you’d like to see in a Binge Bag? Let the staff know.
Library catalogs are becoming increasingly helpful, beyond simply looking up a specific book or author. Online catalogs are much more sophisticated than most patrons know. Our catalog, for example, offers the choice of “More Search Options,” which allow patrons to do more specified searches for subjects, material types, and so on.
Another useful resource can be found at the bottom of the record for a particular item in our online catalog. If your child liked a certain book or author, the “You May Also Like” section at the bottom of the page for that entry will offer similar titles and authors. For example, if a reader really enjoyed Dairy of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck, the catalog entry will suggest The Dork Diaries and Big Nate series. The catalog record also provides the Accelerated Reading Level and Lexile measure for many children and youth books, another helpful feature if the reader’s teacher has recommended selecting for one of those levels.
VGPL offers a large selection of e-books through Overdrive’s New Mexico-To-Go Consortium. We have partnered with Overdrive to use their Sora app, which allows students at participating schools to access our electronic collection without actually having a VGPL card. Check with your school about this resource.
Another online site to consult for book suggestions is Goodreads. It is easy to set up an account, and then you can look up favorite authors, titles and genres. Students can keep a list of books they’ve read and review them for other potential readers. They can also see suggestions of other titles that are similar to the books they like. Going back to our example, Goodreads recommends that readers who enjoyed Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck might also like the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey, or Sisters by Raina Telgemeier. Lexile.com is a good source for finding lists of titles that match your student’s reading level, if you are trying to choose books based on the Lexile level your teacher has recommended. This is hardly an exhaustive list of resources to be found in the vast web of information. Consult your child’s teacher or your own local librarian for their favorites.
It’s been a tough time for libraries and their patrons. The public library of today is a community hub, where normally there is a lot going on. In addition to the strangely quiet spaces and empty calendars, libraries are facing budget shortfalls, curtailed hours and staff shortfalls, in addition to health risks if they are not working from home. The goal of public librarians remains the same: to get as many books into the hands of as many patrons as they can. This is especially important for those of us focused on children and youth. We firmly believe in the axiom that everyone would be a reader if they found the right book. So, we are dedicated to doing what we can within the limits of health orders and safe practices.
If you have not been using your library during this pandemic, what’s stopping you? Help, education and entertainment are only a phone call or mouse click away. And we will be there when normal life returns, too, with whole new ways to serve you in addition to welcoming all our shelf browsers back.
Don’t Be a Stranger!
For reference questions and library card inquiries at SFPL, email firstname.lastname@example.org.