In the media center, don’t just look, take a book!

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In the media center, don’t just look, take a book!

Fiction novels sit on the shelves of the media center.

Fiction novels sit on the shelves of the media center.

Annabel Redisch

Fiction novels sit on the shelves of the media center.

Annabel Redisch

Annabel Redisch

Fiction novels sit on the shelves of the media center.

By Taylor Haber

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I’m genuinely surprised when I see someone check out a book from the media center. I’ve only checked out two books in my time at Whitman, and I’ve never had to wait in line. In fact, the books seem like a sideshow to the library’s main attraction: the computers. Ironically, in a place designed to promote reading, students are avoiding books.

This culture of ignoring literature isn’t surprising, but it’s a trend that media center head Alexis Mazur is fighting against. In her third year at Whitman, Mazur’s main focus is encouraging high school students to pick up a book.

Under Mazur’s leadership, the Whitman librarians have tried to engage the student body through a variety of advertising efforts, ranging from trendy book displays to providing Google Forms that custom-fit students’ literary interests with potential reads. The form’s questions including “what’s your favorite tv show? and “what activities do you do in your spare time?” are meant to give librarians an understanding of the student so they can give specific and personal book recommendations.

“It’s almost like a word of mouth,” Mazur said. “I’ll tell a class or so, and maybe a couple of kids will do it. Then I’ll notice a big bubble.”

Soon, Mazur hopes to spearhead an initiative similar to one at Walter Johnson High School, where she would meet up with Whitman students at a bookstore and, with media center funds, purchase books that high school students want to read. 

At some point in my life, reading shifted from a daily pastime into a chore. If I had to guess, the last time I could spend hours with a book was back in my Bannockburn years, when my workload was lighter and my stress, like a Rick Riordan novel, was complete fantasy. 

Like most kids, I grew up reading Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and the cream of the crop, Magic Tree House. Back in 2011 — my heydey — I would have called tearing through 50 pages of a Who Was… novel while simultaneously crushing down eight Capri-Suns lemonades an afternoon well spent. 

Unfortunately, my priorities have changed since second grade. I’ve found myself in the same position as most students in the media center: trading books for battery life. In fact, Gen Z kids are a part of a national trend that demonstrates how reading for pleasure is on the decline.

The librarians acknowledge that high school students don’t always have the time to check out books, but if anything, it’s motivated them to develop more effective strategies. One of Mazur’s most comprehensive efforts to encourage students to borrow more books has been to bring in authors during lunch periods to speak.

Last spring, I attended one of these author visits. I listened to fiction writer David Bowles discuss his new novel, They Call Me Guero. I didn’t know anything about Bowles or his writings beforehand. My teacher told me to go listen to Bowles speak about his experiences, and, to my surprise, it was encapsulating.

Bowles’ novels didn’t quite appeal to me  they catered to students who enjoyed fantasy but the discussion was valuable in a different way. It forced me to consider how little I read, outside of school assignments.

It might be the prospect of bucking national expectations, or maybe it’s just the hidden elementary school student in me fighting back. Most likely, it’s the efforts of Whitman librarians. Regardless of the exact reason, once again, I’m feeling drawn away from the screens that dominate my life and closer to getting back in the habit of flipping through a few pages every once in a while maybe you might, too.