The library is more than a house of information; it’s a community center. At libraries, we promote community work, learn new skills, and are given a space to simply hang out and be. It’s a less formalized place of learning where patrons aren’t restrained by classroom rigidity. At Rutgers, we have many libraries to serve our vast population. In the wake of Covid-19, creating a space to be and work with others is more complicated. Still, our librarians have been busily opening up Zoom Rooms and rebuilding a digital community.
Summer Tales is one of the many initiatives Rutgers Libraries uses to build a reading culture in the Rutgers community and participate in student outreach.
Summer Tales is a Canvas “course” that accompanies Rutgers Summer Session. It’s 100 percent voluntary, and participation is never graded or judged.
This summer, I was lucky enough to serve as a part of the Summer Tales team alongside my fellow graduate student, Alissa Renales.
We assisted with creating the Summer Tales LibGuide, developed Zoom games and icebreakers, contributed to student discussions, introduced famed authors, wrote blog posts, and more.
As an MLIS student in the school librarian track, this program has been invaluable to my portfolio and CV. In class, it’s hard to get a sense of a hypothetical library community. With Summer Tales, I understood what Rutgers students were actually reading and what motivates them to discuss their reading.
Donalyn Miller, an educator known for building reading cultures and literacy, claims that “the conversations we have about books bring people together” more than the books themselves. However, with all the media open to our consumption, it’s difficult to find a group to blab about your latest read with, especially when you’re somewhere as large as Rutgers. Summer Tales curates shorter works of fiction and poetry to help our community come together. We were not always successful at inspiring discussion, but students still showed up to our author events and kick-off/wrap-up parties.
The act of community building is my most significant takeaway from Summer Tales. Our community has been dealing with the collective trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic. Summer Tales has served as a means for escaping our pain, maybe processing it through works of fiction and connecting to one another.
I want to take that practice with me to the schools and libraries I serve. Reading is powerful, but the community is even more powerful. As a librarian, I’m lucky to help patrons find both.