Back in 2019, little did we know that a small library’s reading initiative would survive its first semester, let alone that it would grow into a campus-wide program at Rutgers-New Brunswick! Now entering the fifth year of a program musing on books we read, reflections and a brief inventory seem to be in order, at a risk of sounding like a shameless self-promotion.
Our first posts were succinct and to the point: introducing the project and welcoming our first readers of Books We Read at Chang. Launched as an on-campus reading program to promote library resources, the focus was on what students can do in the library other than studying, printing, or waiting for the next class. However, we started the theme “Why should you read?” early, with fun ideas, elaborating on the topic later in posts on why one should read over the summer, why you should read poetry or short stories, why everyone should read banned books, and why reading helps with well-being and mental health. Books We Read at its best from Day 1: promoting reading diverse titles for fun!
For starters, we also featured the very first virtual gallery of mini posters, created by SEBS students, partnering with the SEBS Office of Academic Programs. Later, two courses offered to first-year first-generation college students, Academic Mentoring and Portals to Academic Success, provided many more during their library instruction sessions, expanding into ten poster galleries online, an exhibit in the art library, and two displays, one in the Douglass library and one in Chang. Just last week we set up “Best of” posters for four courses on the walls of the brand new Instructional Alcove in Chang library. These mini posters send the message that, contrary to popular belief, Rutgers students do read! Feedback from library instruction also confirms the same, along with students understanding the potential of libraries for their success.
Online resources provided by Books We Read expanded quickly after the unfortunate lock-down due to the pandemic, starting in March 2020. Our small team was in position to launch a full-fledged online-only program by introducing RUGRAT (Rutgers University Groups Reading Alone Together) for students and Cook Reads for the faculty and staff in isolation, replacing the SEBS Little Free Library, just launched a month before. Corona Reads became instant hits, which started the new series of Staff Picks, featuring basically any book or topic that a team member liked and considered worthwhile sharing. Online availability was the common denominator, which also prompted setting up a page of how to access these resources – one of our most frequently visited page to date. With diverse topics written by our diverse members in the past few years, Staff Picks are still popular and the Little Free Library is going strong in Foran Hall.
Another outcome of our unique position and preparedness was an innovative, New Brunswick campus-wide, summer reading program called Summer Tales that Books We Read spearheaded in the summer of 2020, followed by more in the next three years. The highlight of these summer programs was the public author event, which invited renowned authors to read and speak at Rutgers virtually. Guests included Joyce Carol Oates, Carmen Maria Machado, Natalie Diaz, Julie Otsuka, and Javier Zamora – that is, authors whose books we read and discussed over time. Each event was followed up by our reflections from diverse perspectives, as Books We Read recruited graduate students from the MI program.
Our team also expanded with several guest bloggers, often authors of books themselves, from Rutgers Libraries-New Brunswick, faculty and staff alike, bringing new flavors of books to read as well as artwork related to our program, which expanded our creativity and play with the help of art librarian Megan Lotts. The topics that we wrote about in August 2021 cover finding humor for emotional strength, book sculptures, reading for recovery, and bibliotherapy, in addition to the usual ones. Accomplished food history author and business librarian Becky Diamond joined us, taking the program into another new direction, food writing in the next academic year.
Books We Read featured many fun, stressbuster posts over the years for stressed-out students during the exams, such as urban sketching, drawing, and graphic design. It was the logical next step from our own cute pet pictures to add a special edition, as we also make a point of reflecting on what’s happening around us in the world, for example, by explaining war poetry, sampling Ukrainian poets, and sharing books about Ukraine.
The summer of 2022 featured a series of interviews on how we read, including invited contributors, providing a snapshot of reading habits from twelve different angles. Spreading out throughout the entire summer, we hoped that these posts offered a kind of contagious enthusiasm, and that hearing other people talk about reading reminds everyone what we enjoy most about it. Our new graduate student members broadened the horizons further throughout the entire year with musical mysteries, science fiction short stories, crime fiction, and even baseball books! Food and culture, cookbooks and food history became staples of the Books We Read diet.
The past academic year was also a challenge, with my sabbatical leave focusing on the Alcohol Archives (hence the fun cross posts from the archives whenever I stumbled upon a treasure). Our trusted Books We Read members and partners held down the fort and we never missed a week. At the beginning of our fifth year, we are now preparing to observe Banned Books Week, another tradition and a cause important for us – to continue to share our thoughts on Banned Books We Read. The freedom to read is of concern during times when books are constantly challenged or made otherwise inaccessible, such as via shrinkwrapping mandated by law in my native Hungary. Stay tuned for our new posts!
Books We Read has evolved from running conversations (pun intended) between a jack-of-all-trades science librarian and, at that time, an English literature PhD candidate, inspired by Reading for Recovery. The rest is history. The project has put Chang Library on the map beyond Rutgers. Viewed by over 62,000 visitors, our posts are widely shared on social media via our outstanding partnership with SEBS/NJAES, the immediate community we serve, and with the help of Rutgers University Libraries and various other institutions, often including the authors of the books we read.
Top posts and pages by pageviews
- Banned Books as a Parenting Tool: Lessons from The Giver
- How to Find eBooks at Rutgers and Beyond
- Citizen Science, Participatory Science: a Primer
- Science and Poetry
- Staff Picks: Flowers for Algernon
- Banned Books Week 2020: What is a Zine?
- The Banned Books of Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives
- Name that book: A picture is worth a thousand words
- Audiobooks for Quarantine
- War Poetry: What Is It Good For?
- Something’s Happening and You Don’t Know What It Is: “Adolescence II”
- SEBS Little Free Library
- What is Bibliotherapy?
- Why Read Short Stories
- Banned Books Week 2020: What is Samizdat?
Thanks to the authors who wrote the books we read and will read in the future.
Thanks to our bloggers and supporters who write and share our reflections.
Thanks to the readers of this blog who inspire us every day.