Do boys belong in the library?

Walking into the library is an uncomfortable and intimidating experience for many boys. They often feel inadequate, out of place, and even unwelcomed. Growing up as a non reader, I hardly ever visited the library. On the few occasions I did, I remember how nervous and uncomfortable I felt. Even with today’s more modern way of thinking, many boys still feel like they just don’t belong. I see that look in their face all the time, as they first walk into our library.

It’s all about your library VISION!

If you really want boys to be involved in the library, you must define and publicize a vision that

includes them! Read this article called, “Redesign Your Library Vision.” It addresses how to get your administration and staff on board as well as a handful of other great tips.

Create an inviting atmosphere

As soon as a student walks into a library, they make a very important first impression. I go through a lot of work to make the entry area look inviting. Teens are especially opinionated, so set up your library to make a good first impression! To learn more about changing the atmosphere, read this upcoming article – “Extreme Library Makeover.”

Allow Encourage food and drinks

Carpet is overrated and computers are almost indestructible. For almost 4 years now, our library cafe has enticed hundreds of messy teens EVERY SINGLE DAY and we haven’t ever had any major problems, not even one.
It’s natural for most teenagers to leave trash and spill drinks all the time. Don’t get frustrated! Expect it, have a plan, and don’t sweat it. Assign volunteers or student assistant to check the carpets each day. Respect and take care of your custodians. Get their buy-in by explaining the library goals and vision. Thank them often and give them a little treat here and there to say thanks. Paint is the only thing I worry about, and it’s still worth the effort.
Many adults shutter at the thought of food or drinks in the library. Overcoming personal fears, issues, and traditions can go a long way to making the library a good place to be. Allowing food and drinks is a step in the right direction.

Provide comfortable seating

Guys love to be comfortable! When I surveyed students before doing our Extreme Library Makeover, the 2 biggest requests by both girls and boys was food and comfortable seating.

Make the library look cool

If they walk in and see something that they like, a good impression goes a long way. Use student create artwork. Post photographs, and get ideas from students and staff. If there’s a will, there’s a way.

Provide reading materials that boys like

Display tons of non-fiction books and magazines on topics that they like.

Develop relationships

Talk with boys and make an effort to get to know them. Ask them a few questions. The more you reach out, the more comfortable they will feel about coming back. Remind them that it is their library, not yours.

Start up a library based program

Guys Read, Rock the Mic, Free Pancakes, chess, book swap, etc…

Get parents involved

  • Encourage parents to bring their sons to the public library
  • Teach parents techniques to get their sons stay involved with reading
  • Talk with them about their questions, concerns, and ideas

It’s worth the effort

It’s no mystery that it can be a tough job attracting boys into the library, especially teenage boys. Successful library programs are spearheaded by librarians that are committed to the ongoing work needed. Good librarians will take the time and energy to do the things that boys need to feel part of the library. In many occasions, it only takes one committed adult to make a difference in the literary lives of thousands of boys. We may not always see the fruits of our labor, but have faith, because we do make a difference!

Things to Discuss:

What other things that parents can do?
What library programs have you heard of?


Posted in: Content

{ 23 comments… add one }

  • ayoubmarket

    Hello Mike, great topic with awesome tips!
    You asked about some “library programs” I like this one
    It’ll cost you nothing (just a phone call), you can check the website for more programs.

  • Chuck

    In school I also am a moderator of a club organization. I have more than 20 boys in my club. The school year is about to end so as a final evaluation activity for my club, I wanted them to go to the library and research certain topics regarding our club. I wanted them to work in diads so as to facilitate teamwork as well.

    When I went down to the library to ask the librarian permission for the boys to go down and do research for our activity I was so frustrated because the lady librarian said that I should have made reservations first before they could have let my boys do the research.

    It was a fault in my part not being able to reserve ahead of time. So, the club members weren’t able to do their research. We instead opted to do another activity.

    Situations like these make the library less appealing to boys. Instead of welcoming boys to use the library, and letting me off the hook for this first time, It has created an impression of rigidity instead of openness.

  • Alan

    Well, I work at county public library and we have a very active youth services department with two children’s and one teen’s librarian on staff, and we have made many of the types of changes you suggest. The kids do seem to like to snack while they hand out at the puters and game tables. OTOH, seeing the homeless come in with bags of groceries and used the library as a place to eat or sleep does make long for the old days a bit.

  • Holli

    Do boys really have this much trouble with libraries? My son loves the library! We’ve been taking him frequently and regularly since he was a baby, and for him, at age 5, it’s still a treat. And it seems like there are usually plenty of other boys at the activities we attend.
    Our library has a little cafe in the front, but you’re not allowed to take food back into the rest of the library. I think it’s a reasonable compromise.

  • Debby-6-Kids

    Hi Holli,


    Yes, there are some boys that do have problems in the library. I too have been bringing my boys (and girls) to the library since they were tiny. One day my little guy was being a bit loud and something was said to him. I had trouble getting him back in the next visit. Many times boys do not even realize how loud they are being. I know mine don’t. I can’t count the amount of times I have been out with them and one will yell MOM and I have to say "I am standing right on the side of you". They are just high energy by nature. :)

  • bjneary

    I love all of the comments and understand that one word or action can turn a boy off to reading and the library. Before I came to my school, the old library allowed NOTHING and as the new librarian, I was told to get the students back into the library. It has been 6 years now and like Mike, the library was revamped with alot of support from admin and the teachers. Boys can’t wait to get into the library, yes they do eat, yes they love the computers and laptops and most important, they feel welcome and WANT TO COME, day after day. But it does take hard work from everyone to provide this energized, inviting atmosphere and yes we have lots of great books for boys. I love booktalking and the students feel at ease coming to ask for recommendations.

  • Kate Garnett

    Totally agree, work in a boys school 11-18 in UK. Allow eating / drinking as long as no rubbish which of course they respect because respect goes both ways! No signs up anywhere. It is THEIR library. I talk to boys at start of year about who loves reading – hands go up and I say fine, keep going. I then ask who HATES reading – few hands go up. We talk about why – why it’s ok to prefer football and playing outside but that the library is still for them even if they don’t like books they might like a space to relax with friends around a game of chess, sharing a magazine etc. They feel welcome – you can’t ‘sell’ reading if you don’t get them through the door. I then get them to create a ‘book’ about themselves about hobbies etc. and use this info to chat to them about stuff they may like – including weblinks / blogs etc as they are all reading too aren’t they! Manga and cartoons have got lots reading too, and the chance for them to order their own choice of books is a real incentive.
    Sorry for rambling comment – but v busy at work today with lots of boys reading! We can’t allow them to hide behind the myth that they don’t and it’s not cool!
    Best wishes with your ideas

  • Jean-Marie

    So what about the littlest library patrons? I’m a mom of a 5 year old daughter and 2 year old son. My son is a typical 2 year old boy. He loves loud crashes and big trucks and making messes.

    My local public library is not the most child-friendly library. I suppose the one big indicator is that they have adult-sized furniture and seating in the children’s area. Even the tables they use for story time crafts are adult-sized. None of the little ones can reach the tabletops comfortably.

    It gets quite busy in the afternoons (after-school) and they have a security guard patrolling the floor during this time to regulate the crowds. In my opinion this security guard gets a little carried away. Children are always being reprimanded for the smallest of infractions: speaking too loudly, more than one child to a computer, running, touching and playing, to name a few.

    Bringing my children to the library for regular visits is about as important as taking them to the pediatrician for regular visits. I feel like the public library is a place for exploring and growing your imagination. If my 2 year old wants to pull out his trucks, plopped down on the floor and recreate a scene in the book he’s reading, I’m all for it. I want my son to like reading, books and the library.

    But how can he enjoy the experience if he’s being spoken to for doing things a typical 2 year old boy would do? Touching, moving, jumping, speaking, exploring. Yes, I’m all for good manners and discipline but there’s only so much you can expect from the toddler, preschool and young elementary set. I definitely wouldn’t let my children do anything in the public library that I wouldn’t let them do at home. However as most parents with young children soon learn, you must pick your battles. Standing on a table is unacceptable, but driving your Matchbox through an unused book end is really no big deal. The library guard cannot see the difference.

    When my son walks into the library he is excited. He knows exactly where to find the books he likes. He knows the room for the children’s story time. He always checks to see if something is going on in there. He loves the library. We’ll get in the car after a visit and he’ll say, “that was fun.” I feel awful, however, when he is asked to quiet down or stop his little toddler run to his favorite books or not explore something that is in an open area and within his reach. I don’t see many adults entering the library exhibiting this much enthusiasm, so I’m pretty sure he’ll grown out of it eventually. He’ll learn how to conduct himself by example, not by constant shushing and reprimanding.

    Regarding programs I would love it if they created programs just for boys. I’ve seen everything from teddybear pinics to scrapbooking. I can’t even tell you how excited my son would be to bring his vehicle of choice to a big truck picnic or a bulldozer book time. That would be too cool!

    We each have our own goals to fulfill when we visit the library. Some of us want a place of silence to read, research and meditate. Some of us want a place of social community to exchange thoughts and ideas with other like-minded individuals and families. Some of us just want to learn something new. I don’t think the public library in particular is prepared (sometimes because its vision is too limited) to cater to each of those goals.

  • Terry Lai

    Do you have pictures posted that show the extreme make over?

  • Mike McQueen

    I’m planning to write an article in September about the extreme makeover. Thanks.

  • Mike McQueen

    Amazing post Jean-Marie! Hearing stories like that fuel me to keep plugging away at Libraries have come far in recent years, but we all still have such a long way to go.

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  • Anne Carson

    This is best guideline for librarians.Boys are often far more interested in the library computers than the books, so use them wisely! Set book-based competitions that involve computer research, promote fun author websites or ask for volunteers to complete online book reviews. Balancing the book and technology aspects of the library well can work wonders.
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  • Lesley Edwards

    You are spot on with your ideas for making the library kid friendly. I started allowing food and stopped shushing about 5 years ago. The first few months were horrible as kids (Gr. 8-12) came to terms with their new freedom. Now they are very respectful of the library environment and each other. The library has become a busy place, lots of working noise and the kids feel welcome here.
    I formed a library advisory group of boys who recommend books to buy and displays. The other thing I’ve done is buy some beanbag chairs which are constantly in use.

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