Bookleggers

Wherever I’ve lived in the world, I have always tried to get involved in my community through volunteering. Here’s one of the most fun volunteer projects I had the pleasure of working on.

I lived in Beloit, Wisconsin, for six years, and during my time there I became involved in one of Beloit Public Library‘s community outreach programs, called Bookleggers.

What is Bookeleggers?

Volunteers deliver bags of library books to third grade classrooms at all the local elementary schools, once a month during the school year.The aim of the Bookleggers program is to  encourage children to take an interest in reading for fun. Each month, the program reaches 650 third grade students, across more than 30 different classrooms.

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Library books

Each volunteer has a set of books that they deliver to specific classes at the schools. The bags contain five copies of six different books from a variety of genres, as chosen by library staff. There are non-fiction titles as well as chapter books and picture books, to meet the needs of children who are either slightly below, at, or above the general third grade reading level.

Book Talk

The volunteer’s job is to present each of the six books in the form of a book talk; the format of this varies slightly with each volunteer, but I tended to read an excerpt from a chapter book, talk around the topic of a non-fiction book, or ask the children to tell me what they knew about a topic related to a specific book. I tried to make the book talks as fun and engaging as possible (my past experience as an English teacher came in handy here). Fun is the key word!

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A bookleggers volunteer in action (photo taken from Beloit Daily News, 2015)

The class keeps the bag of books for a month, during which time they can read as many of the books as they want, until the next volunteer comes along to replace the bag with a different set of books the following month. At the end of the school year, the classes visit the public library for one final book talk, and for each child to have the opportunity to get a library card.

Community engagement

Bookleggers is an amazing way for the public library to connect and engage with elementary school children in the local community. So far it has been going strong for over 25 years, and currently has a team of 17 volunteers.

The program would not be possible without library staff who run Bookleggers, the volunteers who visit the schools, and of course the funding the library has received to purchase all the sets of books.

I have not heard of any similar programs in the UK, but please comment below if you know of any!

Comments are welcome!

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