The Bethesda Teen Reads Program is one of 15 nationwide and it is a great way to earn SSL (Student Service Learning) hours while having fun. Teens participating in this program read and review books before they are published, and their reviews are sent to the publishers of the books. This program takes place in the Bethesda Library, and to further explain it, I have interviewed Kathie Weinberg, the Bethesda Teen Service Librarian.
Can you describe the Teen Reads Program? What is expected and required?
We are one of 15 groups of teens nationwide that participate in this program. It is a program where publishers of teen books send us advanced reader copies, which are the copies of books before they are published, and teens read the books and review them online. The teens then send me the reviews, which I send to the publishers, to thank them for sending us the books. I also send the reviews to the American Library Association Best Teen Book Committee, which chooses the most popular books.
Would this program have a big impact on whether or not a book gets published?
Well, the publishers are desperate to know what teens are thinking. They are especially interested to find out things like whether teens like the cover or whether they found the book interesting. They do care about that, but once the book is at the stage when the advanced reader copy is available, it would probably be published anyway. However, it might make a difference whether the publishers continue to support this author or just publish that one book. The publishers could also incorporate a good sentence that teens wrote in their reviews in the book.
Who can participate in the program and which other libraries offer this program?
You have to be twelve to eighteen years old to participate and you must have a parent’s permission slip signed because a lot of these books could be objectionable to some readers and I want to make sure that teens who are reading these books and their parents are comfortable with the books. There are 15 groups across the country, but we are the only one in the Washington area, so you also have to be able to get to the Bethesda Library on a regular basis.
What is the Teen’s Top Ten?
That is a list that is published every year with the top books that teens from this program choose. The teens from the Bethesda Teen Reads will vote on the books they have reviewed in the past year. The head of the program will send us a list of the top twenty books that teens reviewed and the participants get to vote and narrow it down to ten. There is another vote where every teen in the country could vote online.
Can you tell me more about the new books and authors that visit the library?
Authors of popular teen books do occasionally visit the library and talk to the teens. We just had Ally Carter, the author of “The Gallagher Girls” series, come a little while ago and the teens enjoyed that a lot. We get many authors through our partnership with Politics and Prose, the bookstore. A lot of times they get authors there for free because they are selling their books, and, occasionally, they send us their teen book authors. We got Ally Carter, Laura Elliot, Michael Scott and many others authors that way. We also have a lot of local authors who are writing teen books. They may be not discovered yet or teens do not really read their books yet.
How often do the authors come?
The authors go on tour when they have a new book. For example, Ally Carter went on tour when she had her new series, the Heist Society. When an author goes on tour, we try to get them.
How would the program benefit the community as there are Student Service Learning hours rewarded to the participants.
We do give SSL hours, and the library is a registered SSL participant for Montgomery County. However, teens do not get hours just for reading books; they get hours for reading books, reviewing them online and attending some of the program’s events. I think it is a good way for teens to discover leisure reading and further discover libraries. It works for us, and I hope it works for the teens.
Why would this program be useful to the participants?
Usually the participants in this program enjoy reading. So if they like to read, having the option of reading books before they are even in book stores and libraries is very fun.
What famous books got published as a result of this program?
A book did not get published necessarily as a result of this program, but I think there was some more recognition for the Hunger Games Saga. I think the neat thing in this program is that teens are saying what they like and what they do not like. When the teens write their reviews, they are very honest, and they critique very well. I think that it is forcing the publishers to understand that teens are critical readers and to step it up.
By Oleg Pevzner