I read in awe, as many others did, about the Books and Butchers program, where approximately eighty patrons at the Johnson Public Library (KS) watched a local butcher cut up a half pig. From the photographs, one could see the program attracted a predominantly adult male audience (some with their wives). It is that type of gutsy programming we need to keep our young men involved in the library. The makerspace, fabspace, STEM, STEAM, and gaming movements provide a plethora of programming ideas that keep boys moving, spark creativity and engage young minds.
With many school library closures, the public library might be the only such place that our young male patrons experience. School librarian Helen Cox says that having objects that inspire curiosity—like chess sets, gyroscopes, 3D puzzles, kaleidoscopes—really does help foster an environment that boys like. In fact, she says that in her thirty years of experience working with students, boys respond well to a ‘scholarly environment.’ Cox also states that comics, pop-ups, 3D illusions, and jokes, as well as “the gross and the gory, the horrific, toilet humor, and action-packed adventures” should be highlights in the collection.
For programming and even more collection ideas, let’s take a look at an organization that boasts a membership of over 2.5 million young boys as well as a record-high attendance at three of their high-adventure camps: the Boy Scouts of America. How can the public library tap into that number? When asked how libraries might engage with scouts, Nancy Welton—Scoutmaster Troop 4, Thunderbird District, Grand Canyon Council (AZ)—stated, “Scouts actively seek truth and knowledge in all they do, so continuous learning through reading will only help them even more during their Scouting journey and into adulthood.”  Libraries provide meeting spaces, tours, merit badge book collections and some staff may even serve as the reading merit badge counselor.
If you take a look at BSA’s merit badge offerings, a total of 136, and specifically their most frequently earned badges, you might glean some programming and collection ideas for your library. In order to get a cleaner picture of the statistics, let’s take away the thirteen Eagle-rank required badges and those popular offerings often found at summer camp or merit badge roundups. The remainder is merit badges that scouts chose to complete on their own. The following merit badges represent the next chosen in order of popularity: art, chess, mammal study, shotgun shooting, climbing, Indian lore, space exploration, pioneering, geology, and photography, basketry, aviation, and orienteering.The list continues, but you get the picture. The merit badges that gained the most in popularity over the last year include game design, sustainability, programming, search and rescue, and cooking. Any one of these can easily tie into library programs and collections.
If you decide to pursue programming for males, don’t be surprised if you spark the interest of females who might be just as interested. And never exclude a patron based on their gender. Timmins Public Library (Ontario, CA) did just that but soon reversed its decision to exclude girls from a robotics program. In fact, many of the STEM and Makerspace programs have great appeal to both boys and girls.
Jon Scieszka, author and advocate with Guys Read, cites one of the reasons that boys struggle with reading is that they “don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.” So if we can get Dad into the library, perhaps we can also help to create that male role model that our boys so desperately need.
If you’ve found success in reaching boys in your community, let us know by commenting below.
Helen Cox,. “Boy Story: Do you really want guys in your library?” School Library Journal, September 1, 2010.
“2014 Report of the Treasurer and Consolidated Financial Statements,” Boy Scouts of America, accessed February 11, 2016.
Nancy Welton, text message interview with author, DATE.
Bryan Wendell, “2014 merit badge rankings: Which were the most and least popular?”Scouting Magazine, March 25, 2015.
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