We know that librarians can greatly impact youth by teaching them to become lifelong learners and develop a love of reading. As a Merit Badge Counselor in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) program, librarians can help scouts along their way to earning their Reading Merit Badge. As of 2016, 822,999 boys participated in the Boy Scout and Varsity Scouting programs. In total, today BSA reaches more than 2.3 million youth members between the ages of 7 and 21. 1
Besides the Reading Merit Badge, scouts can select from more than 135 merit badges—thirteen of which are required for Eagle advancement, the highest rank advancement in the BSA program. High-interest topics include fishing, camping, and wilderness survival to kayaking, entrepreneurship, and family life. How does the Reading Merit Badge compare in popularity to the other merit badges? Its overall lifetime rank is 29th with 1,490,797 scouts earning the badge from 1911-2016. However, completion of the reading merit badge has decreased by 60 percent in the last five years (2012: 5,676; 2013: 5,216; 2014: 4,712; 2015: 4,179; 2016: 3,574)2. Librarians are in a unique position to encourage more readers by working alongside scout leaders or becoming counselors themselves.
What does it take to complete the reading merit badge? Scouts must read six books in four different genres. At least one title must be an award winner. They learn how to find books in the catalog and on the shelves. For each book, they will keep a log which includes the title, pages read, date completed and their comments about what they read. They will discuss their books with the counselor using the log as a reference and explain why they chose each book and what it meant to them. Next, they will read about the news using two sources and discuss what they learned. The service portion of the merit badge includes four hours of reading to a sick, blind or homebound person, performing volunteer work at the library, or reading stories to younger children. Librarians will find that requirements of the merit badge dovetail nicely with summer reading programs.
Librarians can reach out to their local troop to make a connection with that troop’s reading merit badge counselor and work with them. If the troop does not have a designated reading merit badge counselor librarians might find a great outreach opportunity awaiting them! Can you imagine if every public library offered a reading merit badge workshop? In an earlier post, Man Up: Attracting the Male Patron, I explored creating programming for boys and young men based on BSA’s merit badge topics. Partnering with local troops offers librarians another avenue to reaching boys and their parents.
Library staff at the Naperville (IL) Public Library has offered the Reading Merit Badge for several years. “The first couple of times that I conducted the merit badge it was solely for the troop that my sons belonged to which is Troop 889.” states Donna Pistolis, adult services librarian. Once she worked out the kinks, she reamed up with teen librarian, Allison Colman Gegenheimer. “We offer the merit badge on a group basis, Pistolis writes, “We ask for a minimum of 6 boys and no more than 10-12. I’ve been a RMBC for 7 years. We have had just under 50 scouts go through the merit badge session,” she said.3
You might find that scouts and their parents are astounded by the resources they can locate at the library or remotely through the library web site. “Scouts (and their parents) leave amazed with all that the library has to offer. When we talk about looking up news articles, the boys were amazed that they could look at newspapers online from home,” Pistolis states then adds, “Boys couldn’t believe that they could download or stream popular music from the library.”4
If you want to reach more boys in your community and inspire the next generation of readers, don’t hesitate to inquire with your local troop. Additional merit badge topics librarians may want to consider include citizenship in the community, nation and world, genealogy and scholarship.
For more information:
- 2016 Boy Scouts of America Annual Report. Irving: BSA, 2016.Http://www.scouting.org/filestore/annualreport/2016/2016_AnnualReport.pdf. Boys Scouts of America. Web. 15 May 2017.
- Wendell, Bryan. “2016 Merit Badge Rankings: The Most- and Least-popular Merit Badges.”Bryan on Scouting. Boys Scouts of America, 23 Mar. 2017. Web. 15 May 2017.
- Pistolis, Donna. “RE: BSA Reading Merit Badge Counselor – Q & A.” Message to Paula Wilson. 22 May 2017. E-mail.