Encouraging Browsing: 5 Tips to Teach Teens

Most of us don’t work all of the library’s open hours, and not all of us are lucky enough to have other staff on hand that can do great readers’ advisory for teens. We can, however, teach teens how to find books they might like independently with some tips for browsing.  I like to share these tips when I’m doing book related programs like book tasting/speed dating, or book talk programs. They might also make a fun bulletin board with examples.  None of these tips is going to work every time for every reader, but your teens will get better with practice.


Well, as it turns out you can often judge a book by its cover, at least when you just need a general feel for the type of book you’re holding. I remind teens that there are people who get paid to choose the right cover for a book because it does matter. While the old metal=sci-fi and trees = fantasy doesn’t always hold, it’s not always that far off either. Think about cover trends like girls in big dresses for paranormal or stark logos or mid-disaster scenes for dystopian books.  It’s not a bad way to get started narrowing down choices.

Jacket Copy

Open up the front cover and read the description. Not every reader pays enough attention to the jacket to even know this exists, and it might be something we who generally consider ourselves “book people” take for granted. Let them know they can get a general idea of who and what the book is about.


This one only really works for your avid readers because they need to recognize author’s names, but it felt like a real inside trick when I realized it and your teens might think so too. Most (hardcover) books have a blurb or two from and established name praising the book. Who was chosen (and agreed) to talk about the book can tell the browser a lot about the book.  Here are a few examples from my own shelf:

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle has several blurbs, the one on the front cover is from actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson. There are three on the back, from two Tony award winners and from author James Howe. If you know who any of those people are or have read Howe’s work you have a decent idea what you might be getting.

My paperback copy of Winger by Andrew Smith has only one blurb, on the front cover, from John Corey Whaley. Yes, those are two authors whose works would appeal to many of the same readers.  Send the Noggin fans to Winger and the Where Things Come Back fans to Grasshopper Jungle and vice versa.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma is awesome, but a little hard to place RA wise. However, a blurb from Nancy Werlin listing Impossible and Extraordinary makes a lot of sense.

You can also encourage them to use this trick in reverse by looking at their favorite books and then investigate authors who blurbed those titles.

Read a Couple Pages

If teens have done all those things and think they might have a good choice encourage them to read a couple of pages. They’ll get an idea of voice, style, and the level of vocabulary used in the book. This works especially well if you suspect a reader has picked a book a bit beyond their comfort zone, but you don’t want to discourage their choice.

Directed Browsing  

By “directed browsing” I mean make sure teens know all the places to look for books besides the shelves. Do you have display areas or a new books area? Make sure they know to check it out. As a tween in my hometown library I figured out that the newly returned items were put aside for sorting and shelving in a public area of the library. It was always my first stop. Many of the branches I’ve worked at had a similar area for carts waiting to be shelved. Give your teens a head start on the hot circulating titles and make a little less work for your shelvers in the process.

Helping teens become independent lifelong readers and smart users of any library they might find themselves in is just another service we provide.

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