Book Boxes

Today we have a guest post from Melisa Martinez at the Hinsdale Public Library.


Readers’ advisory has been my passion ever since I started working in libraries. I remember working at the circulation desk during college and having Goodreads open up on my computer with the hope that a patron would ask for a great book to read. I came into my current position about a year and a half ago and I was excited by the encouragement to think outside the box when it came to delivering the best teen services and programming to the community. It was a dream come true because I have a habit of thinking up some very out there ideas. Teen hot dog crawl anyone? That’s how the book box came about: the first ever library based subscription box customized to a patron’s interests. The key word being customized.

The Teen Book Box is a monthly subscription box for our teens who we consider to be between the grades of 6 through 8, high school students are welcome to sign up as well. Since its inception, we have had an increase in high school participants mostly because the word has spread quickly between siblings, outreach visits, promotion, and teen volunteers. Teens sign up once a quarter (winter, spring, summer, and fall) for the book box. We ask for their grade, if they have any food allergies, and two genre choices. They receive an email the day before pickup day that their box is ready. We give them a week after the date unless they ask me otherwise. If they don’t pick up their box, I save the book title for the next month.

Like Owl Crate and other popular young adult subscription boxes, we give them :

  • A library book: We try to pick a newer book that we think the teen will enjoy. We will be giving them a book to keep for the month of December for the holidays. I am currently working on getting ARCS to become a part of this. To avoid any mishaps, I keep track of which books I give to each teen in an excel file.
  • Small Gifts: Usually 3 items. Some past examples include pens, notebooks, keychains, and other random items else I stumble upon.
  • A bookmark: We have purchased some from Demco, 3D printed them, and printed them on photo paper.
  • Lots of candy! This is when it is important to know if anyone has any food allergies.

We have a theme each month, which helps in the selecting of items. In the beginning, when we had only 12 teens, I ordered all kinds of cute stuff from Etsy. Due to the increase in participants to 24, we have opted for items from oriental trading and Amazon that is cost-effective. As for the actual box itself, I researched the vendor that makes the Birchboxes and other similar ones and found that Pack Lane was the best option. It is on the pricer side, but they are beautiful and professional. We have also included a rating card inside the box where they tell us whether or not they liked their book.

Book box is a continuous learning process for my assistant and I. It guides us in the collection development process and helps in our biannual outreach efforts to the middle schools. Other valuable lessons we have learned include how much value our teens place on our reading recommendations, the importance of customization, and what kinds of genres teens love. We have received comments in the past that with this program/service we lose that relationship that is often built between the teen and the librarian during the traditional one to one readers’ advisory interviews. I disagree. Instead, it has strengthened our relationship with our teens. I receive cute notes and emails from them on a regular basis about how much they love their box and how they look forward to it every month. They are always enthusiastic to tell us about the book when returning the box. The teens we serve are so busy throughout the school year with school and extracurricular activities that having a program/service like book box allows us to connect with them. At the end of the day, we feel accomplished for what we have created and sustained this past year. We had NO idea it was going to take off the way it did. It could’ve been a bust, but we figured it was worth trying.

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