Books, Glory, Awesomeness… How A YA Trivia Contest Reignited This Librarian’s Reading Fire

Jessica Staff Image

Once upon a time there was a girl from Ohio who grew up in a household of a librarian and a newspaper journalist… needless to say, there were constant stories and words floating around in the air. Books were piled high on shelves and near beds, and reading was deemed the best activity one could possibly pursue, for fun or to learn.

This girl went on to major in English (because what else would a bookworm such as her do?), worked a variety of jobs in theatre, chocolate shops, community college offices and even a glamorous unpaid internship with a local magazine. Until one day it dawned on her… a librarian she should be!

So she packed up her things and traveled east, to a magical land called Pittsburgh. There she earned a prestigious library degree, acquired a nice chunk of student loan debt and started her journey working multiple part-time library jobs for the next 4 years.

All of this made reading for pleasure a difficult task: There was schoolwork to do, jobs to travel to, public service work to engage in… where was the time?

Fast forward to the year 2014: Our story’s heroine (spoiler: It’s ME) starts work at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Main branch in the Teen Department, where she is tasked with leading the ultimate teen trivia program, Battle of the Books!

For those not in the know, think pub trivia without the booze, that instead focuses on a specific book list for each participating grade level, all while bringing TONS of teens from all over the city and county together in their love of reading (and the thrill of competition!).

Part of the planning process for this system-wide event involves selecting, reviewing and refining a plethora of books down to a list of 10 per battle grade, that is then divided up among Teen Services staff to read and write a series of trivia questions.

That’s right, bring on the hardcore reading/scavenger hunt for fun trivia factoids!

While the majority of the titles are fiction based, there have also been several comics, graphic novels and non-fiction added in for variety over the years. But more importantly, Battle of the Books lists have included titles from across the traditional YA spectrum — that is to say, books have been selected for this Library program that exist in Children, Teen & Adult collections alike.

The youngest battle, 6th grade, will often feature titles from the Middle Grade or “Tween” realm (books recommended for grades 5-7) that allows for crossover between the Children’s and Teen collections. Not only is this a non-issue in terms of utilizing books from two different age groups within the Library, but high-schoolers will even comment how jealous they are of what the 6th graders are reading! For a look at this year’s 6th Grade booklist, click here.

Similarly, there has been some wiggle room with the 9th-12th Grade booklists in that we are pulling some titles that originate in adult collections but include relevant storylines or characters that older teens would be interested in reading. One example from this year’s high school list is the book Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which won an Alex Award (given to adult titles with special appeal to ages 12-18), among other rave reviews.

Since this is such a large-scale program, prep begins early in July for the winter events, and Teen Specialists begin reading the designated titles in August/September. Finally, the librarian stereotype rings true: We CAN get paid for reading! This was such a thrill for me, as I could usually listen to my designated title as an OverDrive audiobook on my walk to work or while doing the dishes, and then pour over the print version in my search for the answers to back-up my clever questions.

One of my favorite parts about this program is the collaboration that goes into suggesting book titles to make the final cut, which happens across the Library and even beyond Teen Services (teamwork makes the dream work!). And if you’re anything like me, you get to experience a new genre/author/writing style than what you might normally pick out for yourself to read. This makes my work in Teen Services such a joy, because I get to dive in head-first through a wide age range of titles, and experience them with full force so that I can do justice to writing questions that will equally excite and delight the teen competitors!

A comment I’ve heard from teachers, parents and teens alike is how great the book lists turn out, and that many teachers and school librarians will incorporate Battle of the Books titles into existing lesson plans or book club discussions. At the time of this blog posting, registration is capped at a whopping 67 teams from schools and teens all over the city and beyond, preparing to come together in one month for some seriously fun book trivia. There will be seven total battles at three different Library locations, with nearly 300 participants in all!

As this is my final year leading Battle of the Books, I couldn’t be more proud of the turnout this year as well as the overwhelming support I’ve received from Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. I look forward to seeing this program grow even larger and expand further into our community libraries and schools, and hope you all will pick up a book this year and read as if your imaginary trivia team depended on it!

-Jess S.

Battle of the Books Art

Discover This Year’s Battle of the Books Titles & More!

Get Reading!

Jess S. is a Teen Librarian at CLP – Main who enjoys fiber-arts or book-related crafts, experimenting with healthy-ish cooking and baking, spoiling two fat felines and listening to OverDrive audiobooks during walking adventures around the city. Her current book obsessions are mystery/thrillers, funny memoirs and Battle of the Books YA fiction.