Harry Potter, Books We Read, Science Café – What’s Cooking at Chang?

The fall 2019 semester has brought literature, science, and even a little magic to the Stephen and Lucy Chang Library on Cook Campus.

In course papers on redesigning the Chang Science Library submitted for the Landscape Architecture course in 2018, students expressed their strong interest in events at the library that are “educational, entertaining, and competitive.” Inspired also by the revelation that Rutgers students not only read for fun, but enjoy a wide variety of genres and topics, the Chang Science Library took the challenge to meet the interests and expectations of the Rutgers community today.

In the summer of 2019, we developed a group of new programs to promote recreational reading at the library under an umbrella initiative called Books We Read. The idea originated from library sessions in spring 2019 taught as part of a SEBS course called Portals to Academic Success (PASS), where students were tasked to find one of their favorite books in QuickSearch and, using a template, create a poster including the book’s title, its availability at the Libraries, an image, and the proper citation. A select group of posters were displayed at Chang Library after the course, but when students asked for a virtual home for the posters the Books We Read website was born. Galleries of these posters are still available on the site as examples of peer-to-peer book recommendations.

Books We Read is exactly what the name suggests: an initiative to promote, highlight, and build communities around reading for pleasure at Rutgers. Hosted on the brand new Rutgers WordPress site, the Books We Read website aims to facilitate non-required reading through book suggestions from students for other students. It also links to a curated lists of books available at Rutgers Libraries in a LibGuide, updated frequently. The browsable collection showcasing books in American literature and recreational reading also includes titles for ESL (English as a Second Language) readers.

Led by Nick Allred (MSt., Oxford), PhD candidate at the Rutgers English Department and Graduate Specialist at New Brunswick Libraries, a weekly short-fiction reading group has begun meeting on Wednesdays at Chang Science Library in the Fall semester to promote reading for fun. Students are invited to join as often as they like, and no preparation is required as we will be reading the pieces in session. Advertised as “like SPEED-DATING THE LIBRARY STACKS”, the program will allow students to encounter writers from classic to contemporary, discuss the experience with friends, and maybe even start a fling with a new favorite author or genre.

The reading program, along with the web site, wishes to create a sustainable model of reading for pleasure individually or in a group setting, using the Libraries’ collection. It intends to connect students with library resources, while helping them learn about library research for their school assignments. By providing tips and resources, the sessions and the web site also empower students to create book clubs or reading groups of their own.

The kick-off event on Tuesday, September 17 revolved around one of the most beloved recreational reads on Rutgers (or any) campus: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. SEBS faculty and students volunteered to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone aloud in shifts throughout the day, all while enjoying Harry Potter-themed outfits, activities, food, drinks (butterbeer, anyone?), and goodies. Over 30 readers participated, split evenly between faculty and students – the latter drawn largely from two dedicated student groups, READ, the Rutgers University Book Club and Muggle Mayhem (the Rutgers Chapter of Harry Potter Alliance). The competition aspect of the event involved Harry Potter trivia and spells managed by students and an international component to identify languages of book covers from the international editions. Thanks to art librarian Megan Lotts and archivist Tara Maharjan, participants also got a chance to make buttons and color in unusual (or magical!) archival images scanned from special collections.

The event was extremely well received on the Cook Campus and the Libraries and SEBS social media. The success is based on Chang’s central location on campus and partnerships previously established with the SEBS Office of Academic Affairs and the SEBS International Office. The two new student group partners hopefully will strengthen ties with pleasure readers on other campuses.

Another new initiative also shows a great promise for all parties. On September 18, the first Science Café was held at the Chang Science Library. A popular event on the Cook Campus, the Science Café series invites experts and laypeople to have coffee and chat about important issues in science. The successful event, entitled “Why We Need Pest Management”, will be followed by two more: on October 24, Oscar Schofield will discuss “Why Rutgers is Building a Global Ocean Observing a System and it is COOL!” and on November 14, Donna Fennell and Kevin Dixon will talk about how “Microbes are in the Atmosphere!”, both from 10 am to 11 am.


Judit Hajnal Ward