Blind Date with a Book: How Programs Spark Love for Libraries

Feb 14, 2019

The Blind Date with a Book display at the Vermillion Public Library features books for child, young adult and adult readers.
Credit Jackie Hendry

Love is in the air, and not just for sweethearts. February 14th is also Library Lovers’ Day. The modern library is more than a quiet building full of books. It’s a hub of information and a resource center for its community.  At the Vermillion Public Library, they’re hoping a blind date of sorts can spark an ongoing love for the library.

The display is front and center - and it’s big.  Near the entrance of the Vermillion library: books are wrapped in pink, red, and purple paper, with big heart-shaped tags that list key words about the book’s genre and plot points. But those are the only hints you’ll get. The program is called Blind Date with a Book, and it runs through this month.  

Rachelle Langdon is the library’s programming specialist and organized this year’s Blind Date with a Book. She says each book comes with a review slip. Readers score the book on a scale of hearts: one heart means “no chemistry,” and five hearts means “it’s love.” Langdon says readers who return a review slip are entered in a drawing for an Amazon Kindle e-reader.

“But I’ve been told that I probably could get away with not giving prizes because people just really love doing this!” says Langdon. “I had a patron on Instagram that I saw she tagged us. And she said she was just super excited for this to come back around this year, and she ended up picking up a book that just so happened to be on her to-be-read list.”

Langdon says part of the fun of Blind Date with a Book is the mystery. The wrapping paper removes the temptation to judge a book by its cover. 

Tags offer clues about the book's major plot points, but the rest is a mystery until the book is checked out and unwrapped.
Credit Jackie Hendry

“You know you’re not supposed to do that! But we do anyway. I think Blind Date with a Book gives people a chance to not think about what the cover says but what the descriptions say. And I’ve seen people read books that they would’ve never read before.”

Langdon says one of the library’s patrons recently read The Eyes of Dragons by Stephen King.  It’s a rare foray into fantasy for the author best known for his horror stories. Langdon says the woman is not a King fan, but she checked it out because the tag only told her it was a fantasy novel with dragons.

“I think she only gave it like three hearts at that point, but I was glad she gave it a chance, and she said she was glad she gave the book a chance,” says Langdon.

While the program has been popular with adult readers in past years, Langdon decided to expand Blind Date with a Book for young adult and children’s books this year.

“Kids love it! Kids love Blind Date with a Book. it’s like Christmas or [a] birthday. They get to open a present,” Langdon explains.

The ‘Blind Date’ program isn’t just a cute seasonal nod.  It can also boost the library’s circulation statistics--which Langdon says proves the library’s relevance to the city and the county. That, in turn, can have a positive impact on funding.

It’s just one of the programs Langdon organizes through the Vermillion Public Library. In honor of Library Lovers Day, there’s a bulletin board where patrons can post notecards with reasons they love the library. And during the summer months, Langdon creates a Book Bingo Card that challenges readers to fill in spaces by reading different kinds of books.

“It can be a science fiction book, it can be a book by a female author, it can be a book that was released the year you were born. I try to find different creative ways of inviting a person to find different books that they might not read. But I give them enough leeway that they can choose a book they’ll like.”

Langdon says the programs can encourage people to visit the library at a time that fits their schedule. It also offers a more casual experience than attending a class or presentation.

“I want to remind people that there are people here at the library,” she explains. “And we are a living entity. And we need people to be here. We need people to come to the library and keep us active because if we don’t have people coming here, we cease to have a reason to exist.”

The library offers regular presentations, book discussions, documentary screenings and other events. Langdon says a monthly Lunch and Learn program offers residents a chance to see a documentary during the lunch hour. She says attendance for those events tends to vary by subject. A recent documentary on Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day attracted 35 people. The most recent documentary on Black History month brought in just five.

“I get mixed responses. People say they love it and they get really excited about it. But that doesn’t mean they actually show up. So, I’m still trying to find the pattern,” Langdon admits.

During the school year, Langdon says the library gets busier in the afternoon when kids are out of class. The library is one of a few afterschool resources for kids in Vermillion. While they don’t have the staffing to act as a daycare, Langdon says the library does offer a variety of activities for students, including some homework help from university students.

“Usually these are students from USD who come in and volunteer. They’ll help kids with their math or reading or whatever it is they might need. We do have specific times for reading tutoring where kids can come in and talk to a volunteer, and the volunteer will go through a book with them, and help them catch up a bit if the child is falling behind at school.”

The University of South Dakota campus is about a mile away from the library. Langdon says there isn’t much interaction between college students and the public library--she focuses her efforts on the year-round residents. But the public library has begun partnering with USD’s library each year for an event called The Human Library.

Caroline Anderberg is the Assessment, Diversity and Resource Librarian at USD’s campus library. She explains the Human Library recruits people to share their stories with others in order to break down stereotypes. Anderberg says the university and the city’s library partner to recruit the human “books” and alternate hosting responsibilities.

“If you’re the host library, you’re responsible for providing a book lounge for a place for the books to rest when they’re not in conversation, and also the space and being hospitable to the readers. Setting up the circulation desk,” Anderberg explains. “But even with that said, we’ll have volunteers from the library that’s not hosting the project that year [who] will help on the actual day of the event.”

Other than the Human Library event partnership in the spring, Anderberg says each library tends to focus on its own mission. She says college students are mostly focused on their own studies.

“But it’s wonderful that the public library is so close and that they can go use it. So if they have time to do some reading for pleasure, then they can go down. And there’s a great selection at the public library for them to use as well.”

Other resources--like meeting rooms, music and movie streaming, and WiFi hotspots --are also available to anyone with a card through the Vermillion Public Library. The library hosts tax advising sessions during the early months of the year and offers free internet access. As much as she loves books, Program Specialist Rachelle Langdon says the library is about much more.

“Libraries aren’t about just books anymore. They aren’t about the librarian who sits at the desk shushing people who walk by. It’s a gathering place, it’s a community center, it’s a way to provide resources to people who otherwise can’t afford them.”

And libraries are about making information accessible to anyone.

“We’ve got patrons who call up all the time,” Langdon says. “They know our number by heart and they call up and they say, ‘Hey there’s this business I’m looking for, it’s in Sioux Falls.’ You know, some key words they can think of, but they can’t find the phone number. We’re usually able to track that down for them.”

Langdon says the library is a big part of any community. And while she tries her best to organize programs people will love, she welcomes ideas.

“I love it when people come in and offer to do programs because I don’t always know what the community wants. And when the community comes in and tells me what they want and how they think it can be done, that is an immense help to me.”

The right programming ensures that libraries stay useful and relevant. The love of a library can start with an after school tutoring program, a documentary over lunch, or even a good blind date with a book.

Regional Health supports Education and Healthcare reporting on SDPB.